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Passive technology gaining acceptance

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by Korky Koroluk last update:Dec 2, 2014

It’s only a few years since the first North American passive house was built.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

It had immense appeal for a small number of people who were ultra-serious about energy conservation, and not many others.

But the idea grew until there was enough interest to hold a Passive House conference, meeting around folding tables in a modest facility in Urbana, Ill., trading tips and thinking of North America’s energy future.

Passive House originated in Germany as Passivhaus, and it has enjoyed widespread acceptance in Europe, where there are more than 25,000 Passivhaus-certified buildings. By 2020, every new building in the European Union must be a “near zero-energy building.” That has brought with it a sharp increase in new green construction jobs.

In North America, though, there is still a reluctance to accept the notion of a house that operates without a furnace.

But reality has slowly begun to push its way to the fore. Fossil energy is a finite resource, its use is damaging and it’s past time to start planning alternatives. So late last year, about 350 Passive House practitioners from across the United States met in Portland, Oregon. Their presence in such numbers has helped establish Passive House as a viable force in the green building movement.

None of this has been lost on Passive House enthusiasts in Canada. There aren’t many of them yet, and only a couple of structures certified as Passive Houses. But the seed has been planted and is already sprouting.

For starters, organizers decided that the Canadian organization should be called Passive Buildings Canada, because the passive standards can be applied to non-residential structures as well as houses. The group is a federally incorporated non-profit organization, and it’s got a relatively new website.

The first Canadian Passive House was built in Whistler, B.C. Called Austria House, it was intended as a demonstration of the passive concepts, and was aimed at visitors to the Olympic Games, as well as British Columbians as a whole.

A year after the Austria House, we now have a second Passive House built in Ottawa by Chris Straka, of VERT Design. It’s a three-storey duplex overlooking the Rideau River, and Straka lives in one of the two 1,650-square-foot units.

It’s got all the bells and whistles one would expect in a low-energy home: triple glazing, large south-facing windows, a lot of insulation and a green roof.

There are more details on the project website.

Straka’s house also has a LEED platinum rating, and that raises a whole series of questions that the Canadian green industry will have to address.

How soon will we see Passive Building standards incorporated into Canadian building codes? Will the idea of life-cycle costing eventually overcome buyer resistance to a higher initial price? Will there have to be new mortgage rules so that buyers of a Passive building can enjoy down payments as low as those for conventional mortgages for conventional buildings?

There have been enough Passive Buildings built in enough places that we know there are long-term savings that more than off-set up-front initial costs, but many people remain sceptical.

Straka has been quoted as saying that any custom home in Ottawa will cost perhaps $225 per square foot to build. But for $250 per foot, he adds, the buyer can have the “ultimate in energy efficiency.”

In the meantime, there is a conference coming up on March 1-2 in Toronto. It’s the 3rd International Summit on High Performance and Sustainable buildings. The program includes a number of sessions of special interest to the Passive Building folks.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

last update:Dec 2, 2014

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