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Passive House interest a growing Canadian trend

Peter Caulfield
Passive House interest a growing Canadian trend

Organizers of the Passive House (PH) pavilion and related educational seminars at Buildex Vancouver 2016 say they are a sign of the increasing interest in Canada about building to the internationally recognized PH standard of energy efficiency. "After a successful launch in 2014, we expanded the pavilion to create what we have now," said Malcolm Cairns, chairman of the Canadian Passive House Institute West Buildex Vancouver committee.

Cairns says the number of PH projects has increased in recent years, with more on the drawing board.

"As government takes steps to address climate change and consumers become aware of the benefits of such buildings, the passive house standard is emerging as the building of the future," Cairns said. There are seven exhibits and five seminars at Buildex Vancouver that deal with some aspect of PH. Exhibitors at the PH pavilion are 475 High Performance Building Supply, Britco LP, Demilec Inc., EuroLine Windows Inc., SIGA Cover and Zehnder America Inc.

The seminars are Quality Assured Passive House: Passive House as a ‘Whole System Approach’; Factory-Built Passive House: The Case Study of Affordable Housing for a Remote First Nations Community; Renewables: Updates to the Passive House Certification Criteria; Successful Integrated Passive House Buildings; and the Passive House Building Case Study.

The Factory-Built Passive House seminar deals with building and installing a modular row house of six two-storey apartments in Bella Bella, a small (population 1,400), isolated community on the central coast of British Columbia. Craig Mitchell, director of sales of Britco LP, which built the structure at its Langley, B.C. plant and had it shipped and installed in Bella Bella, says the PH row house is different in a number of ways from standard row houses.

"The main difference is in the ‘blanket’ wrapped around the exterior, and the efficient heating/cooling/ventilation system," Mitchell said. The project, which is the first multi-unit modular PH in Canada, also features baseboard heat rather than a furnace, triple-glazed windows and six inches of exterior insulation. The row houses were built to PH standards as a prototype for owner Vancouver Coastal Health.

"The project replaces an earlier housing project that had burned down," said Mitchell.  "The cost of heating homes in Bella Bella is significant, so the owner thought this might be an innovative way to reduce the cost of operation."

The Passive House Building Case Study seminar, presented by Andrew Pape-Salmon, senior energy and sustainability specialist with RDH Building Science Inc., looks at a business case study of a six-plex residential PH building in Victoria.

"The study is the first to separate the passive house costs and benefits that accrue to builder and consumer," said Pape-Salmon. "Until the study, the costs and benefits to builder and consumer had been analyzed together."

The business case study found the space heating demand of the six-plex was one-sixth of a conventional house of the same shape and size. According to the study, the builder makes the same return on investment for a conventional house, while nearly doubling his incremental investment on building to the PH standard.

"The buyer of the house will pay a higher purchase price, including associated taxes, but he’ll recover his full investment through lower energy bills," he said. The Successful Integrated Passive House Buildings seminar is about the integration of passive house buildings.

"In the context of passive house buildings, integration means bringing together many separate elements, such as architecture, mechanical systems, landscaping and electrical systems," said Lucio Picciano, owner and principal of DLP Architecture Inc., and one of the session speakers.

"To me, integration is necessary. But frequently there is a gap between so-called green building and sensitive, contextually appropriate design. Some homeowners and builders think good design is secondary to energy efficiency."

In fact, said Picciano, form and function can be effectively combined, and the best way to do it is by changing the regulations.

"Energy efficiency has been addressed recently in the B.C. building code, so we’re on our way there," he said. Picciano said most resistance to the passive house concept in Canada is social, not technical.

"We already have the know-how," he said. "The harder part is convincing people to go with the passive house standard." Picciano said Germany and Scandinavia have been more receptive to passive house than Canada.

"In Canada, the biggest passive house selling point is not energy savings, like northern Europe, but comfort," he said. "A passive house structure has consistent temperature strata throughout the house, lots of natural light and higher air quality."

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