It might be easy to overlook an innovative house in Whistler right now, what with all the skiing medals being handed out. But that would be a mistake: "Austria House" - the headquarters of that country's Olympic committee - is Canada's first "passive house."
The $1.3-million, 3,000-square-foot house, which can house a family of five and took three months to construct with materials shipped from Austria, was built to showcase what's possible in energy-efficient construction.
A passive house - a building in which a comfortable interior climate is maintained without an active heating or cooling system - typically uses as much as 90% less energy than a traditionally built home, and about 50% less energy than a Platinum LEED house.
The results speak volumes: When it -15 C outside, it is 15 C inside the Austrian Passive House. On a milder winter day, inside temperatures soar above 20 C.
Passive-house technology relies on thick doweled, wood paneled, insulated walls and ceiling, as well as specifically designed windows and a highly sophisticated air exchange system.
- The passive house requires 4 kilowatts hours per square foot of energy per year to heat the entire building - while the typical Canadian home uses 400 kWh per year
- A constant supply of fresh air - with windows that open on both north and south sides of the home - and self-regulated air flow in the passive house avoids the stale air, mold and other problems in typical North American homes
- Passive houses take advantage of passive solar gains and minimize cold northern exposure
- Passive houses are usually smaller than conventional houses in order to achieve the energy efficiency criteria of the standard, therefore taking up less land
- Any energy requirements - mostly for lighting and house appliances - can be generated from renewable energy sources (solar, wind) if or when electrical power is not available or desired
The Austrian Passive House is not the only energy-efficient home you can tour at Whistler; it is joined by a rammed-earth home, and a net-zero energy home. Although none of these are in the price range of the average home owner, Canada seems to be heading in the right direction.
Canada Compared to Europe
"In Canada the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition and CMHC ‘s demonstration Equilibrium Housing program offer innovative approaches to sustainable housing - although they still seem a long way from achieving the passive-house standard. The Canada Green Building Council is also working on a LEED rating system for homes, yet to be launched.
Although this is the first passive house in Canada, and only a handful exist in the US, there are as many as 12,000 passive houses in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. Starting in 2008, the European Parliament requires that all new residences be constructed to the passive-house standard, which will extend to non-residential buildings in 2011.