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Green Building News

Passive House Finds Friends in Canada

Two homes being built to the standard will serve as case studies for the Canadian Passive House Institute’s upcoming training courses

Image Credit: Canadian Passive House Institute

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.


  1. GBA Editor
    Richard Defendorf | | #1

    Observations from a reader based in Toronto
    In an email, GBA reader Marshall Leslie offered the following expanded perspective on green building initiatives and provisions in Canada.

    “Canadians are not exactly ‘un-churched’ in this regard:

    - the National Building Code has changed to accept both energy and water conservation as objectives
    - several provinces (housing falls under provincial jurisdiction here) also accept both energy and water conservation as objectives
    - the energy efficiency provisions of provincial building codes in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia already exceed LEED for Homes US requirements. Yes, let me repeat: the base building code in three provinces representing more than half the population of Canada already exceeds LEED for Homes US
    - all 10 green/energy efficient new home labels in Canada exceed current US ENERGY STAR requirements and in 2009 between them they accounted for 15% of national housing starts
    - the EQuilibrium™ Housing Initiative is gaining momentum. The fact that houses built to these performance levels do not seek certification to any label (it would be redundant) does not mean that they should be either dismissed or ignored.

    “Canada is not a vacuum. Progress is being made, although the goal of sustainable housing has not yet been reached.”

  2. Skylar Swinford | | #2

    More info!
    I'm excited to hear that Passive House is taking root up north! Does the home in Montebello, Quebec have a website or blog to track its progress? Any specifics available on the energy efficiency "bling" going into this structure such as the "easily installed wall-panel sealing gaskets and envelope penetration gaskets, diffusion-permeable window sealing tapes for significantly improved airtightness and longevity, and a new heat recovery ventilator “with possibly the world’s highest efficiency rating”"? I hope to hear and see more.

  3. David Elfstrom | | #3

    Training discount
    Members of the non-profit advocacy organization Passive Buildings Canada receive a training discount of $100 on courses offered through CanPHI and Passive House Institute US. The membership pays for itself.

    There are several other Passive House projects, many of them retrofits, currently underway in Canada. It's an exciting time. Being retrofits, it is more difficult to determine if the actual Passive House standards will be achieved until the homes are tested.

  4. Johanne Moreau | | #4

    Plus de détails sur la maison de Montebello
    Nous nous apprêtons à construire une maison Leed à Chelsea. Nous aimerions connaître soit les architectes, soit les constructeurs de cette maison en construction à Montebello puisque cette municipalité est tout près de la nôtre. Merci pour les informations que vous voudrez bien nous faire suivre à ce sujet.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Translation of Johanne Moreau's post
    Johanne Moreau just wrote, "More details on the Montebello house: We are preparing to build a LEED house in Chelsea. We would like to get to know either the architects or the builders of the house under construction in Montebello, since this municipality is very close to ours. Thank you for any information that you can provide."

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Réponse à Johanne Moreau
    Malheureusement, il n’y a pas de site Web pour la maison à Montebello, et je ne connais ni l’architect ni les constructeurs. Peut-être un autre lecteur peut vous aider.

  7. Andrew Henry | | #7

    Passive House contact for Johanne
    Bonjour Johanne,

    Malcolm Isaacs is spearheading the Passive House elements of the house in Montebello. Construction on the house hasn't started yet, I believe. I assume any reports during the construction phase will be on the CanPhi site.

    Malcolm's in Wakefield!

    Look up his number on last name=Isaacs city = wakefield



    P.S. I'm in Chelsea. If you have trouble finding Malcolm's number look me up in the local phone book.

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