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Ice Box Challenge to test building performance

Russell Hixson
Ice Box Challenge to test building performance

Two small structures are currently in a house-to-house showdown in downtown Vancouver.

The Ice Box Challenge is pitting the BC Building Code against passive house, a super-insulated international high-performance building standard. Passive House Canada has filled home-like structures with ice and left them in the hot sun for 18 days. One structure is built to code, the other to the passive house standard.

Vancouver-area residents can enter their estimates online at for a chance to win the Ice Box Challenge contest. On Aug. 14, the ice boxes will be opened in Olympic Village Square and the ice measured. The winning estimate will also be announced.

Passive house buildings can use up to 90 per cent less energy than traditional buildings, explains the association. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help owners and developers comply with Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan as well as the new British Columbia Energy Step Code.

"It’s become very clear over the past year or two that the direction that buildings are going in is high performance levels," said Passive House Canada CEO Rob Bernhardt. "Governments at all levels in Canada have made a commitment to do that."

Bernhardt said the competition idea comes from Brussels which has experienced a dramatic transformation.

"Brussels managed to transform their building stock and code in seven years from the lowest performing buildings in Europe to passive house building code," he said. "Canada is now on track to be doing the same sort of thing." According to Bernhardt, dozens of new high-performance buildings are currently in design or under construction in Vancouver.

They include family homes, apartment and condo buildings, and commercial, community, institutional and mixed-use buildings.

"It is a good news story for the design and construction sector because high performance buildings represent an incremental investment in design and in construction as well," he said.

As part of the Greenest City Action Plan, Vancouver has a goal to eliminate its dependency on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Over the next 30 years, Vancouver aims to begin improving energy efficiency — including its buildings.

"It’s great to partner with Passive House Canada on the Ice Box Challenge so people can see first-hand how Vancouver’s new standard of zero-emission, better built buildings make a real difference in quality and comfort of living," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in a release.

"By using little energy to heat or cool, zero-emission buildings are reliable, affordable and comfortable to live and work in while going a long way to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

Passive House Canada is a national non-profit professional association advocating for the passive house high-performance building standard.

The challenge is being run with support from the City of Vancouver, Vancity and members of the local construction industry.

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