Jeremiah Point Talks Passive Housing
By Mahlon Smoke
Last month a class was held on teaching about 'Passive House' and how it can help people within Akwesasne. For the next couple of weeks contractors were taught about what this renewable house construction could do and how it can help with decolonization. Jeremiah Point is one of the many engineers who is advocating for this alternative style of housing. Not only is it far more culturally relevant but it will eliminate the need for outside corporate housing and bring a community closer to its roots. To explain it more, here is an interview with Point to explain the program far better and in his own words.
1. To summarize, what is Passive Housing?
Passive House (originally named Passivhaus) is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in buildings. The development of the Passive House concept, certifications, trainings and research & development has been carried out by the Passivhaus Institute, an independent research council based in Germany. It is the only internationally recognized, performance-based energy standard in construction that is truly energy efficient, comfortable and affordable at the same time. It requires a 'wholistic approach' by taking into account the use, geographical location, local climate and weather patterns to reduce the building's ecological footprint. This results in ultra-low energy demand building that is more balanced with the surrounding environment by using very little energy for space heating or cooling. Typically, it results in a 90% reduction in energy demand when compared to the North American average. It is wise to note that every Indigenous peoples around the world developed 'passive buildings' to survive their local climates. Our ancestors did not have electricity or fuel to survive, they found the most efficient form of living by necessity. It is only through colonization that this concept was lost.
2. During the class you hosted, what was the most important thing that was taught to the students?
That every aspect of construction has a long-lasting impact on the energy demands, indoor air quality, overall occupant health, and life expectancy of the building. With simple techniques, quality materials and attention to the 'larger picture' we can have buildings that are more comfortable, low energy use, be healthier, and actually have something that will last for generations, even seven generations and longer. Without requiring major renovations every 15-20 years. Once a passive building is built, there is no further upgrades needed. If desired, relatively small renewable energy sources may be added to gain further independency and 'off-grid' status.
3. How did you learn about passive housing?
During my career, I've always maintained a drive for advancing my education and knowledge. I tend to gravitate towards topics I am unsure of and become obsessed with knowing more. Every day is a new day to learn. During a building conference in Toronto a few years ago I attended as the Eastern Ontario/Upstate NY sales rep for Legalett Canada. One of the largest demographics for customers were people in the "Passive House community". Our sales booth was in the Passive House Pavilion hosted by Passive House Canada. I immediately wanted to know more about the Passive House concept.
4. How did you come to the conclusion that this would help with decolonization?
Although the Passivhaus Institute was founded in 1996, it was only formally established. I saw a direct link to the concepts being promoted to our indigenous ways. Living within your means and in balance with the environment. Something our ancestors have done for millennia. Our ideas of a 'good house' have been driven by the colonization of our lands. We have followed 'foreign' building codes as the standard for all construction, despite it being majorly flawed in design and energy waste. We can choose to either follow these foreign laws or create our own. We can construct buildings that are wasteful and harmful to the environment, or we can return to our roots and live in balance with our environment. Longhouses were used in this area because they trapped the body heat of the extended family and increased efficiency. With the advancements in technology we can return to this concept but without having to share your space and maintain your privacy.
5. Making a conversion from the current housing to passive housing will not be an easy or fast process, why should people still consider it?
Not true. It is a simple approach to 'doing it right the first time'. It is neither difficult nor expensive and it can start now. With every new build there's a missed opportunity and a 30-50-year commitment to paying high energy bills as well a commitment for a major renovation or complete tear down and build new every 30-50 years. The best time would have been 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. With education and awareness, the opportunities will be realized. You can choose to spend your money on technology, like a furnace, that will last a maximum of 15 years OR choose to spend that same money on technology, like highly efficient windows, that will last at least 50-80 years. Once you realize that the 'true cost' of a building is the ongoing operating costs and not the one-time upfront construction costs, you realize the mistakes we have been making. Constructing wasteful buildings and providing a 'crutch' in the form of a furnace or other heating source to make up for the shortfall in efficiency. It then becomes a decision of finances. Waste money or save money. If you can build to meet codes based on your budget, you can build 10-20% smaller to build passive levels of efficiency. With the savings in energy bills every year, you could add on in the future and still be further ahead financially. Once energy costs increase, like they always do, you will be forced to pay more or pay for a major renovation. If you build passive, your bills could be as low a $150 per YEAR, even if costs for energy were to double, you would still be only paying $300/year. Maybe you won't see the costs double, but your children or grandchildren will. You may talk the talk of the seventh generation, then walk the walk too.
6. With decolonization, how is going off the gird going to help with that?
Stop sending your money to the outside corporations. The less you spend out of necessity, the more you have to spend locally. Your savings will more than cover the retrofit of solar panels or wind turbines within ten years. And since your energy demands will be so low, your needs for solar arrays will be low as well. Instead of the entire roof having to be covered, you would only need a few panels. Unless you like feeding the dividends of corporations. Energy independence is within reach. I have proposed that this level of efficiency becomes the minimum standard for our community, which would be a first in North America, but it is the entire community that has to demand it.
7. What words of advice would you give to anyone who is curious about this project?
Learn. Every day. We pretty much have every piece of information created by humans in the palm of our hands. Literally. That smart phone is a window to everything. You can learn as much or a little as you want. Do you want to be trying to catch up? Or do you want to lead? This is only the beginning and we are already late to the game. Our canoe was pushed off course by the ship. We know this. Let's stop trying to follow, making the same mistakes they did and let's lead by example. This is only the beginning. Eventually the building codes will require this level of efficiency, and we can either continue to 'play catch up' or we can leap ahead and be leaders. Once you understand the reasons, demand it from your jurisdiction. Demand that any new build is environmentally responsible. Demand the vison be further than a couple of years. Demand that we make decisions in the best interest of the seventh generation.
8. Will you hold another course on Passive Housing?
Yes, and not just for Tradespeople but for designers and consultants, even certified educators. Anyone else who is interested. Why should we 'import' educators to deliver this training? I proposed making Iohahi:io the first and only permanent Passive House-training center in North America. But we need the demand. We can be utilizing the facility to educate everyone and anyone who is interested. Not just Akwesasronon. People are willing to pay tuition and travel for this education; we have the ability to deliver it. If we want to.
9.How much would it cost to build a passive house like the one you were teaching?
Typically, in North America it is only 10% more upfront costs when compared to 'building to code'. Since we struggle to even meet codes, it would be more like 15-20%. But the issues that would be resolved will improve every aspect of our lives and have a more dramatic shift in our community. Health would improve, financial freedom will improve, life expectancy will improve, robustness of the buildings will improve (passive buildings will never freeze or overheat even if power is lost for several weeks), 'emergency shelters' for heating and cooling will no longer be needed because every building would essentially be one. Overall 'true cost' (construction costs plus operating costs) will be 90% less over the life of the building. When the City of Vancouver projected the operating costs of their municipal buildings (hospitals, ambulance, police, fire department, admin offices) past the 10 years lookahead, they saw a financial crisis. It was financially (and environmentally) irresponsible for them to continue on the path that they were on. They needed to adopt the Passivhaus concept fully. Now every new build or major renovation requires the efficiency levels prescribed by the Passivhaus Institute.
10. Where would people go to get their license or send contractors to learn how to build such a house?
The certifications are issued by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany. They are an independent research council, not associated with any government or religion, strictly based on science and data. We do not have to go anywhere. We can bring it here. As long as we can create the demand (minimum number of participants). We can make Iohahi:io a permanent training facility not bound by any government policies or rules but our own, as we choose them. There are courses in NY City, Denver Colorado, Vancouver BC. This is why hosting the Passivhaus Tradesperson course was so important, it was the first one in the North East. The next one is being planned for December in Kahnawake, details to follow. We had 14 Akwesasronon attend this first training. Ask them. The amount of motivation and excitement expressed by the trainees was overwhelming. Like a fire was lit inside each person. Education is power and cannot be stopped or taken away. Once you have the knowledge, it's yours for life to share, sell & resell as many times as you want. A skill and expertise that can be exported like an 'unlimited resource' that never runs out.
11. Thank you for your time, if you wish to say anything else about the Passive Housing process or what you hope for the future please let me know.
Our opportunity to become leaders in a growing industry is now. The Passivhaus community is growing and there is a huge demand for tradespeople, designers, educators. Every government (almost) around the world recognizes that we need to change. We need to reduce our demand for energy. Every study, research paper, summary or report indicates the sustainable future depends on reducing the demand first. The 'sustainable pyramid' has high efficient buildings (passivhaus) as the foundation and largest piece (also because it's the 'cheapest' and most simple). Then you select high efficient equipment (like geothermal systems and heat pumps) as the second level. Then, you add renewables like wind turbines and solar panels (because it's the most expensive and most complicated).
If you're intersted in Passivhaus you can contact Jeremaih Point at 613-551-3929 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org