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Inside Innovation: Hamilton’s YWCA Passive House MURB wins Clean50 recognition

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Hamilton’s YWCA Passive House MURB wins Clean50 recognition

The new Putnam Family YWCA Multi-use Residential Building (MURB) in Hamilton, Ont. was nationally acknowledged for its achievements in energy-efficiency and innovation at the 2022 Clean50 Awards gala on Oct. 1 in Toronto.

Since 2011, the Clean50 Awards have recognized projects for their innovation, impact and ability to inform and inspire Canadians through their potential to be replicated.

The Putnam Family YWCA is a social housing residence designed by Toronto’s Kearns Mancini Architects (KMAI) incorporating a community and enterprise centre with a five-storey, 50-unit rental residential space, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Occupancy began in mid-September.

The facility is notable for its design and execution to Passive House standards, demonstrating how stringent energy-saving principles can be achieved in mixed use buildings.

It was also a big night for Kearns Mancini COO Deborah Byrne and her design firm. KMAI was recognized with several Clean50 awards, with Byrne herself winning a Clean16 award for her contributions toward making sustainable procurement part of “business as usual.”

KMAI has made Passive House design integral to many of their projects. Byrne commented that Passive House delivers not only high levels of energy efficiency but occupancy comfort as well.

For the YWCA project, careful consideration was given to the materiality of the envelope, orientation of the spaces as well as the thermal properties of the external walls ensuring optimal performance through varying climatic conditions. The building’s ventilation system eliminates air quality issues, decreases risk of mould and spread of viruses, helping to achieve thermal comfort.

At the same time, Byrne emphasized there is nothing complex about building to such standards. She explained the YWCA project, “offers all the benefits of a Passive House by using the same materials used every day on sites all around the world. But it is in its simplicity that we get the most impact. Passive House should be the fundamental basis of design for all buildings.”

She also stressed that building to Passive House standards should not be a major stretch for contractors taking on such work.

“The Passive House requirement is to install-as-designed. You then test and verify that it has achieved its construction as designed. We are asking people to do their job. We are not asking them to retrain.”

Beyond Passive House certification, the Clean50 organization was also impressed by the innovative use of precast modular walls, floors, beams and columns, designed by Kearns Mancini and built by Coreslab Structures, located in nearby Stony Creek, Ont.

Early project collaboration allowed the incorporation of all required Passive House insulation and air barrier specifications with the highest level of quality control.

“Everything was manufactured on one factory floor under controlled conditions. The result was almost all envelope elements were captured in one panel — rain screen, insulation and structure,” said Byrne.

“We set out to use modular/prefabricated construction with the sole purpose of creating systems we can use again and again without redesigning or modifying. Once created, the manufacturer would have these wall systems freely available to others.”

The precast assembly system also had important carbon-reduction advantages over cast-in-place techniques, notably fewer trucks and trades needed on site.

Nevertheless, there were challenges for the design team, panel fabricators and site assemblers. Byrne cited the reduced flexibility for any after-the-fact adjustments of mechanical services installation as well as the detailed attention required to correctly seal the concrete panels for airtightness.

Yet these were all overcome with a minimal premium over traditional construction processes. According to Byrne, the capital cost uplift originally estimated at 10 per cent came closer to two per cent. In return, the building is expected to realize energy savings of about 75 per cent and annual greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 25 per cent.

As the current chair of Passive House Canada, the Clean50 recognition is an important message for Byrne.

“The Y tells us that anyone can have this level of quality, efficiency and sustainability. It isn’t elitist.”

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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