Buying A Home: What You Should Know Before You Purchase

Access to housing is usually one of the most important economic investments in people’s lives. That applies both in the case of buying a home or renting it, with any type of financing. It is natural to ask oneself what considerations are necessary in order to have a knowledge base before acting.

On many occasions, the benefits of acquiring a new or used home, exceed those of building one. It is impressive to see the number of vacant houses and apartments available in the city waiting for future businesses and renovations. This is where one can take advantage of what already exists and reduce large expenses. The contemplations of buying a home go beyond the ones of renting. They address issues ranging from regulations to the passage of time both in relation to materials and the urban context. The following are some tips that might be useful!

Location for Buying a Home: Check the Urban Context and Its Development

It is not only the orientation that is fundamental. Reducing the energy costs of heating and lighting matters a lot. The understanding of proximity and access to basic services regarding health, supply, security, and transport count too. This is closely followed by other minimum requirements, such as electricity and gas systems, lighting, waste collection, and sewerage. It’s a good idea to visit the site on a rainy day and check for waterlogging or flooding.

In this sense, it would be useful to inquire about infrastructural projects and social processes. Check all that is occurring in the surroundings as well as on a neighborhood scale. You need to know everything related to issues that may increase or decrease the value of the property in future purchases or sales.

Know the Local Regulations and the State of Regularization of the Property

Think about your long-term plans and check if local regulations will allow your next home to adapt to your needs. In many cases, ignorance of building regulations can defeat your plans of extension or renovation. It is also important to know if the housing is properly registered and complying with the municipal requirements. Aim to avoid any legal inconvenience or major additional expenses (especially if the former residents had pending fines).

Buying a Home? Take the Materials Into Account …and the Way They Will Age

The materials do not last forever. It will always be necessary to understand that at some point you will need to invest in both painting and repairs of some kind. Taking time to review the finishes and the quality of the materials may be relevant for knowing what you will confront in future maintenance.

Buying new home

The Structure and the Installations Are Very Important

Not only is it necessary to check the installations, but also to understand the structural system of the house. Start by trying out the water pressure or check the electric meter and boards. This will help you to quickly understand the capacity of extension in the case of renovation and to avoid a headache. Going back to issues related to regulations, it is especially important to check that the installations are meeting the current requirements, it can be a big problem for your economy to update them. 

Beware of Home Staging

Remember that furniture and decoration determine the success of a space- especially due to the relationship you have with them. You will not want to buy all the furniture new in the case that yours do not fit the future home. In this sense, it is necessary to pay attention to the staging offered in sales situations and to try to visualize the space with your own belongings.

Check Recurring Expenses and Anticipate Maintenance Costs

You can buy the most economical house you can find, but quickly notice whether it was a good or a bad idea based on the expenses you have on a regular basis. It is essential to check these costs in advance to avoid surprises. For example, find out if there is any subsidy in the rates of services, the cost of cleaning, sweeping, and lighting of public spaces in the sector or taxes associated with owning housing.

Buying new home

Search for Price References

Check the price range of similar housing listed in the desired sector. You might be surprised how ignorance of the market might affect you. In this sense try to inquire about construction costs and what different real estate companies offer. It is always advisable to become an expert on the subject and to have different views on the matter.

Talk to Your Possible Future Neighbors

Whether it is a house or an apartment, it is more than interesting to know who your future fellows might be. Research can also tell you those small and important details and their perception of the area. Moreover, you can learn more about the reason why the former residents have decided to leave.

buying new home

Check the Necessary Procedures and the Extra Costs of Buying a Home

The process of buying and selling housing is clearly not a simple task. Therefore, multiple factors might affect the amount of money you had considered – especially with issues related to regulations, such as payments to commissioners and notaries. For any matter, we always recommend turning to a professional for advice.

Know Your Rights as a Consumer in the Real Estate Market

Oftentimes we know our obligations but are unaware of our rights. In the case of real estate, where investments are very high and there are a lot of variables at play, it is important to find out which ones correspond to you and to be prepared. 

Keys To Improve Architectural Acoustics: Sound Absorption and Diffusion

“Acoustics” in architecture means improving sound in environments. Although it is a complex science, understanding the basics – and making efficient and effective decisions – is much easier than you might think. The first step is to understand that there are two technical categories used in acoustics: soundproofing and acoustical treatment. Soundproofing means “less noise” and treatment, “better sound”.

Soundproofing is commonly used in music recording studios – but it can also be applied in locations near major avenues, schools, construction zones or even drummers’ neighbors. Soundproofing an environment is like protecting it against bad weather: the structure should be as solid as possible and without holes or cracks. To reduce the noise coming into and going out of a room, one must increase the structural mass of the walls, floor and ceiling, and seal the air gaps surrounding doors and windows, as well as the openings for refrigeration and electrical outlets. The extent of the measures taken will depend on how much noise there is on the outside, and how much you want it to be reduced on the inside.

(1) Incident Sound / (2) Reflected Sound / (3) Transmitted Sound / (4) Absorbed Sound

On the other hand, sound treatments are used when you want to improve sound quality within an environment – for diners to hear and understand conversations at their tables in a restaurant, for students to understand teachers, for the whole audience to enjoy the music in an auditorium. All building materials have acoustic properties as they can potentially absorb, reflect or transmit sounds that reach them. When sounds are reflected, they cause an increase in the overall echo and reverberation levels in a space. When treating rooms correctly, echo and reverberation is reduced – and to treat rooms, there are two methods available: sound absorption and diffusion. The best treatment strategies combine these two techniques.

Sound absorption is defined as the incident sound that strikes a material that is not reflected back. An open window is an excellent absorber, since sounds that pass through the open window are not reflected back. Acoustic absorbers use materials designed for the purpose of absorbing sound that could otherwise be reflected back into the room. The more fibrous a material, the better the absorption, and denser materials are usually less absorbent. The acoustic absorption characteristics of different materials can vary significantly by frequency. In general, low frequency sounds are very difficult to absorb because of their long wavelengths. However, we are generally less sensitive to low frequency sounds, which means we often do not need to treat a room for low-frequency absorption.

Diffusion is the method of spreading sound energy with a diffuser to improve sound in a space. However, the process and tools of sound diffusion can be misunderstood, even by some professionals. Diffusion spreads the reflected sound energy in a room, also reducing the harmful effects of strong echo and reverberation. One type of diffusor is a curved panel, often with a fabric cover, which can be easily placed on walls and ceilings. These types of panels have the advantage of uniformly spreading flat-wall reflections that would otherwise be combined with original sound waves to create destructive interference. In a concert hall, for example, diffusion panels are used to enhance the richness of sound and help create a sense of spaciousness.

Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Location: New York NY, Architect: Rockwell Group

When a sound wave reaches an acoustic material, the sound wave vibrates the fibers or particles of the absorbent material. This vibration causes small amounts of heat due to friction and thus the sound absorption is performed by means of energy for heat conversion. For the majority of conventional acoustic materials, the density and thickness of the material affect the sound absorption amount and frequencies absorbed by the material. While the inherent composition of the acoustic material determines its performance, other factors may be used to improve or influence acoustic performance. For example, the incorporation of an air space behind an acoustic ceiling or a wall panel often improves low frequency performance.

By installing absorbers and diffusers in a space, the level of undesirable noise, in the form of echo and reverberation, is reduced. Noise is a relative term and can range from low levels of intrusive sound in a quiet environment to loud sounds in an already noisy environment. When noise levels are high enough, background noise can mask the speech sound levels that you want to hear. Restaurants can be classic examples of excessive noise interference due to lack of sound absorbing materials to prevent excessive build-up of echo and reverberation. Customers speak louder and louder to be heard and in doing so simply add to the noise. Proper acoustical treatments will helpreduce the accumulation of sound reflections and will reduce the need for customers to speak increasingly louder.

Being in an environment with inadequate acoustics can be extremely unpleasant and directly influences the environmental comfort of a space, our behavior, and even our productivity. Just as architects do not necessarily need be experts in every technical aspect of a project, it is the same for acoustical knowledge – it can be helpful to call on acoustical-product suppliers to carefully review the technical specifications of a project and to recommend the best available products to improve the acoustical environment.However, it’s also helpful to have a basic idea of these issues – it will help us make informed decisions for incorporating better sound within the project’s design, ultimately delivering a better user experience.

What Is A Passive House?

What Is A Passive House?

Why and How Can We Build One?

  1. Introduction to a Passive House
  2. The parties who need to be involved in the process?
  3. What incentives can a homeowner receive from municipalities? 
  4. The Passive House design-build process.
  5. Passive House costs
  6. Passive House Certification
  7. Net Zero Homes
  8. Passive House renovations

1- Introduction To Passive House

vancouver Passive house
vancouver Passive house

The Passive House movement started in Germany and is currently spreading all around the world because it offers builders and homeowners a chance to reduce their carbon footprint while saving energy.  

A Passive House is a building constructed to certain standards and details in order to minimize the building’s energy consumption and its dependency on outsourced energies like hydro or gas. The building can be an apartment building, an institutional building, a commercial building or a single-family house. 

There are many programs that lay out standards to construct better and more energy efficient buildings. These include Leed, Built Green, r2000 and Net Zero. Many use rating systems or standards that rate the material source, construction practices and recycling methods. Some of the standards set by these programs are similar. Generally, a Passive House concentrates specifically on a building’s performance including: airtightness, indoor air quality, thermal bridges and insulation values within the building. 

If a designer and a contractor follow the required standards, the building will ultimately need to show proof of performance during and after construction which will entail several stages of examination before the building can achieve a Passive House Certification. 

In a nutshell, anyone interested in saving on their energy bill while they reduce their carbon footprint can choose to build a Passive House or do a passive home renovation. It might look more costly at the beginning but the investment pays of in no time. 

2- Parties Who Need To Be Involved In The Process

When a developer or a homeowner decides to build a Passive House, first he or she needs to discuss the options with a home designer/architect who has some familiarity with Passive House. 

In a normal building the designer/architect can take the lead on the design process and hand the final permit drawing which includes the structural drawings to the homeowner/developer to call for tender, but in Passive House there should be co-ordinations between the designer/architect, contractor and city staff and all other consultants from the beginning. 

The following is the list of the parties who are involved: 

1- Designer/Architect who is familiar with the process and knows how to deal with other parties

2- Energy Modeler (Sometimes the Designer can do this part, sometimes not. Some Designers prefer to leave this part to a third party) 

3- Passive House Certifier. This person cannot be the same as Energy Modeler. 

4- Building Envelope Consultant. In some cases a Building Envelope Consultant needed to approve the details of the exterior walls.

5- A Structural Engineer who has some knowledge on Passive House and modern framing. It is important to have this knowledge, as the structural elements are a key point in avoiding thermal bridges.

6- Energy Auditor (advisor) to determine the building performance. 

Most of municipalities require this stage for new homes. For a Passive House this stage will be more comprehensive.

In addition, the following consultants are required for any constructions regardless of whether it is a Passive House or not. These include: a Survey engineer, a geotechnical engineer, and a landscape designer.

3- What Incentives Can A Homeowner Receive From Municipalities?

In the City of Vancouver a standard thirty-three foot size lot has a certain maximum floor area depends on where it is located and the zoning in that area. Many lots are narrow and by adding the side setbacks to the equation the remaining width might be too limited. 

In a Passive House the thickness of the exterior walls and roof will be increased due to the amount of insulation required to meet a Passive House standard requirement. The City of Vancouver has established a specific department within the Development Department to deal with these issues and will allow some relaxations to the zoning. The

North Shore municipalities on the other hand have their own unique approach and projects needed to be discussed on a case-by-case basis, as there are many different requirements.

BC Hydro and Fortis BC have a rebate program for Energy Star appliances and all appliances in a Passive House should be energy star. 

Insulation for passive house
Insulation for passive house

4- The Passive House Design-Build Process

There are two stages to consider: 

  • Pre-construction Stage.
  • Construction Stage.

A- Pre-construction. 

The idea to build a Passive House could be generated by a well-informed homeowner, developer or builder, or in many cases by a designer/architect. 

Regardless of who starts the conversation be sure your designer has the required knowledge to be able to design a Passive House.  There are set work frames and standards that must be designed into the Passive Home. Once the client has approved an initial concept, the design will need to move into the modeling stage to make sure it meets the necessary requirements of a Passive House. Co-ordinations between the designer and municipal staff need to take place, so the modeling design maybe tweaked to meet building requirements.

During the concept approval stage, the designer may start conversations with a builder who is familiar with Passive House construction and details. After the building details are discussed and approved the modeling of the project can be finalized. 

At this point all construction details need to be discussed, reviewed and perhaps revised by a knowledgeable structural engineer in order to avoid any thermal bridging. 

Finally, the designer and builder need to co-ordinate construction details making sure all materials will be available when the construction starts.

B- Construction Stage

After the building permit is issued and the utilities lines are located and the builder is ready to set their work, an initial site meeting between the consultants, contractors and the client is necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page and everyone understands each other’s role and responsibilities. 

In this meeting the builder can present his or her expected schedule so that each consultant and sub-contractor know their timelines and expected inspections. 

It is a good idea to schedule another meeting after the excavation is done and make a mockup of the wall and roof assembly so each and every trade knows the exact requirements, timeline and details of the project. Assuming everyone knows this can cause many problems down the road.

After the framing is done, the designer or Energy Advisor will inspect the framing to minimize thermal bridging in the framing. If there is an issue now will be the time to explore alternative solutions.

After the insulation and vapour barrier is installed the energy advisor will have to do a door blow test to determine the airtightness of the building. If the building is large or has multi stories tests can be done in multiple stages.

Any deficiencies have to be taken care of at this stage to make sure the building has the desire airtightness. If desired, the designer can request more testing prior to the drywall installation. 

After the drywall installation, all cabinets, mirrors and other finishings a second air blow test should be performed. 

At this stage the Passive House Certifier would need the reports and documentation to start the certification process. The designer or the modeler can help facilitate this step. 

The rest of building inspections related to final occupancy will be the same as any other buildings. 

Passive house builder
Passive house builder

5- Passive House Costs

Even though many people might think building a high performance house will be very costly the reality is it is not. Of course any higher quality product requires more upfront investment. But if you think about the house as a long term investment the Passive House will ultimately require less maintenance and less energy to operate and will therefore require less money in the long run.

Here are some rough approximations of costs you can expect.

  • Starting from pre-construction the cost of the designer and structural engineer will be fifteen percent over a regular house. 
  • The modeling, inspections, door blow tests, and certification will cost minimum of fifteen thousand (check with your designer).
  • During construction the extra material won’t be a huge cost but the trained labor to be able to build it will be more than regular construction. 
  • There are savings on heating and cooling system. The Hrv unit used in a Passive House is more costly than in a regular house but the heating system is way less costly.
  • The windows and exterior doors will be fifteen to twenty per cent more. 

Overall, the upfront cost of building a Passive House can be as little as fifteen percent above average construction prices. Think of it like buying an electric car, you pay more up front, but you save on monthly gasoline and maintenance charges.

If someone has a limited budget and wishes to build a Passive House, they can reduce the cost of their home’s finishing budget in order to recoup the cost of building a high performance Passive House. 

Energy saving homes
Energy saving homes

6- Passive House Certification. Why Certify?

The global certifying body for Passive Houses is located in Germany. But there are several identities in Canada who can do the certification of your house.

The designer/architect should take the lead and gather all the reports and documents to pass to the certifier so they have everything they need to issue the certification. 

Once a building is certified, the owner will receive a plaque to proudly hang on the wall.

The honour of hanging this plaque is almost like showcasing your Olympic gold medal to your friends, family or the public. It’s an honour to show the achievement the developer and all the team has accomplished. 

By doing so, the building will be register on the world wide directory of Passive Houses. 

Anyone who is thoughtful about:

  • Their investment
  • The environment
  • And the well being of the building’s occupants

will want to consider the advantages of building a Passive House as its high quality design delivers on all fronts.

7- Net Zero House

A Passive House has three different classes:

  • Standard or Classic,
  • Plus and
  • Premium.

The class a Passive House gets is determined by the dependency of the building on a power grid. A Premium Passive House will have no dependency on a power grid and will be self sufficient for all its energy consumption. 

The Premium Passive House is often referred to within the construction industry as a Net Zero building. Not all Net Zero buildings are Passive Houses as a less efficient building can be Net Zero as well. 

The difference is the energy production in a non-Passive House building needs to be higher to recover the energy loss of the building. Remember what makes a Passive House unique is that the overall energy loss in a Passive House is minimized so the occupants need less energy to keep the building running. If someone wants to have a Net Zero Passive House the cost of the energy production will be less as well. 

8-Passive House Renovations

It is possible to turn an existing building into a Passive House. A program called EnterPHit exists for retrofit projects and refurbishing components of an existing building.

These renovation projects have to go through the same steps as a new construction except it is often much more difficult because the existing foundation and wall insulation all has to be upgraded to meet the Passive House standards. In addition, to eliminate the thermal bridging, windows and exterior doors have to be replaced and the building modeling should make sure the building will perform after final inspection.

If you have questions please forward them to: Home Designer:

Aryo Falakrou at the following email: [email protected]

For more information on Passive Houses visit:

For a free consult on building a Passive House or a Passive commercial building please give me a call: Aryo Falakrou at: