Opinion: Building better gives you many reasons to feel better

Opinion: Building better gives you many reasons to feel better

By Rob Bernhardt

When my son and I were building our house, my wife refused to believe we wouldn’t need a clothes dryer. Here on the West Coast, where rain can fall for months without end, how could we hang clothes in winter without them becoming musty and smelly over the days it would take for them to dry?

“We won’t need one,” I told her. “We’ll have this high-performance ventilation system. It will keep the air fresh, dry and moving through the house. And the house’s constant warm temperature in winter will prevent condensation or mould.”

“Wire the plug in,” she said. It was not a request.

We’ve now been living in the house for 3-1/2 years. We don’t have a dryer. Towels and jeans dry in six to eight hours on the clothes rack — even in winter. We also don’t have a furnace, heaters or air conditioning. We don’t wear sweaters indoors during the winter. Or slippers. Or heavy socks. We do yoga in our ground-level living room without feeling chilled. We sit by the windows and watch storms whip the tops of nearby Douglas-fir trees and feel no cold or draughts. In winter, the house is warm and cozy. In summer, it’s comfortably cool. It’s also quiet.

My son and I built the house to the Passive House Standard, an international high-performance, quality-controlled building standard.

Instead of relying on mechanical systems to keep the interior comfortable, we rely on good windows, lots of insulation and a design that shades the windows during the summer, but lets the sun in during winter and eliminates “thermal bridges” that conduct heat and cold between the indoors and outdoors. We also have that ventilation system mentioned above.

When we were designing the house, we were told it couldn’t be done; it would be too expensive, it wouldn’t work. Well, it does work, and it costs only a bit more to build than another house of similar size. We’ve recouped those costs by not having to pay for a furnace and by paying less than $300 for electricity each year since.

The principles of high-performance building design and construction can be applied to any kind of building — homes, apartment buildings, offices, mixed-use spaces and institutional buildings. Dozens of such buildings are now being designed or constructed throughout Vancouver.

The energy savings aren’t lost on the City of Vancouver and the B.C. government. The province recently adopted the B.C. Energy Step code, which permits municipalities to require higher levels of energy efficiency, building toward “Net Zero Ready” by 2032.

Similarly, new City of Vancouver bylaws require new buildings and applications for rezoning to include energy-efficient work and living spaces. This is critically important to the city as it navigates toward becoming the world’s greenest city by 2020. Buildings currently contribute more than 50 per cent of Vancouver’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

To address climate change, the city, the province and Canada must address building inefficiency. My home city, Vancouver has chosen to lead by ensuring residents can enjoy the benefits of such high-performance buildings.

Rob Bernhardt is CEO of Passive House Canada

Sexton Group Ltd