A Semi in Ottawa goes Passive House

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Door #14 – Made in Canada

Last Friday I was invited to an open house at CLT Outaouais in Ripon, Quebec – just one hour drive from Ottawa. Very impressive set up in an old warehouse – there they are producing European quality CLT panels. With wood imported from Austria. But they are starting to use poplar from the surrounding area to make it from scratch right there. They had some cool videos on display that showed some of their first installations and there was good interest from contractors.img_3664

The photo below shows a vacuum press, where the layers of wood are glued together. The pieces are laid down in the machine as you can see in the photo, covered with a gigantic rubber blanket and then the air is succeed out. This puts pressure on the element from all 6 sides, not like a typical press that would only  allow pressure from the top down.

img_3665With thousands of installation in Europe, CLT is still quite unwon in Canada – and with everything new there are hurdles. The current building code in Ontario doesn’t cover the structural design of CLT panels. My building permit application is still under review and earlier this week we got the structural comments – 21 items. The only good thing is, that I am my own client, because I would not know how to explain this to a client that I have just convinced to build with CLT and is eager to start construction.


Door #13 – Like a Tesla

I saw a great photo posted on twitter by Monte Paulsen of RDH Building Science  which I want to share with you today.


From his post: “Next time someone brags about their “passive design” building that’s “just like a Passive House” consider these two electric vehicles…”

I certainly plan to have my project certified.


Door #12 – German Engineering

One of the things I like about passive house is that it comes from Germany. No surprise here. I have been living in Canada for over 10 years now, but of course everything German is close to my heart.

We often have so called “lunch and learn” in our office, where we get a free presentations from a sales representative over a also free lunch. They are always interesting, sometimes excellent and we learn a lot about new flooring materials, facade cladding products, new cool glass for windows, curtain wall system, waterproofing membranes, green roofs….you get the idea. So we usually all listen attentively, are in awe about the possibilities with one of our current projects, and then we start talking about Germany. Why? Because often the product was developed in Germany or we see some really cool photos of buildings and they are located in …Germany!

So why is “German engineering” or “European design” such a quality attribute? Yes, this is certainly true for the car makers – as someone commented on my post on windows : the BMW of windows – German cars are great to drive and a real status symbol.

But all these other things too? Before leaving Germany and living somewhere else, I wasn’t particularly aware of this. I took all my German products and building materials for granted. Building buildings the North American way is certainly different than in Germany, but unfortunately it is very hard to achieve the passive house without importing windows, HRVs, sealing tapes, CLT panels, even insulation from Europe. So hopefully with an increase in demand, the North American market will adapt and high quality building products will become more readily available.

Door #10 – Drawings

322-perrier-presentationOne of the reasons I went to architecture school was that I could draw….and I didn’t  have to write too much. So here are my latest elevations for your to look at – without many words – you can judge for yourself.

Door #9 – Limbo Bars

I have to admit 24 posts in 24 days are quite the project. Not to mention that Christmas is around the corner, with the need to come up with ideas for presents, planning for the holidays and maybe even baking some cookies. So today I let Adam Cohen do the work for me again with a great video explaining the passive house metrics.

Door #8 – PHPP


What does this acronym stand for? It is in every passive house expert’s vocabulary: the Passive House Planning Package or Passivhaus-Projektierungspaket – Germans like their extra long words.

It is a massive excel spread sheet that according to the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt ” is an easy to use planning tool for energy efficiency for the use of architects and planning experts”. Basically it is an energy balance calculation in excel: it adds up all the energy losses in the building on one side and the energy gains like solar heat gains, appliances, people on the other side. The difference is your heating demand. This is a very simplified explanation….. There is a 260 page manual that comes with it as well. But trying to navigate this tool for the first time is a bit intimidating to say the least.

Luckily when you buy the software you get one version of the spreadsheet completed with the data of the very first Passivhaus in Darmstadt, Germany, a great reference for beginners. One cool thing to do is to change the climate data from Germany to Canada.  Often I get asked, does Passiv House even work here in Canada, where its is much colder that in Germany? What do you think? Well, it is actually easier to do a passive house here in Ottawa than it is in Germany. The weather in Germany in January or February often is overcast, grey and around 1 degree. Not very pleasant to do anything and certainly no sun to provide any heat gain for a house. Here in Ottawa on the contrary we get a lot of very cold (freezing!!) days with blue skies and a lot of sunshine. Great for heating up the building. The heating demand drops from 13 kWh/ (m² a) in Darmstadt down to 12  kWh/(m² a) in Ottawa.



Door #7 – Living in a Passivhaus

Ok, I have never lived in a passive house myself, so this short little movie gives some insight on the advantages. As I am getting excited about the prospects of a built semi-detached home -the city of Heidelberg in Germany has built 3000 apartments, a kindergarten and a museum….




Door #6 – Dredge Leahy Architects Inc.

Some of my readers know this, but I am not working all by myself in some basement – I am going to work every day! The only place I have ever worked since coming to Canada, the only office that was willing to hire me – despite my lack of Canadian experience. Not sure if they ever regretted this, but I guess not as I have been there for almost 10 years. I certainly never had any regrets – a great group of people we are there and we work on anything from a small office fit-up to a multi million dollar hospital project.

Now I am trying to convince them that Passive House is up and coming. I even dragged Michele Dredge, one of the partners to the North American Passive House conference in New York this year….


The exciting news are, that we made the change after Gord Erskine’s retirement to Dredge Leahy Architects Inc.

Congratulations to Michele Dregde and Steve Leahy and I am sure this will be a wonderful new era for the firm.

Door #5 – Windows


Good windows are a very important part of a passive house, as all element of the building envelope are to perform at their best. And poorly insulated windows are cold surfaces in the room and will need some sort of heat source nearby to compensate for the “cold draft”. The Passive House Institute certifies so called “warm” windows that fulfill the requirements for the passive house standard, in Europe there are around 60 manufacturers on the market. Four criteria are important: triple glazing, a  warm edge spacer, insulated frame and thermally correct installation in the wall.

One issue here in Canada is that these windows have to be imported from Europe, mostly from Austria, Germany or Ireland. And that certainly adds to the cost. So what is so different from typical North American windows? Once you have installed one or operated one you know. They are heavier, have more seals, typically they have a tilt and turn operating hardware and in closed position they are really air tight. They are the BMW of windows.

Well insulated windows are necessary to provide solar heat gain the winter, because remember the passive house doesn’t have a furnace…. that works especially well on cold and sunny days as we have them here in Ottawa quite often. This could be achieved with any window, but overall the window has to contribute to a positive energy balance – meaning the house gains more heat through the window than it looses.

So how well insulated are they? As a guideline the u-value of the window assembly  has to be below 0.8 w/m2K, the equivalent of R7.

Door #4 – If Cars were built like Houses


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