The First Passive House in Canada
By Delara-Mirjam Najfar And Bettina Miller
Top Photo: Austria Haus in Whistler, Canada. Advantage Austria/ Ira Nicolai
The term passive house encompasses (both) the methodology of the construction of a building and the adherence to certain standards. A strict standard in regards to the energy efficiency of a building and in consequence high energy savings are the main qualities of a passive house and differentiate it from other buildings. The environmental friendliness of a passive house can be ascribed to its lower heating and cooling energy usage.
During a reception in Vienna, British Columbia’s Finance Minister Colin Hansen directed some remarks to an audience consisting of green building experts, describing the 2010 Winter Games as the first “green” Olympics. These words inspired the Austria passive house Group, consisting of five private Austrian companies and the Canadian “Sea-to-Sky Consulting Inc.,” to start a collaboration that materialized in a $1.5-million project, financially supported by the Whistler Blackcomb foundation.
The former Austria Haus thus became the first registered passive house in Canada, built on the occasion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in the ski resort municipality of Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. This building served as a base for the Austrian Olympic Committee and the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) and furthermore provided the opportunity to introduce the Austria Haus to a global audience. Concerning the architectural design of the Austria Haus, it is noteworthy that the aim was to develop a prototype of Alpine architecture.
Thus, the building is characterized by its traditional, compact, and south-oriented design and its gable roof. Furthermore, the Austria Haus incorporates elements such as black cement fiber for the façade and roof. While the Austria Haus was prefabricated in Austria, the assembly took place in Whistler. The passive house arrived in Canada on board of six 40-foot shipping containers. Matheo Dürfeld, a Canadian of Austrian descent, was responsible for the coordination of the further construction process.
A crew was sent from Austria to assemble the house with local support. The key features that were implemented in the construction of the Austria Haus include an insulated foundation, various layers such as several wood walls, vapor barriers and windows that shut tight. While Canadian buildings in general are situated on a concrete foundation that puts them into direct contact with the ground, the Austria Haus has a concrete foundation with ten inches of expanded polystyrene foam.
This foam also wraps around the sides of the foundation walls, thus leading to a regulation of the air temperature inside the building by adapting it to the outside temperatures. Moreover, passive houses include a heat recovery ventilator in order to provide better air quality. The energy efficiency of these buildings leads to cost efficiency. The majority of the energy savings are caused by superinsulation and extreme air-tightness. According to Dürfeld, the Austria Haus’ energy usage is only about 10 per cent of that of a comparable building. Because of its insulation, it does not need any furnace.
Known at present as the “Lost Lake Passivhaus”, the building has been endowed to the resort municipality of Whistler. It serves both as a passive house education center, as well as an office, and rental area for the Whistler off Road Cycling Association, and the Whistler Nordic Ski Club. The pioneering initiative of the Austrian Passive house Group led to a new approach concerning passive houses in the architectural landscape of Canada. The Austria Haus is a standing reminder of a great collaboration and serves as a legacy of sustainable architecture that will inspire generations to come.