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Inside Innovation: Eastern Canadian acceptance grows for Passive House

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Eastern Canadian acceptance grows for Passive House

Passive House certifications for Part 3 buildings are growing at a remarkable rate across the country, and no more so than in Ontario.

This was apparent at Passive House Canada’s recent Annual Conference at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Over 430 registrants representing the design and engineering professions, plus several governmental agencies, had the opportunity to attend a selection of nearly 20 educational seminars during the two-day event. An exhibition of Passive House technologies, such as air heating and cooling control systems, glazing and building facade systems, also played an important role in the 2019 Conference experience.

Robert Bernhardt, CEO of Passive House Canada, believes that interest in the conference, and in Part 3 buildings specifically, was to be expected. “We have been very pleased with the response. The number of registrations is really indicative of the growth of the market in this region.”

In fact, in her opening remarks to the conference, Toronto City Councillor Jennifer McKelvie — herself a graduate of U of T’s Environmental Science program — pointed out that there are more than 230 mid- to high-rise buildings currently under construction in the city. She also reminded attendees that under Toronto’s recently launched Green Will Initiative, the City has joined with major institutional and commercial landowners to reduce carbon footprints.

The partnership includes the city, Toronto Community Housing, three major commercial property owners and five public education institutions. Together, these ten Green Will partners represent 300 million square feet of space. “As such, the work of Passive House Canada advocating for high-performance building standards is timelier and more relevant than ever,” she said. Similar municipal energy intensity reduction programs have been undertaken in the cities of Hamilton and Windsor.

There were common themes running through many of the conference presentations relating to the philosophy underlying the Passive House concept. One was recognition that Passive House performance prediction processes will result in better buildings in terms of energy efficiency, occupancy comfort and long-term resilience.

Second was the importance of early collaboration between those representing the various building and design elements. This sharing of expertise allows detailing issues to be addressed prior to construction, saving money both during construction and over the operating life of the building.

A concern shared among some commercial and institutional contractors is that the Passive House approach automatically means added construction costs. It’s a concern that Bernhardt, for one, would like to dispel. “The process is certainly significant,” he said. “But is it a big part of the budget? No. Passive House certification is about demonstrating that the project has the elements that are required to deliver the desired and predicted outcome. You don’t get those reliable outcomes without having some real due diligence in the quality assurance process. And that’s all certification is — a quality assurance process.”

As Canada moves towards a mandated Net Zero Energy building code over the next 10 years, it will become impossible to ignore the leadership role being played by the Passive House movement. LEED has already initiated processes and elements that might have been out of the ordinary in the past but are now common today. That evolution towards a new normal will continue, due to Passive House. In fact, Bernhardt recognizes that at some point in the future, his organization’s role could change significantly as building codes and standards approach Passive House levels. “I can’t think of a better reason to become redundant,” he said.

That day may be some time off, however. In the meantime, Passive House Canada continues with plans to open offices in Eastern Canada. “We still have to determine the exact location,” he said. However, Bernhardt confirmed that some hiring decisions have been made and that an operating plan including funding will be approved shortly. “Ontario is one of the markets we will be looking at as a priority.”

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

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