As eco-conscious technologies advance, so do Canadian building code standards. Finding cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions is more important than ever as we search for ways to enhance the quality of our infrastructure.

More narrowly focused than green building standards, Passive House focuses solely on indoor environmental quality and is gaining popularity across Canada. With more than 25 years of proven results, including as much as a 90% reduction in space heating energy, this standard is shifting from single-family and multi-unit residential to commercial and institutional projects.

All green building and energy standards aim to lower operation and maintenance costs, so why is Passive House now catching the attention of government agencies and private sector owners?

The rise of Passive House

According to PassiveHouse Canada, “Passive House is considered to be the most rigorous voluntary energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today.”

Passive House is a science-based standard that increases a building’s energy efficiency and, in turn, reduces its ecological footprint.

By incorporating technology that improves insulation, Passive House’s standard aims to create efficient, comfortable and affordable buildings that are both resilient and ecological. Using an informed, performance-based approach, Passive House offers owners concrete results in the form of measurable energy savings.

Building owners can achieve certification by actively incorporating strategies to eliminate thermal leaks/bridging and create an airtight building envelope. Using materials such as high-performance windows and efficient insulation, as well as considering building orientation, helps to create an environment that relies on nature to lower energy costs. For example, if a building is orientated to best absorb solar heat, it will become warmer naturally. Including high-quality or efficient windows and insulation allows the building to retain heat, while smart shading strategies can balance the indoor temperature and keep occupants comfortable.

Although Passive House’s strategy generally focuses on improving a building’s insulation, there are a number of reciprocal benefits that make the standard highly appealing to owners.

Why consider Passive House?

With a number of green building standards and certification systems to choose from, you may be wondering what truly separates Passive House technology from more familiar standards. The answer here is simple: cost savings.

Not only is it cost-effective to start a project with Passive House standards in mind from the early planning phases, but the energy cost savings after construction show unmatched results. For example, a multi-residential community housing facility in Ottawa, Ontario, was able to reduce its 42-unit electrical bill to just $62 from approximately $300 for the entire year – a total that breaks down to approximately $5 per month rather than $25 per month.

Incorporating the standard’s insulation principles into your building envelope’s design increases the overall building quality by providing comfortable temperatures, high indoor air quality, air sealing for durability, and a dry environment free of condensation.

Passive House buildings also perform better for residents, employees and communities. Incorporating the standard’s insulation principles into your building envelope’s design increases the overall building quality by providing comfortable temperatures, high indoor air quality, air sealing for durability, and a dry environment free of condensation. Indoor air quality is especially important in light of viruses like COVID-19. A building designed with an efficient heat recovery system that circulates fresh rather than stale air promotes a safer indoor environment that may help limit the spread of contagious infections and viruses. Experiences from the SARS outbreak in 2003 are a good example of this, as shared air handling systems in condominiums were linked to the spread of the virus.

Lastly, including the standard as part of your next new build or rehabilitation project contributes to the federal government’s plan to legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 by reducing carbon emissions. In addition, as economies continue to grapple with COVID-19 impacts, many public and private sector owners are searching for ways to maintain project quality while keeping operational costs low. The technology used as part of Passive House’s standard enables owners to do just that. By placing an emphasis on mitigating thermal leaks/bridging at the onset of a project, owners can affordably design a building that leans into the natural environment to maintain comfort rather than relying on more costly heating and cooling systems.

Future Importance

As existing infrastructure ages, cities grow, and building codes adapt to help reduce carbon emissions, it’s becoming increasingly important for owners to understand the design changes future projects may require. In 2019, the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) proposed a tiered approach to reaching a net-zero building code that includes a 60% reduction in energy usage by 2030 – a goal that would require Passive House-level results to achieve.

As our industry moves to incorporate more energy efficient and affordable elements into building designs, there is little question that proven, science-based standards such as Passive House will help pave the path to reaching a higher level of quality in the infrastructure we build.