No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here

No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here

When you think about the principles of Passivhaus building certification, it seems like an obvious choice – high quality, healthy, efficient builds with optimum thermal insulation and airtight construction. Yet despite access to cutting edge building design techniques and modern technology, we are still experiencing the repercussions of faulty, poorly constructed homes.

Architecture Construction firm Steele Associates are setting a new benchmark for sustainable, 21st century living with the launch of Australia’s first Passivhaus apartment building The Fern.

No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.

The Fern has been a labour of love for award-winning architect and registered builder Oliver Steele, who has spent the past four years working with his Steele Associates team to research suitable materials and refine the design. A selection of carefully-engineered design features will see each of the 11 one-bedroom apartments gain significant wellness benefits and little-to-no utility bills.

Operating off of a 21kW monitored solar power system, conducted via rooftop photovoltaic panels – coupled with highly efficient triple glazing, thermal insulation and airtightness mean no electricity or hot water bills are anticipated. As Steele puts it, "you have a healthy cocoon for living in at goldilocks temperatures, all year round."

Each apartment will also contain a Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system which will effectively retain heat in winter months while eliminating hot air in summer. The HRV system will also purify the air with a high-quality filtration system, and provide natural air-flow year-round, as an alternative to air conditioning.

 “Australian building codes didn’t recognise HRV as a ventilation solution because it works with constant low volumes of air instead of a 2-minute high-volume fan blast. So the Australian Passive House Association commissioned Computational Fluid Dynamics Modelling which found that HRV is a superior solution, now approved for the Fern. This alternative solution can be used in apartments across the country, sparking positive change for the way we build and live in the future.”

Oliver Steele, Steele Associates Director

The interiors have been elegantly designed and feature hand-finished concrete walls; timber and marble finishes; and sun-filled living areas. The apartments also offer excellent indoor-outdoor living with expansive stacker-slider doors which open out onto spacious balconies and terrace gardens. 

No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Image supplied.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore will be launching The Fern on the 17th of September at a celebratory event marking the completion of Australia’s first Passivhaus apartment. The Fern which will also be awarded a 9.3-10 star NatHERS energy rating – the best ever apartment sustainability rating to be achieved in Australia.

“Passivhaus takes sustainable development to the next level, using proven building physics to create healthy living spaces that stay cool in summer and warm in winter with ultra-low energy use.”

Oliver Steele, Steele Associates Director

Key aspects of Passivhaus design:

  • Reduced drafts: Passivhaus strives to achieve significantly less ‘air leakage area’
  • Insulation
    • Passivhaus standards are R1 underfloor, R3.5 walls, R6 ceiling
    • Sydney code-compliant requires no underfloor, R1.5 walls, R3 ceiling
  • Airtightness: Greater control of the inflow and outflow of air results in fewer air changes per hour. This will also reduce pest entry.
  • Thermal Bridging: When the insulation layer is broken by a conductive material, this results in a thermal break, creating two relatively separate thermal environments (reducing the risk of Sick Building Syndrome)
No dust, no noise, no bills! Australia’s first Passivhaus apartments are almost here
Thermal Bridging example. Source: Steele Associates
  • Window ‘U Value’: The lower the U Value, the lower level of heat conducted by windows
    • Passivhaus regulation U1:4
    • Sydney average U6.7
  • Heat Recovery Ventilation (also known as HRV): HRV systems work by pumping fresh air into living areas while extracting air from kitchens and bathrooms. This ensures that the air circulation around the home is clean and fresh. It also keeps the heat in during the winter, and the heat out during the summer. HRV also maintains a filtration grade of F7
    • Passivhaus average 85% heat recovery
    • Sydney average 0% heat recovery
  • Acoustics: Given the general construction of Passivhaus design, the well-sealed buildings are generally a lot quieter than the average house

As a result of all these contributing factors, Passivhaus uses around 10% of the heating and cooling energy of the average house and creates a healthier, safer environment.

Lead image credit: The Fern render by Steele Associates

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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