Vancouver embraces Passive House
The City of Vancouver has set a goal of achieving zero emissions in all new buildings by 2030. Interim targets include a 70 per cent reduction in emissions from 2007 levels for new buildings by 2020 and
90 per cent by 2025. The city’s lofty ambition is to “lead the world in green building design and construction.” The Passive House standard is acknowledged and supported by Vancouver as an effective vehicle to achieve this goal.
The embracing of the standard is most apparent in Vancouver’s requirements for rezoning applications. Projects for rezoning are required to meet green building requirements to be “near-zero” or “low-emissions” buildings. The city specifically references the Passive House standard as an accepted route to meet these requirements. Additionally, it accepts the use of Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) modelling for energy code compliance for large non-rezoning buildings.
Meeting the ambitious near-zero or low-emissions requirements of the City of Vancouver’s rezoning program requires adoption of the Passive House methodology whether or not one chooses the Passive House certification route to compliance.
In recent years, the city has made significant efforts to remove regulatory barriers impeding Passive House projects. Vancouver now has several staff members, including two building inspectors, who are trained and certified in Passive House design. For multifamily or duplex projects, zoning regulations have exclusions in area calculations for the additional thickness of insulation typically needed in these types of buildings.
For single-family residences, the city has issued separate guidelines—including numerous zoning relaxations—for Passive House projects. Recognizing high-energy efficiency typically requires thicker insulation, the additional thickness of wall is excluded from floor area calculations. Similarly, there are relaxations of height requirements, rear yard setbacks, and overall building depth for Passive House projects. There are also exclusions for external shading, “roof-mounted energy technologies,” and venting skylights.
“We are seeing increasing interest in the Passive House standard. Projects are coming forward using Passive House as a tool to meet municipal permitting requirements and drive down GHG emissions,” says Jason Packer, director of green building services at Recollective, a green building consulting firm.
Recently cited data from the City of Vancouver finds there are 34 projects representing 1010 dwelling units approved or being approved with a further 26 projects (630 units) in the works that may or may not proceed to the permits stage. Amongst these Passive House projects are several multi- and single-family residential buildings as well as a fire hall. The Heights by Cornerstone Architecture is a six-storey wood-framed building in the City of Vancouver with 85 rental units and commercial space on the ground floor. It is currently considered the largest Passive House project in Canada. Under construction by the same firm is Spire Landing, also in Vancouver, with four storeys and 95 units. The architects have been able to take advantage of the floor area exemptions in Vancouver’s bylaws for thicker, more heavily insulated walls on these projects. They also feel the city’s enthusiasm for energy-efficient and Passive House buildings has been helpful through the approval process.
Though the use of wood is not a requirement of the standard, virtually all Passive House buildings in British Columbia have been of wood construction because of its low level of thermal conductivity compared to other construction materials. Both the City of Vancouver and the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change call for a wood-first approach.
The 1400 Alberni Street project by Robert A.M. Stern Architects in association with Vancouver-based MCM Partnership takes Passive House to a new scale. The two buildings—one 43 storeys and the other 48—would, for the moment, be the world’s tallest Passive House towers. The design is an emphatic move away from Vancouver’s standard glass towers with massive thermal bridging through concrete slab extensions to the exterior. As an ambitious Passive House project, the buildings with an overall area of 60,380 m2 (650,000 sf) have received considerable enthusiasm and support from the city in its early stages of rezoning.
Rezoning and development permit applications to the city for Passive House projects are growing exponentially. Chris Higgins, a green building planner with the city, says it is “likely Passive House will be used more broadly as a building code compliance and rezoning policy option” in the coming years.