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Lorrie Rand: The Challenges of Being a Passive House Professional

Over the past few weeks, our articles have heavily focused on passive house from a client's perspective. We have explored the drivers and barriers that homeowners may experience in their quest to future-proof their homes. We reviewed how passive buildings can protect occupants from poor air quality and even climate-induced extreme weather events. But every story has two sides, so let's take a look at passive house from the perspective of an industry professional. While passive houses are a fantastic solution to many modern construction concerns, these buildings are actualized by creative (and logical) professionals who devote their careers to creating a better world - introducing Ms. Lorrie Rand.

Lorrie has 20 years of experience in residential design. As a young woman, Lorrie's interest in physics inspired her to pursue a career designing science-based buildings. Now a certified passive house designer and valued Passive Buildings Canada Board Member, her passion for high-performance buildings allowed her to chisel out a niche in the industry. She is also the co-founder and Sustainability Director of Habit Studio, an all-women-based company leading sustainable home design in Nova Scotia. Like many passive home designers, Lorrie has experienced the trials and tribulations of the trade. While Rand has built a successful career through hard work and valued mentorship from renowned industry professionals like Anne Sinclair and Natalie Leonard, she also faced the added challenges of being female in a male-dominant industry while conducting business in remote Nova Scotia.

Despite being an accredited passive building designer with a wealth of experience, Lorrie has encountered moments of uncomfortable undermining by male colleagues. She has seen some of her skillfully devised building plans derailed by less experienced men arguing for their personal preferences over her science-based designs. Thankfully this isn't a frequent occurrence for Rand, but she recognizes the need to support other females in the industry. In 2016, Lorrie and long time partner Judyann Obersi founded Habit Studio, which has since provided a safe platform for other female and transgender professionals in the area. While having values centred around sustainability, professionalism and expertise, Rand ensures that her colleagues have time to take care of personal and family matters. Although the Habit Studio team is occasionally undermined for being an all-women team in the building industry, they generally receive the respect and recognition they deserve from their clients and male associates.

Like many other passive design professionals, Lorrie has faced challenges while working with clients who favour their stylistic vision over design practicality. Passive buildings can be aesthetically pleasing but designers must follow rigorous guidelines to ensure that the structure meets airtightness and efficiency standards. Rand has seen some of her non-residential projects downgraded from passive house certification due to the complex designs preferred by her clients. In recent years, she also faced designing a building that required special attention to achieve indoor thermal comfort. This building had variable heating and cooling needs depending on the season and occupancy. The large building was proposed to host anywhere from 8 staff in the winter months to crowds of visitors in the summer. While thick insulation was required to meet efficiency and thermal standards for the winter months, Rand feared the building would overheat when at capacity in summer. This is a growing concern for many passive design professionals, as climate change is causing stronger seasonal temperature variations across Canada.

Lorrie also experiences significant challenges as a passive designer in Nova Scotia. This picturesque Atlantic province is dotted with century-old buildings and a severely outdated residential sector. Dilapidated buildings are commonplace despite the province having some of the most progressive building codes and policies in Canada. While the region is typically known for its mild seasons (compared to the rest of Canada), recent summer temperatures made homes unbearably warm for locals. Leaking buildings don't pair well with temperature fluctuations, and Lorrie's team has seen a massive surge in interest in passive homes. Fondly remembering the days of convincing prospective clients on the benefits of passive house, she exclaims that Habit Studio is overwhelmed with inquiries from interested homeowners. Rand believes the region is particularly underserved by passive house professionals despite the increasing demand for new builds and deep-energy retrofits. She decided to take action by becoming an instructor with Passive House Canada to help bring more expertise to the region.

We have explored how global warming could affect indoor thermal comfort and air quality, but Lorrie's clients are already experiencing the ramifications of climate change firsthand. She noted that local homeowners are now expressing interest in passive homes for their ability to maintain a stable indoor environment year-round. With this in mind, it is difficult for Lorrie to deny that new code-built homes are outdated before the family even moves in, so she has pledged to design passive buildings exclusively. Although Lorrie and her team are making waves on sustainable housing in Nova Scotia, she insists that the region needs more professionals to meet the vast demand for passive builds and reduce the higher costs for materials.

While Lorrie and the Habit Studio team have their hands full with single-family passive home projects, she starkly recognizes the need for deep-energy retrofitting, both locally and across Canada. With a largely outdated and inefficient building stock and being the fastest-warming country in the world, Canada must heavily invest in deep-energy retrofitting. In light of this, Lorrie and colleagues (including PBC) are collaborating on the ReCover project, modelled off the dutch concept EnergieSprong. This initiative aims to achieve a net-zero building stock through prefabricated skin wraps and efficient mechanical systems. Like most sustainability projects, Rand and her associates are fighting for government funding for a project that will drastically reduce energy emissions while improving occupant health and wellbeing. She is frustrated by the lack of cooperation from officials but has continued to advocate for the project's potential.

In the final moments of our conversation, Lorrie detailed ReCover's plans to design open-source retrofitting designs for "standard" Canadian building types. While enjoying her successful career, she sees how the poor uptake of passive builds and deep-energy retrofits directly affects Canadians and wants to help. Deep energy and passive retrofits are essential to significantly reducing sector GHG emissions, but contractors often avoid them as they see them as are complicated and high-risk projects. Lorrie hopes these standardized designs will remove barriers for contractors and homeowners considering a retrofit but believes that government support will ultimately decide the success of such projects.

In total, Lorrie had an optimistic and refreshing story to tell. Her hard work through Habit Studio, ReCover and Passive Buildings Canada is creating a safe and sustainable building stock for Canada, which will be appreciated by generations to come.

Articles on the PBC website reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of PBC.