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Actively promoting Passive House

Thinking about the house of the future conjures up images of fantastic technologies and automated systems that mean we may never have to get off the couch again.

Thinking about the house of the future conjures up images of fantastic technologies and automated systems that mean we may never have to get off the couch again.

But that might not be the case.

The house of the future will probably look a lot like one from the past, says Guido Wimmers, director of the Canadian Passive House Institute.

As energy and environmental issues become more of a concern, energy efficiency will become a much bigger consideration, said Wimmers.

And it doesn’t get much more efficient than Passive House, a rigorous standard for energy efficiency developed in Germany more than 20 years ago.

Buildings certified as a Passive House use only a fraction of the energy of a traditional one. Some use as little as 10 per cent.

It’s basically a super-insulated building.

To be certified as a Passive House, a building can’t take more than 15 kilowatt hours of energy per square metre, per year, to heat the building and it must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour.

“It’s a bit more than people are already doing, but you can do it with the local trades,” said Wimmers. “We’re always trying to keep it low-tech and simple.”

While the principles might be simple to understand, putting them into practice is a little more complicated.

Wimmers will be in Whitehorse next week to certify building professionals as Passive House consultants.

He’s also giving a public lecture on the concept on Sunday night at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre.

The training course is an intensive week-long workshop where participants learn how to calculate things, like heat loss, through thermal bridging.

In the end, if they pass, they’ll be certified as Passive House consultants.

The course was organized by local architect Tony Zedda in conjunction with the Yukon Science Institute.

Passive House is something that Zedda has been interested in for a few years.

“The thing that I really like about Passive House is it doesn’t involve active energy systems,” he said. “You don’t need to do solar panels. You don’t need to do solar hot water; you don’t need to do heat pumps to make the system work. It’s a really simple way to save energy.”

Zedda looked at taking the course outside of the territory but then realized that there was probably enough interest to do one in the Yukon.

“This is a perfect place to offer it,” he said. “If there’s a place in the country that really has extremes in climate, it’s the Yukon.

“I think the focus on energy and indoor air quality are really important things to consider in the North.”

However, being so far North does pose some unique challenges when trying to meet the Passive House standards.

“From the modeling I’ve done in the Yukon, it’s extremely difficult to meet that standard,” said Andy Lera, the Yukon’s only Passive House consultant. “There’s just not enough sunlight and the temperature is too cold.

Lera is building his own Passive House which he hopes to complete by the end of the year.

However, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to meet the standard for certification.

But that’s OK, said Wimmers. Just making the attempt is a huge step.

“Even if it doesn’t fulfill all the Passive House requirements, compared to a code house, it’s likely to still be much better,” he said.

While there about 30,000 Passive House buildings spread across more than 20 countries, only one of them is in Canada.

Austria House in Whistler, B.C., was a demonstration building, constructed for the 2010 Olympics Games

That’s what brought Wimmers to Canada.

The German-born architect has spent his entire career working on energy-effect buildings.

The son of a nuclear plant manager, Wimmers has long had an interest in energy.

“I always disagreed with what (my father) was doing,” he said. “I grew up with a lot of discussion about energy consumption and how to produce it.”

He was working in Austria when a representative from B.C. came over to promote the first green Olympics.

Wimmers and a colleague had the idea of using the Austrian pavilion to promote the Passive House concept, which is much more common in Europe.

Once they got the ball rolling, they realized that they needed someone on the ground in Canada to co-ordinate things.

After discussing it with his wife and kids, they decided to make the move to B.C.

That was six years ago.

“We like it here,” he said. “We have no intention to leave.”

Almost two years ago, Wimmers, along with two partners, started the Passive House Institute of Canada.

So far they’ve trained about 200 people.

“I see a lot of fertile ground here in Canada,” he said. “People here are very interested in Passive House.”

So while the Austria House in Whistler remains the only one in the country, Wimmers expects that to change very soon.

By the end of 2012, he expects there might be as many as 30 more that come extremely close to meeting the standards.

“My gut feeling is that from this year on the number of projects will double that each year,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at