More Passive House certifiers in NZ Certifiers triple to meet rising demand

12 April 2021 by Rachel Rose

Jason Quinn of Sustainable Engineering Ltd has been New Zealand’s sole Passive House certifier for five years but he’s no longer alone in the job. Toby Brooke and Sara Wareing were confirmed last Friday by PHI as accredited Passive House certifiers. Both work for Sustainable Engineering.

Sara has a Masters degree in Building Science from Victoria University of Wellington, while Toby’s degree is in Mathematics with a strong grounding in physics. Sara initially enrolled in an architecture degree, but found the quantifiable, predictive aspects of building science compelling.

While there are 37 Passive House building projects completed and certified in New Zealand, there are another 94 in process*. “But looking to the horizon, there are a lot of projects in discussion and the need for more certifiers is obvious,” says Jason Quinn, Sustainable Engineering’s principal.

“New Zealand’s Passive House community has done the hardest projects first by designing and building one-off single-family homes. We had a head start on Australia, but have been eclipsed in the past couple of years by their large public and commercial buildings that have reached Passive House performance levels.”**

However, New Zealand’s first commercial building has been certified to a PHI-standard, and the first Passive House community building is in construction. A large co-housing project in Dunedin is nearing completion.

Kāinga Ora is now investigating building social housing developments to Passive House standard and its involvement would see Passive House construction soar in New Zealand. 

Not everyone who specifies a Passive House build goes on to have it certified, but certification provides an independently-verified guarantee that the building will perform as predicted by energy-modelling. “It’s a guarantee that you get what you paid for,” says Jason. “Knowing that construction details are reviewed in detail by the certifier, and that a blower door test will be performed, serves to focus the minds of builders and project managers.

“Having local certifiers is a big advantage for Passive House projects,” says Jason. “It’s possible to work with an overseas certifier and New Zealand’s early PH projects had no choice but to go down that route. But it typically led to considerable delays in communication and understanding local construction constraints and practices.

“We want to see the entire high-performance building sector grow hugely in New Zealand; eventually there is sure to be more certifiers, working for other firms. For now, this company has the capacity to meet anticipated demand. And there is considerable synergy that comes when all the Passive House projects are passing over the desks of our small team. 

“We have a unique perspective on what’s working well, with an ever-deepening knowledge of products from key suppliers. We can provide advice to our clients that is grounded in our in-depth, first-hand knowledge of Passive House buildings for New Zealand climates, for New Zealanders, using suppliers to this market.”

That detailed local knowledge underpins an ambitious project spearheaded by Jason Quinn for PHINZ, with support from BRANZ. The forthcoming High-Performance Construction Details handbook contains 101 details of elements and junctions drawn from successfully completed New Zealand Passive House buildings, along with a few Code-minimum details for the sake of comparison. 

“Until this handbook, this knowledge has been locked up in plans prepared by individual architects or their firms,” says Jason. “The handbook makes it freely available to the industry. It will be useful for not just architects and designers but also builders and consenting officials. We don’t want building professionals reinventing the wheel, what we need is full-speed adoption of higher performance standards for the sake of human comfort and climate change adaptation and mitigation.”

* As at April 12, 2021.

** This includes Monash University student housing and its Woodside building for IT and engineering students, a childcare centre in Canberra and a luxe apartment building in Sydney. See APHA’s Passivhaus in Australia.

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