certified passive house

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Why our 9+ Star Superpod® House Barely Reaches 7 NatHERS Stars

2D South Elevation Drawing

Why our 9+ Star Superpod® House Barely Reaches 7 NatHERS Stars.

This is the street frontage of an old house, showing a Superpod® house extension going up soon (peeking out from behind) in an old established part of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The house at the front is very old. In fact, the houses in this street are 130 years old.

The Superpod® house extension at the back is over 200 sqm with 2 storeys, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, kitchen, dining, and 2 lounges. You won’t see it much from the street. It’s the shaded orange part in this image.

The extension, if it was rated under the NatHERs energy rating scheme, would be a 9 star house.

Sounds good, but we think it’s better than that. That’s because the NatHERS scheme doesn’t fully recognise all the benefits of our certifiable passive house system. Like the performance of our fully imported windows. Or our thermal breaks. Or our airtightness.

Check out one of our previous stories on this: NatHERs star rating doesn’t test airtightness

But, alas, we can barely reach 7 stars with this whole building. That is, taking into account the old house together with the super performing extension. Retrofitting the old 1890’s house at the front isn’t going to make it easy. It faces south. It’s got single glazed windows. And insulating the poor old walls will be a trick.

But let’s focus on the good part. We are facing climate change head on. We are providing optimum comfort and health. We are loosening the hold of the ever growing power bill. All this without solar panels. It’s the good building that counts. Jewellery on the roof doesn’t replace decent clothing in the fabric of the building.

PS Our Superpod® system is a fast, easy way to achieve the world’s best practice for energy efficiency and comfort. The International Passive House Standard. Our patent pending system (United States next, here we come!) is available for licence to designers, developers and builders. From tiny pods to high rise and commercial buildings.

I know, it’s hard to get your head around. Licensing a building system? After years of developing our IP we think it’s worth it. Innovation is often hard to get your head around. We look forward to co-innovators who want to work with us!

2D South Elevation Drawing
2D South Elevation Drawing
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Just Who Is Fiona McKenzie?

Fiona McKenzie Podmarket

A feature article about our founding director, Fiona McKenzie, which partly explains her training, expertise and passion for rigorous and creative thinking.

This article was originally presented in the February 2018 issue of the Law Institute Journal of Victoria.

Building for the future

Fiona McKenzie
Fiona McKenzie

By Karin Derkley

01 Feb 2018

The rigorous discipline associated with law has been the perfect foundation for designing a failsafe building system.

Barrister Fiona McKenzie is not one for sitting around watching TV after work. Instead the administrative law specialist has been using her spare time over the past couple of years boning up on physics and engineering and poring over spreadsheets to devise sustainable building systems and design award­ winning furniture.

“I’ve always been interested in design and artistic expression as well as the law,” she says. “I’ve never been just a bookish person or just a creative person – I like having a balance between those two sides of me.”

Helping out family and friends with their renovation projects started as a way of “feeding that other part of my brain,” she says. But then the lawyer part of her brain became intrigued by how to make buildings work better.

“I became very interested in the engineering aspect of how buildings perform and affect the comfort of their occupants,” she says. “I put on my legal research hat to interrogate these things.”

That led her to what she says is the best building standard in the world, the International Passive House Building Standard, which uses physics­ based engineering to create buildings that reduce energy use by up to 90 per cent.

Evenings and weekends were spent reviving her high school maths and physics to calculate exactly how a building can be designed for complete control of the indoor environment. “It is about designing a thermally sealed building envelope that ensures there are no air leaks, while also providing fresh filtered air all year round.”

That involves designing carefully designed joins, double or even triple glazed windows depending on the local climate and orientation, and high levels of insulation.

“The idea is to create a building that is completely comfortable for its occupants and that is also beautiful,” she says. “Things have got to work practically but they also need to be well ­designed and look and feel good.”

Ms McKenzie built her first prototype Superpod passive house in Cape Paterson in 2015, which was recognised with a Good Design Award. She decided it was so important and useful she has refined the system to offer to others. “Once I got the building envelope right, I wanted to look at a more holistic offering and offer different looks.”

That part has been a challenge. The building industry is resistant to new ways of building, she says. So she is relying on commercial projects in the educational space, other markets such as ecotourism operators and healthcare providers, and even owner builders to recognise the benefits of the system.

The Cape Paterson house is available for holiday rentals so people can try out the system for themselves, and she has recently started the process of building a mini-­hotel near the Museum of New and Old Art in Hobart that will not only showcase the podhouses, but will also be fitted out with the PodMarket range of furniture designed by her fellow director and furniture designer Harry Strouzas.

The furniture range is designed along similar principles of sustainable design, Ms McKenzie says: “functional, and a minimalist use of beautiful materials”. PodMarket includes a range aimed specifically at barristers and solicitors – including storage, seating and tables. One of the tables has been nominated for the German Design Award 2018.

“In the same way we approached the issue of how do we solve designing buildings better, we looked at how we could resolve furnishing rooms better.”

Her training as a lawyer has come in handy for drawing up contracts and applying for patents, Ms McKenzie says. But the rigorous discipline associated with the law has also been the perfect foundation for helping her design a failsafe building system that appeals aesthetically to potential buyers.

“It’s a lot like when you have to present a brief to a judge,” she laughs. “You have to hold their attention and you know it’s going to be picked apart. You can’t have any loose threads.”

To see the article as it appears in the Law Institute Journal please follow this link:

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A Certified Passive House – Why Bother?

Passive House

Without a certificate, it’s just a passive house. Or is it?

I was pleased to be informed that I have been invited for the second time to present on this topic at the International Passive House Conference.  This one is in Munich, 2018.

Below is the abstract I submitted.


“Certificates are sometimes treated as a unnecessary label, and other times like a necessary evil. They can be ignored as irrelevant; or resented and feared as a barrier to entry.

The Passive House Standard requires certificates. Sometimes for building components. Other times for designers. At all times for the building itself. The physical building as built and tested.

This list of certificates makes it more difficult to achieve the Standard.

But, after all, it is a standard. It is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling (although it is that and much more).

Certificates for components can be hard to obtain. And certified components are not yet imported around the world.
Certificates for designers are hard to obtain. And certified designers can be thin on the ground in your country, let alone designers who have actually designed a certified passive house. Newly qualified designers do not have “runs on the board”.

And certificates for buildings are hard to obtain too. The process is so rigorous and laborious, from design stage to building stage to completion and testing. You can do everything well until the end, and fail the blower door test. What a disappointment that can be for all involved.

Because the certificates are hard to obtain, people find ways of dismissing their relevance. They can see the benefits of the Passive House Standard, but they can’t obtain them. So they start to appropriate the terminology of the International Passive House Institute and claim that their inferior buildings are equivalent. They call their buildings “passive house” buildings. And members of the public do not know the difference.

In some countries like Australia, this is complicated by the fact that solar panels are easy to instal. So people claim their houses are “net zero” ie better than passive, simply by adding a few solar panels to the roof. The customer may end up paying no power bills, so they are relatively happy, not knowing that the Passive House Standard could have produced so much more.  Because of ignorance in this field, and salespeople who are keen to sell their products and services, the benefits of potential certification are lost.

Sometimes people think that they can tack on or add on a certificate to a good quality building. But the road to certification is long and paved with obstructions. Without a certification aim, their design, insulation, connection details, windows, and ventilation will be sub-standard.

A certificate for a passive house building is not just a ticket. It is the result of a complex, rigorous process with commitment from all involved.

Certification makes a massive difference to the end product, the comfort for users, the existence of drafts, condensation and mould, and the power consumption.

For those who understand the Passive House Standard, we need to explain to consumers what it means. Perhaps explaining it will help people to choose true Passive House, instead of a poor alternative.”

With the Superpod® system, we aim for certification every time.  We are not content to stop when architectural lines are on a page.  We are content when the building is finished, tested, and certified.

What do you think?

Do you think solar panels and timber linings make a building sustainable?

Do you think any building with passive house elements can be called a Passive House?