Superinsulated House Design

model of cocagne house design Richard Lachance The cold winds of October are here, the furnace has kicked on, and I’m wondering once again, how much it will cost to stay warm this winter.

Retired Architect, Richard Lachance lives just a couple of hours drive from my place, and he knows what to expect as the long winter approaches.

His NB Superinsulated House blog is a tremendous resource for designing and building superinsulated housing, which can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 75%.

His detailed design drawings are based on principles developed by PHIUS (Passive House Institute US) which is the North American branch of the PassiveHaus Institute in Germany.

What’s a superinsulated house?

While this really is the no-brainer it appears to be, there are a few key elements that make the system work efficiently to reduce our energy demands, enabling us to become less reliant on fossil fuels.

Here’s a bit from Richard’s web site:

All Superinsulated houses share three important elements:

  1. They are constructed to be air tight.
  2. Compared to conventional houses, they have a higher level of insulation, hence the name “superinsulated”.
  3. They have a ventilation system to control air quality.

All three of these elements are planned into the SI house during the design stage.

Retrofitting existing structures.

While existing structures can be retrofitted to superinsulated standards, it costs more than building from the ground up. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it – starting yesterday.


  • Conserve energy with no impact on lifestyle.
  • More comfortable – no drafts or cold areas.
  • Healthier – air quality is controlled and can be monitored.
  • Higher relative humidity makes it more comfortable.
  • Safer – backdrafting of combustion appliances is impossible.
  • Quieter due to thicker walls and better windows.
  • Save money – up to 75% of heating and cooling costs.
  • Environmentally friendly – helping to build a sustainable future.

wall section of superinsulated house

What does all this cost?

Not as much as you might think.

It costs about 5 to 7% more than conventional new construction techniques – mostly to due to better windows and doors, HVAC equipment, insulation and air sealing.

I haven’t seen what the payback time calculation is, but when you factor in things like future oil prices, and impacts of unmitigated climate change – the costs of not implementing the superinsulated model will be considerably greater.

US is lagging bigtime.

As of August 2010, there were about 25,000 certified passivehaus structures throughout Europe compared with 13 in the US, with a few more in progress.

It seems US policymakers would rather fight for oil overseas (or “Big Oil” at home) than try to use less of it – which would have the added benefit of employing a whole bunch of American people in the process.

Adopting sustainable energy conservation and environmental policies are clearly the way forward, but they will be demanded by the American people, not the politicians.

Once these standards are adopted and implemented, renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal and wind can take on a larger role in supplying sustainable, clean energy – meaning the cost of these technologies will come down – along with the cost of oil.

Related Articles on this blog:

Home Energy Retrofit Economics

7 DIY Pop Can Solar Heaters

Images: NB Superinsulated House

Related Posts