British Columbia

Vancouver leads North America in certified ultra-efficient buildings, says new report

The Pembina Institute's study examines the internationally recognized 'passive house' certification given to energy efficient, low emission buildings.

Of over 2,000 passive house units in North America, 600 of them are found in Vancouver.

When finished, The Heights development on East Hastings and Skeena Street hopes to meet 'passive house' certification requirements for energy efficient, low emission buildings (Cornerstone Architecture)

Vancouver contains more certified green buildings than any other city in North America, according to a new report from a clean-energy think tank. 

The Pembina Institute's study examines the internationally recognized 'passive house' certification.

To be certified, a building must meet certain energy usage, insulation and airtightness requirements.

The concept is simple: Buildings that are well-insulated and well-sealed heat passively because far less warmth escapes the structure. That means maintaining comfortable temperatures requires less energy, and less energy drawn for heating means fewer emissions in the atmosphere.

Of the more than 2,000 passive house units in North America — mostly single family homes, but also individual condo or apartment units — 600 are found in Vancouver.

In July, city council passed the Zero Emissions Building Plan, which calls for a 90 per cent reduction in emissions from new structures by 2025 — compared to 2007 levels — and zero emissions from new buildings by 2030. 

Sean Pander is the Green Building Project director with the City of Vancouver. Despite the city's success in attracting green buildings, he believes there's still work to be done. (LinkedIn)

One of the directives contributing to that goal is the Green Rezoning Policy, which states that developers wanting to rezone their property for a large commercial or multi-unit residential project must meet either passive house standards or the LEED Gold standard.

Sean Pander is the manager of the City of Vancouver's Green Building Program. He was glad to see Vancouver's focus on environmentally friendly construction reflected in the study, and says by simplifying current regulation, the city can see even more success.

"We think we can achieve more than a 50 per cent reduction [in carbon emissions] for rezoned buildings than what we're already achieving, without adding any construction or operations cost."

Recommendations on how that can be achieved will be in front of council on Wednesday.

One Vancouver building already well on its way to massive energy savings is The Heights on the city's East Side. The six-storey, 85-unit apartment aims to be the largest structure in Canada, to be passive-house certified, and Pembina expects it to come in 80 per cent below conventional building energy usage.

Common features on 'passive house' certified buildings include thick insulation, high quality windows, and air sealing. (The Pembina Institute)

Its planned green features include insulation much thicker than on conventional buildings, high performance sealed windows and a ventilation system that recovers and reuses heat.

Those are all common additions to passive house structures, but in contrast with Pander's view, Pembina's study found they come with added cost.

Building green carries costs

On multi-unit residential buildings like The Heights, Pembina projects those advanced features will add almost seven per cent to construction costs. On a single family detached home, they project building expenses two to eight per cent higher than usual.

But one Pembina analyst expects those costs to lessen with time.

"As industry capacity develops and more builders get on board, we can expect the added cost of building to near-zero emission standards to fall or even disappear. Factor in lower bills for energy and maintenance, and green buildings will increasingly become an affordable housing option," said Dylan Heerema in a statement.