Living Furnace Free
With its Passive Haus, Brookfield proves that it is possible to build super energy-efficient homes in northern climates. It also proves that a lot of work needs to be done before these houses become commonplace.
The Symons Gate Passive Haus has no furnace. Instead, it uses solar energy collected through large south-facing windows. The home also captures the heat given off by appliances, lightbulbs and residents. Solar panels on the roof provide the home’s power.
These are impressive technical feats, but the house has a more surprising ability. It can also travel through time.
On one hand, the Passive Haus sits firmly in the present. It was built by Brookfield Residential and is for sale in Symons Gate, a community in northwest Calgary. But the house was built with an eye to the future.
By 2030, the National Building Code will be “net-zero energy ready.” Net-zero means that the energy used to heat and power a building is equal to the amount of renewable energy generated onsite. Organizations from the National Research Council to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association have undertaken projects to support the shift.
Inside the Passive Haus, however, it is easy to forget that the home is on the cutting-edge of energy efficiency. “We built the Passive Haus to demonstrate to government some of the challenges our industry and homeowners will face if we are required to build to this standard in the next 10 years,” says Doug Owens, Brookfield’s senior director of single-family homes.
Those challenges include things as basic as site location. The need to have year-round exposure to the sun means that not all lots are suitable for this sort of home. The Passive Haus sits across the street from a park, which ensures that its southern exposure will never be blocked by new buildings. But the challenges go beyond location. “We have a long way to go to find a way to build cost effectively to reach the future energy targets,” Owens says. “Many of the skill sets and materials needed are not readily available in Canada today.”
These challenges mean that achieving the new building code targets will not be easy. Despite all this, Brookfield has no regrets about building the Passive Haus. The project has earned interest from the public and media. In April, it won the BILD Award for Innovation. More importantly, building the Passive Haus gave Brookfield insights it can apply to all its new homes. “In the near-term,” Owens says, “air tightness details, leveraging passive solar gains through window choice and placement will help to build more energy efficient homes.”
And that means it let Brookfield Residential pull off another neat trick. With the house, Brookfield has proven that building a passive house can actually be a proactive step into the future.