Passive homes are growing in popularity as home buyers look for energy efficiency and low environmental impact

Looks like it’s from an episode of Architectural TV Show: Sealed Double-glazed House worth $60,000, imported from Poland.

But the Toowoomba couple, Michael Krause and Megan Symonds, had to lower expectations from friends and family.

“They’ve all seen the Grand Designs, so they all envisioned a huge house and I had to play around with it a bit and say it’s just a normal house,” said Mr. Krause.

The couple’s new two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, built on a 380sqm plot in Harlaxton in the northern suburbs of Toowoomba, is set to become the second passive home in Southern Queensland.

The concept, which was developed in Germany in the 1990s, is gaining popularity in Australia, with the number of approved passive homes increasing from 25 in 2019 to 52 in 2022.

For a building to be certified as a passive home, it must meet several criteria including airtightness and for temperatures to remain around 25°C.

Building materials

Mr. Krause and Mrs. Symonds’ new home has argon-filled double-glazed windows and thermal dividers to prevent heat from entering the building.

It will also have thicker, heavier service insulation wrapped over the house and a heat recovery machine fitted with medical-grade filters, to keep temperatures stable.

And unlike many homes in Toowoomba, you’ll only need a small 5kW air conditioning system, powered by solar panels, to handle the extreme seasonal conditions in southern Queensland.

A house frame with some wrap on it
The second passive house of Toowoomba is being built in the northern suburbs of the city.(ABC South Queensland: David Chen)

Ms Symonds said they first looked at the concept because they wanted it to have minimal impact on the environment.

“When we bump into someone and say we build and then clear passive houses, it’s something not many people have ever heard of.”

She said the designed home seemed comfortable and that the use of filtered air met the health needs of her asthmatic husband.

The couple were concerned about the extra costs, but Ms Symonds said bids for the project ended up being about 10 per cent more expensive than conventional construction.

“In all honesty, the cost of building a passive home isn’t much more than that, once we worked on it, there was really nothing stopping us from doing it.”

Ms. Symonds said the project has since managed to stay within its $510,000 budget for the home.

wooden frame for house
Heavy-duty insulation is an essential component of passive homes. (ABC South Queensland: David Chen)

growing interest

The Australian Passive House Association said the couple were part of the growing number of homeowners, builders and designers interested in the concept.

Alexia Lidas, CEO, said the demand is outstripping skilled professionals who can build homes.

“We are growing 20 percent year over year,” Lidas said.

Besides the concept’s environmental credentials, she said, people were also interested in passive homes due to the verification process.

Nathan Peters, director of Titanium Homes, has built the first passive house in Toowoomba and is helping Mr. Krause and Mrs. Symonds build them.

A man wearing a hat and wearing a purple jacket
Nathan Peters says he is showing a growing interest in passive homes.(ABC South Queensland: David Chen)

He said he saw an increase in inquiries, too.

“I have two other three-bedrooms I’m quoting at the moment, and I borrowed one of them last month near Dalby, so there’s definitely some interest in there.”

future path?

Peters said building a passive home requires a lot of attention to detail and better planning.

“There’s a lot of thought that goes into trying to do all the covering really well and make the house completely airtight,” he said.

“Professionals should think a lot about their workmanship and make sure they care a lot.”

Peters said he believes the passive home concept is the way of the future, as energy efficiency and climate change become bigger considerations for buyers.

Three men on a construction site
Peters says builders need to do more with their workmanship when working in a passive home.(ABC South Queensland: David Chen)

Michael Krause also expects to see more passive homes in Australia, since the concept performs well in both warm and cold climates.

“I think it will be more common because once they get to people they will realize how comfortable they are versus a traditional home where these extremes are,” he said.

“You’ll find a lot of people will be looking to build, especially after they realize the costs aren’t prohibitive.”

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