TCL Episode #47 - Passive Building Industry with Hans Eich
Hans Eich started the show with techno beats, he started in showbiz as an audio engineer touring and made a transition of his career as a construction project manager. In 2012, he started working on the solar farms (grid-tied, from 10-20 megawatts), and was doing the foundation and the racking there. Then the industry started crumbling and he thought of switching to an industry that doesn’t rely on its subsidies. So, he found out about Passive houses and got right into it.
He always wanted to create a big difference in the industry he is working in so in the construction industry he realized we didn't have enough products or the right products. So, he started importing building supplies from Germany and Switzerland in 2013. His end goal was to do prefabrication projects because that is the best way to create a full system.
Well, after two to three years he realized that the products are not used correctly, and he was getting away from his end goal.
Passive House was promoting the solutions. So Passive House really looked at Canada and found energy-efficient solutions here. So, one of the first passive houses was built in Saskatchewan in the 70s, the Germans came to Canada and built the first ever passive house in Canada. And it was one of the founding members of the Passive House Institute in Germany, who passed the information to the Swedish industry, put it all together and the Germans ran with it. And they were building Woodhouse because they could get the efficiency out of it with less efficiency with R 40, and R 50 walls. And you create the houses in a reasonable budget.
Why Passive House is not mainstream?
Too many people pull the industry in different directions. No one is reinventing the industry. The end product is not long-term in Canada. The span is getting shorter and shorter, houses will bang up quickly, people won’t be able to fix their houses, and they may abandon their mortgages. And this might scare away other people!
Canada vs Germany in Construction
There are many techniques of construction in Canada right now that are actually forbidden in Germany. If you see the dents, it's like a foam board that is aluminum flashed. In Canada, people put that on the outside. But it’s forbidden in Germany. It’s because if you have any materials that allow moisture to diffuse in the wall and hit that on the outside, it can condensate on the inside of your insulation. Because there's no vapor that diffuses through your wall and so cannot escape on the outside. It's completely vapor-tight. So, when there's a vapor pressure drops, it will rot! On the other hand, in Germany, they would build and they would use wood fiberboard on the outside and allow any kind of breathing, any kind of moisture just to breathe to the outside.
Hans says he uses the vapor open wood sheathing material on the outside. It’s a wood fiberboard developed in the 70s in Germany back then. They had an oil crisis and oil prices went through the roof. So, they figured out a way to build more efficient houses. So, they developed this product that is made out of wood fibers.
What's the difference between the airtight and the vapor-tight material?
One is for air infiltration into the wall and the other one is for vapor. You have to place them at two different positions of the wall assembly depending on how you're building the house.
Hans is not a big fan of spray foams. He says that because of higher costs, embedded carbon issues, and off-gassing, passive building don’t promote spray foams. Carlito raised a good point here and stated how there is off gassing in most products you have at your home including TV set and the carpets.
Hans explained that they first build walls, their process is that they try to think a lot more thoroughly. So, they build the house digitally first. In the software, they have every stud and every component, then they take it apart because they pre-fabricate these houses, then they build it off-site, and they try to control the whole process thoroughly because now they can land all these panels very accurately on-site and join them together. Hans told how people ask him about how much do they build off-site? Dothey just do the wall? Do they just add the siding? He says that they do 60% of the siding, and Windows already. Because then they just do that in the hall and they assemble everything on site.
Buy-in of the Customer
When Han sells a house, he needs to have the buy-in of the customer. He says that if he is pushing his wall, on a builder, who has a customer that doesn't care about it, then he finds no attraction in it. He really gets the customer on board, and he's going to tell the builder, you have to build this wall, or else I don't want to build this house. It's ultimately the customer that has to see that there's the quality, the durability because he's going to pay for it and he is going to enjoy the home.
Custom is usually Standard!
Hans also says that most of the custom houses are usually standard. The layout is almost the same, when people call him, he can almost finish their sentences. They need rooms at particular places, the structure, layout, and outlook are mostly the same!
· If you cannot afford the maintenance of your house, you should not stay in the house. Maintenance is the key.
· He said that the homes he builds are called diffusion open. Because they are airtight, and vapor tight but they are breathable.
· Your focus should be on a living quality, small houses instead of big houses that are difficult to manage.
· The problem with pink fiberglass is it is not dense and can lead to many problems. Hans prefers cellulose.
· Hans read a book in his childhood in the 80s that showed how we need to save our planet, and it left a strong impact on him and so he loves his work, and now it is the topic of his entire life. He believes in living in small houses, and recycling.
· The garbage people throw out should be donated.
· Hans says we do need a little bit of dehumidification. His industry gives ventilation systems and takes care of your fresh air. You can add a mini-split system, and it will cover all your problems.
· Hans says this industry is tinier if compared to the construction industry as a whole. He shared an interesting point on how Architecture has really gone away from looking at design within the context of the region. Because now you can build whatever you want, wherever you want it. Someone might see a home in South Africa and want to build it in Canada.
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