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Contractors need to adapt in order to win Passive House contracts

John Bleasby
Contractors need to adapt in order to win Passive House contracts

Project designs that focus on energy efficiency and reductions of GHG emissions in both new and existing buildings are a reality that contractors coast-to-coast will face in the near future. In fact, some would suggest that the future is already here.

Driven by pending code changes, and further encouraged by British Columbia and leading Ontario municipalities like Windsor, Hamilton and Toronto, green initiatives are beginning to populate the ICI project landscape everywhere. Many of these projects seek Passive House certification, arguably the most stringent standard of all. As a result, contractors looking for a seat at the bidding table may need to accept modifications to their traditional building processes.

“I think there is a general lack of knowledge and understanding of what is involved,” says Deborah Byrne, COO of Toronto-based Kearns Mancini Architects. “There may be a fear element concerning how it’s going to impact their day-to-day, and an automatic assumption that it’s going to be more expensive or take more time.”

Experience with Passive House has fundamentally changed the way Byrne’s design practice conducts business, a path from which they will not retreat. “We have spent so much time and effort discovering this new approach from a Canadian standpoint, and developing the details and construction methods. It’s now our normal process — to try to go backwards would be very difficult.”

Byrne’s message to contractors and builders is similar. “Honestly, you’re not doing anything differently. You’re just doing it the way it always should have been done,” she says. “Good builders know how to build — it just has to be built as designed. The sequencing, oversight, quality control and some of the technology has changed, but the majority of detailing is the same.”

Byrne also wants to dispel the assumption shared by many contractors that standards such as Passive House lead inevitably to higher costs, based on their belief that new processes must be added on top of their traditional way of doing things.

“The assumption is that it’s going to cost more because, for example, they’re putting in windows they didn’t have to use before, or installing new equipment that was not readily available in some instances, or because everything is done with a higher level of quality control.” In fact, she says, even the simple matter of having key players collaborating together from the beginning can actually result in improved cost-effectiveness.

It’s important that contractors understand the project’s objectives and be willing to commit to the best overall result possible through a higher level of collaboration, Byrne says. “It’s important to have everyone’s input, because they can really be a fundamental part of the design team from the beginning. For example, penetration details have to be counteracted. So you work around details to make it work and come up with more feasible solutions.”

The requirement for more formalized collaboration of stakeholders, along with the increased adoption of BIM, will also result in a shift in contract models. The free exchange of information within the construction pyramid is not something provided in standard CCDC contracts. In their place, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) contracts will begin to attract more interest.

“IPD is a project delivery approach based on the integration of people, systems, business models and industry practices into a process that manages talent and knowledge in a collaborative way,” write Antonio Iacovelli and Jonathan Martin, of law firm Miller Thomson LLP. “The objectives are to reduce time and resource waste and to optimize efficiency throughout the design, manufacturing and construction phases.”

The resultant collaborative approach is less adversarial, and encourages major parties to work together from the outset in order to minimize disputes.

Contractors should approach these developments without anxiety. “If they start with the intention of continuous rigour, with all the trades focussed on the endgame and all partners knowing that the building has a specific and substantial target, there will be a buy-in from everyone,” says Byrne. “They will learn that’s a really good thing to do and will realize the benefits.”

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