Econ’s Marcel Studer on-air about Passive House

What makes Passive House different than other green building standards? BCIT and Marcel Studer of Econ Group Ltd sit down to have a chat.

North Shore Passive Open House

As one of the of the most established Passive House builders in the Lower Mainland, we are excited to invite you to our North Shore Passive Under Construction Open House.

Regardless if you are new to Passive House or a seasoned pro this is a great opportunity to see the normally hidden components that distinguish a Passive House and to learn more about details, assemblies and design considerations.

We would like to welcome you on Friday September 25th, 1pm-3pm at 418 10th Street East, North Vancouver.

This is a great opportunity to experience a Passive House in person before the upcoming North American Passive House Conference in Vancouver October 1-2: http://naphn15.canphi.ca/

BC Government funds Passive House education

Econ Group’s Marcel Studer was part of the ceremony in Victoria last week at which Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, presented a $100, 000 ICE (Innovative Clean Energy) grant to Canadian Passive House Institute West for their Passive House education and certification efforts.

“This announcement is an enormously significant, clear message that the work and education we all in the Passive House community have been up to in the Vancouver area for the past decade, is beginning to pay off,” says Marcel.  “It’s really an exciting moment to be involved.”

The grant will support increased training and certification opportunities for construction and design professionals so that they can build the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, right here in British Columbia. It will help sponsor and subsidize introductory or certification courses in Passive House design principles offered by CanPHI West for up to 200 qualified professionals in British Columbia.

Econ Group has been building to the Passive standard for over a decade, and actually built the first residential Passive House in BC. Our next Passive House project breaks ground in North Vancouver in April 2015, with two others on its heals in May and in the summer. Learn more about Passive House technology at my previous North Shore News article on the topic.

The international Passive House standard is the one of the most rigorous and advanced building performance standards in the world, achieving reductions in heating energy of up to 90% compared to other buildings.

Read the full article on BC’s Passive House funding at https://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2015/03/province-funds-energy-efficiency-training-to-support-conservation-goals.html.

Cliffhanger Fly-Over

Beautiful work documenting our Indian Arm, North Vancouver Cliffhanger House: TADA RC Helicopter from TadaFilms on Vimeo.

Passive House Catches On

Through the last decades, the notion of building homes in more environmentally friendly ways has become much the norm. Slowly but surely, at least here in Canada, the conversation has shifted onward from discussing why building technology needs to evolve to discussing how exactly building technology can evolve in order to most responsibly take on its own environmental inefficiencies. What once was considered alternative has now become quite mainstream.

Consider Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan target: “Require all buildings constructed from 2020 onward to be carbon neutral in operations.” Other municipalities around the world are setting the same tone: Melbourne officially became carbon-neutral this year, Copenhagen is pushing for the same by 2025, Seattle by 2050, the entire country of Costa Rica by 2021. According to Vancouver’s Action Plan, greening up construction practices here would mean big positive impact: “the electricity and natural gas that buildings use make up 55% of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions.” Essentially, we need to get building green, and get building green mighty quickly! But we’re in luck…enter, Passive House.

The initial principles that eventually gave rise to the Passive House movement were actually developed here in Canada as part of the Saskatchewan Conservation House demonstration project of 1978. And though the project also stimulated the creation of NRCan’s R-2000 building certification program, the technologies and methodologies were never adopted into any municipal building code, thus slowing the positive momentum inside our borders. Instead, the findings took root in Germany and Passivhaus was born into receptive hands. Today, thanks in part to stricter environmental regulations driven by proactive policymakers, there are about 50,000 Passive House units worldwide.

At the heart of Passive House is not an overly novel idea. Rather than using old tires or straw bales (like some of its green building cousins), and rather than tallying vast arrays of enviro-scoring criteria (like some other of its green certification relatives) Passive House aims to do one thing extremely well. And that is: keep heat where it’s supposed to be.

In order to regulate temperature within the home, a more robust envelope is needed to make the building essentially airtight. Standard framing walls (see my Framing 101 article from 3 July 2013) are made to be super-insulated and double or more the thickness, windows become triple-paned, and solar orientation becomes paramount to success. The need for fresh air and moisture control is managed by a low energy active heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system. The impressive energy savings potential of Passive Houses (many use 90% less energy than traditional, to-code builds) is at the concept’s core, however, neither comfort nor affordability are overlooked.

A Passive House, absent of typical drafts, is kept at a constant temperature ever replenished with fresh air. Warming up the space even further literally means either inviting over a friend, turning on another light, or even just lighting a candle! How’s that for comfort?

And the costs to build Passive are coming down (as with any other newer technology engaged in the process of catching on and becoming the norm). In places like Germany (the first real adopter of Passivhaus), the incremental cost to build Passive runs under 5% more than a traditional home built to code.

As a wholly performance-based environmentally aware building methodology, Passive House utilizes energy modeling software to accurately predict how heat and energy will behave in a given (and unique) construction scenario. The design is then honed to produce the most optimal result based on the parameters of the site, etc.

With 2020 around the corner for our Vancouver area’s target to build only carbon-neutral buildings, Passive House offers a proven platform onto which photovoltaic solutions or the like can be added in order to supplement the small amount of active energy input required to become Net-Zero or carbon-neutral. It is a no-nonsense, science-backed solution that reduces our housing footprint while creating homes and communities that are built to last.

For more information on Passive House visit the Canadian Passive House Institute West at www.canphi.ca.

Article penned by Econ Group’s Dalit Holzman and originally published in North Shore News.

Passive solar heat ideal

Written by Econ’s Dalit Holzman and originally published by North Shore News September 2013

Over the last few weeks, it seems like the days have been spent less in shorts and more in woollen long-johns, the children scurrying off to school sack-packed with muddy-buddies and rain boots. Ahh yes, truly summer has officially waned and autumn is here. Time to bring out the knitting, the hot water bottles, the novel abandoned back in June. Finding warmth is now at the top of my biological imperatives list. In this installment, I’ll shed a bit of (vitamin D filled) light on some home-heating options (other than layers of wool sweaters) readily available to us here in the Pacific Northwest.

Passive solar heating is, by far, the most ideal and most efficient option available. Rather than relying on solar panels (used in active solar, or photovoltaic, electric generation), passive solar is achieved through the direct heating of thermal masses within the home. The warmth absorbed by these masses while the sun is shining is then radiated out as the ambient air temperature cools (and the sun goes down). (Anyone who has sat on the sandstone beaches of our area after sunset can attest to this effect.) Whether it’s the floor, the walls, or a giant decorative black boulder that sits in the centre of your living room floor, as long as the envelope and windows of a home are robust enough (recall the Passive House principals I described 2 months ago: double wall thicknesses, triple-pane windows), then the warmth will be absorbed and re-radiated as described. While there is no downside to this carbon-neutral and zero-cost heating method, relying on it for your home’s heat does require specific building positioning to the sun and the incorporation of the previously mentioned robustness. I encourage anyone seriously considering passive heating to familiarize themselves more broadly with Passive House design principles. (Please do not hesitate to email me directly for more.)

Geothermal heating is another efficient option for some in our area. The process operates from the heat differential that exists between the temperature of the air and the temperature of the land just below the surface. With the aid of an electrically powered ground source heat pump, the energy is extracted and the home is heated (or even cooled in the summer months). The downside of this technology is that it relies on long runs of pipe. People living rurally may not have a problem with running 1500+ feet of pipe 4 feet deep, while urban counterparts might find the four 300 foot deep holes necessary (due to lot size constraints) rather cost prohibitive. 

Radiant heating is experienced via radiators (hot water or electric), masonry stoves (in Europe mostly), and, most popularly these days, through electric or hydroponic in-floor systems. If radiant heating is incorporated within a passive solar or geothermal system, or more holistically within a Passive House model, the amount of power it requires can be greatly reduced.

Keeping its inhabitants warm and dry is every home’s chief objective. Home design focused from its outset on achieving warmth (or cool depending on the season) has a better chance at long-term success and sustainability than design that treats it as an afterthought. The cost of heating its interior does not have to be the greatest (and most wasteful) operating expense of owning a home.

If you’re keen to know more about what makes Passive Houses so energy efficient, how they can literally be heated with candles, I encourage you to check out the Passive House North 2013 Conference going on this Friday and Saturday (the 27th and 28th) at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver. For more check out http://www.passivehouse.ca/conference-2013.

finished home sign

Affordability in Passive Housing

In 1977 the Saskatchewan Conservation House was built in Regina as a demonstration project. According to the Canadian Passive House Institute, this (right here in Canada) was the birthplace of Passive House science. Yet it was not until 1986 that the Passivhaus movement began to gain momentum within Germany.

Since then, the German building community has honed its methods over time and, at this point, there are over 20,000 Passive Houses in the world (source: CanPHI).

In its 2010 economic analysis of Quebec’s Montebello Passive House, CanPHI reports that the total incremental costs required to reach the Passive House standard within a new 1550 sq. ft. single-storey detached house were $26,000. However, due to cost-savings resulting from its remarkable energy performance (80-90% more efficient that a home built to code), $26,000 was saved in heating costs within a mere 16.5 years (assuming a modest annual fuel price increase of 3%).

Merging the Greens: looking longer at Vancouver housing affordability

It’s no news that Vancouver’s average monthly carrying costs for a new home far exceed the 30% of household income mark of housing affordability. As RBC’s Economics Research arm reported in March 2012 owning a home at current prices would still take up a huge chunk (86% in the case of a bungalow) of a typical household budget. And while it is astonishing that Canada is still the only G-8 country with neither a National Housing Strategy nor a coordinated strategy on affordable housing, we are pleased at our City’s recent reinvigorated efforts to tackle housing affordability.

As a modern residential contractor doing business in Vancouver, Econ Group is well aware of the financial challenges in not only owning a home, but also in the underlying process of its construction. We live and work in a place where labour is not cheap, construction regulations are time-consuming and climate constraints are structurally demanding. In a nut-shell, and as elementary as it may seem, what is inexpensive to build in Regina might never be inexpensive to build here in Vancouver.

However, thanks to Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan we now all have a shared mandate which we must meet in order to even move forward with homebuilding. From 2020 onward all new buildings constructed in Vancouver will be required to be carbon neutral in operations. With 55% of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions caused by the electricity and natural gas that buildings use, this requirement will be of enormous positive impact. What’s more is that while some may see this (“yet another”) requirement by the City as a further financial burden negatively impacting the bottom-line of affordability, Econ Group sees it all as an incredible opportunity to merge the two greens: dollars and ecology.

As with all other building materials, the costs associated with the wares of environmentally responsible construction are determined by the laws of supply and demand. The quicker that early adopters (both home-owners and home-builders alike) of the carbon-neutral mandate fully embrace utilizing materials standard to Passive House and Net-Zero building methodologies, the quicker the costs will come down to light the way to a future we all can truly afford.

Econ Group Construction gets ready to grow

Really, it’s no secret that neither Vancouver’s economy nor its housing market is in any sort of the same rough shape as is being experienced south of the 49th. Just last month the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that there were 1,555 housing starts in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in January 2012, compared to 1,436 starts in January 2011. Truly, as the only explicitly modern residential contractor in the Lower Mainland, Econ Group can attest that single-family home construction just isn’t hurting here in Vancouver.

“In 2010, we began to realize that the work wasn’t slowing and that we just had to get ready to grow from small to truly medium-sized in a relatively short time frame,” says Michael Dutson, one of Econ Group’s Principals. “In an industry where unforeseen schedule and cost impacts often occur as par-for-the-course, we at Econ Group have always expected more of ourselves.”

As prerequisite to any further, well-organized growth Econ Group identified its core back-end Project Management process to be in need of a major overhaul. After a period of product testing, the team finally settled on Corecon Technologies’ Construction Management software for all its Project Management, estimating and scheduling needs.

Internal office structure

“Both internally and externally, we have always strived for easy, honest and well-informed communication. Implementing Project Management software was one thing, but as our business has grown over the past 10 years, the responsibilities of myself and my business partner, Mike, became cumbersome,” says Marcel Studer, the other of Econ’s Principals. “We found ourselves needing support staff to carry and direct our growth.”

To that end, Econ Group brought on both an Operations Manager to control the Corecon-maintained backend and a Manager of Communications and Marketing to keep the team busy with exactly the kinds of modern, forward-thinking home construction on which they have built their strong reputation.

With a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Vienna, Patricia Lubensky, Operations Manager, brings to Econ Group 13 years of experience within the fields of technical account management and controlling, software development and IT system administration. A passionate yogi and mother of two, Patricia’s attention to detail and thorough communication style makes her the perfect fit within the Econ team.

Dalit Holzman, Econ’s new Manager of Communications and Marketing, comes to us freshly returned from a five-year stint on Vancouver Island. Through her 2 years as Manager of Operations, Customer Service and Marketing at Natural Pod (Canada’s leading manufacturer/online-retailer of natural toys) and founding of the Vancouver Mommy Map and Co-op Radio’s It Takes a Village, Dalit’s foundation within her job-description is solid.

Continuing Professional Development

In a field where staying current on the latest innovations and certifications is essential, Econ Group has been hard at work keeping up to date and in the know.