City of Vancouver creates icy challenge to promote 'passive home' design

The City of Vancouver has endorsed passive home building, a type of design that can help substantially reduce a household's energy use.

Passive home building — a design of airtight building — can reduce energy use substantially, city says

The passive home demo model retained more ice than the demo home built to standard provincial building code. (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

The City of Vancouver hopes more residents will start building using passive home standards in its bid to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050.

The city says passive home construction — which is a type of design process that prioritizes energy conservation through design — can reduce a household's energy use substantially.

To prove it, the city recently staged a challenge with private company Passive House Canada to demonstrate the energy efficiency of a passive home.

At the end of July, two mini houses were built at the Olympic Village — one was constructed to the current B.C. Building Code and the other made with passive home standards.

Two structures were built near Vancouver's Olympic village: one, built with passive home design principles and the other with the standard building code. (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

Each home was filled with 1,000 kilograms of ice and left in the sun for 18 days to see which one would be able to conserve the most energy and preserve the ice.

At the end of the challenge, the passive house had 639 kilograms of ice left and the regular home, 407 kilograms.

The passive home design was able to retain energy and keep the ice cool better than the structure built to the standard building code. (Samantha Garvey/CBC)

Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer says the city hopes the challenge will encourage individuals and developers alike to consider the technology.

"The idea is to go to higher energy efficiency," she said.

And Hadi Dowlatabadi, a Canada research chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, says the main barrier to passive home building — cost — is coming down.

"Increasingly, the right supply chain and the right skill set [are helping costs come down]," he said.

Retrofitting is still financially difficult but by 2050 there will be enough new building construction to improve the city's overall efficiency and reduce the city's energy impact, Dowlatabadi said.

"If I wanted to build a new house, even down in the Lower Mainland where energy costs are really low, because we have a very mild climate, I wouldn't hesitate to build a passive house."

With files from Samantha Garvey