Passive House advocates in Canada are quick to point out that their country uses almost as much energy, on a per capita basis, as the United States. One major factor driving that statistic is the energy efficiency performance of contemporary housing in Canada, which, says the Canadian Passive House Institute (CanPHI), is designed and built with the expectation that conventional sources of energy will remain abundant and cheap indefinitely.
Not surprisingly, CanPHI does everything it can to dislodge complacency about the availability of fossil fuel. Given the unforgiving nature of Canada’s climate and the likelihood that the price of fossil fuel will increase dramatically over the next 30 years, energy efficient construction should be the norm rather than the exception, even if there’s little political will to impose stricter code requirements, says the group, adding that retrofitting existing homes to significantly improve their performance is often impractical and expensive.
“Once initial design mistakes have been made – such as an inefficient shape, poor orientation with minimal solar exposure, inappropriate siting – then a house will likely maintain high energy consumption levels throughout its life in spite of efforts to improve performance,” the group says on its site. Consequently, CanPHI is focusing on expanding awareness of Passive House techniques, and starting this fall, will begin offering training courses in the standard.
Beyond existing programs
Canada does tout energy efficient housing through the EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative, which is presented by the country’s national housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and designed to generate interest in eco-friendly housing among builders, developers, and the public. A dozen home-construction proposals are selected each year to participate in the program, with the finished projects serving as demonstration homes. (One nearly completed EQuilibrium project, a net-zero-energy house near Montreal, was destroyed by fire in late May, apparently after heat generated by freshly sprayed polyurethane foam caused combustion in the attic.)
In the absence of national code requirements for energy efficiency, though, CanPHI aims to generate interest in the benefits of Passive House construction through its own demonstration-home projects and its training courses, which are five-day programs that are scheduled to be presented in six cities throughout the country, beginning with one set for October 18-22 in Vancouver.
The group emphasizes that the courses are designed to mesh with current Canadian building traditions and residential codes, and that graduates can avail themselves of technical support from CanPHI during the planning stages of their first Passive House project. The course fee is $1,595, plus tax ($1,542 USD, plus tax), including PHPP design software, training materials, lunches, beverages, and snacks. The coursework covers Passive House design theory and building science, building envelope optimization for cold climates, hands-on performance modeling using the software, design solutions to eliminate thermal bridging, technical approaches to architectural detail, and case studies of current Passive House projects in Canada.
Two Canadian case studies in the offing
CanPHI adds that the launch of its training program is being accompanied by the construction of two homes – the first two residences in the country to be built for Passive House certification – that will demonstrate new building components and, for participants in the training program, serve as technical case studies.
One of the homes, in Montebello, Quebec, is a 1,550-sq.-ft. building that is expected to cost only 10% more than a conventionally built home of comparable size. In a recent press release, CanPHI highlighted several components being tested in the project:
– low-iron glazing for improved solar transmittance of the triple-pane windows
– a newly engineered variable-diffusion-resistance interior vapor barrier designed to eliminate the danger of moisture damage in heavily insulated wall and roof assemblies
– easily installed wall-panel sealing gaskets and envelope penetration gaskets
– diffusion-permeable window sealing tapes for significantly improved airtightness and longevity
– a new heat recovery ventilator “with possibly the world’s highest efficiency rating”
– a low-cost, low-tech geothermal preheating loop for the ventilation system
The second project, in Vancouver, British Columbia, is designed to deliver Passive House performance (including energy consumption 80% below that of conventional new construction) and modern architecture for a price only marginally above that for a comparable new home built using conventional methods.
“We believe both projects will be of great interest to Canadians who are seeking vastly improved environmental and energy performance in our buildings, yet who are jaded by greenwash,” CanPHI says.