Standing by the large front window in Carolyn and Jesse Gisbornes’ condo, you’d never know a windstorm that would later shut down B.C. Ferries sailings was raging outside, or that the building is just off busy Quadra Street.
The couple’s condo is on the top floor of the three-storey, six-unit North Park Passive House on Queens Avenue. The building is one of a small but growing number of residences built to meet the Passive House building standard — the leading standard in energy-efficient construction today.
The triple-paned windows in the Gisbornes’ condo are required in Passive House buildings, which are constructed to use an extremely small amount of energy for their heating and cooling needs. The homes are very well-insulated and virtually airtight.
And even though the wind was gusting outside, it was so quiet in the couple’s condo that you could hear the cat purring.
“I’ve never lived in a place I love so much,” says Carolyn, a policy analyst with the provincial government.
She went through the building while it was under construction in the spring of 2015 as part of her work on building-code development and policy. It was the first multi-family Passive House development in Victoria and was a showcase project from a building-innovation perspective.
She and Jesse had talked about buying their first home and were casually keeping an eye on MLS listings. They hadn’t even talked to a real estate agent.
Carolyn loved the Passive House concept and its North Park location. So did Jesse, who laughs about “buying the first place we looked at.” He was drawn to the high quality of the building.
“It’s very high quality and yet quite simple. I like the idea of buying something that is built to last in a time when things are so often done quickly and without this level of care.”
The North Park Passive House went on to win the best multi-family award from the Vancouver Island chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.
The couple like the environmentally friendly nature of the 900-square-foot condo, the cost savings — energy costs are up to 90 per cent less (the couple’s hydro bill is $20 a month) — and that they can walk to everything they need.
“Part of the philosophy of the builders was consciously picking a location with a really good ‘walk score,’ the metric that is used to give a sense of how easy it is to live in a neighbourhood without a car,” Carolyn said.
The walk score for the Queens Avenue building was 96 out of 100. The couple can walk to grocery stores, the movies, out for dinner and to appointments, and Carolyn walks to work downtown. Jesse is a Navy diver based in Colwood and either bikes or drives their one car to work.
The couple find that they are often explaining Passive House concepts to friends, although the technique is becoming more popular in new construction. The couple’s condo, as well as several other Passive Houses in the Victoria area, will have open houses on Saturday, Nov. 12, as part of International Passive House Days. Builders will be available to explain the construction method.
Rob Bernhardt, CEO of Passive House Canada, and his son Mark built the North Park condos and have several Passive House building projects in the region. With growing concerns about climate change, the style of construction seems likely to become more desirable for many buyers.
“Governments around the world are coming to realize that high-performance buildings are better for people, better for business and better for the planet,” said Rob Bernhardt, who lives in a Passive House home. “With 40 per cent of global emissions coming from buildings, governments know they cannot meet their climate-change objectives without fundamentally improving buildings.”
Passive House Canada is working with governments at all levels, said Bernhardt, who is involved in the development of a global building standard under the auspices of the United Nations. He was recently at UN economic commission meetings in Baku, Azerbaijan, helping develop a global building standard.
Many jurisdictions currently have Passive House levels of energy efficiency built into their building codes, or incentives to encourage the construction of such buildings. Some 38 European cities with a combined population of more than 30 million people require public buildings to meet the Passive House Standard, Bernhardt said.
“There appears to be a growing level of interest in all parts of the globe, as high-performance buildings offer superior affordability and comfort in all climates,” he said.
Building to the Passive House Standard generally adds about three to four per cent to costs and can be more challenging from a design perspective.
“The investment in design is the primary challenge — most sites can be made to work and the development process is largely the same as for any other building,” Bernhardt said.
A primary goal of a Passive House building is a tightly sealed building envelope. This dramatically reduces letting warm air out and cold air in. Air is circulated in the home with a high-efficiency heat-recovery ventilation system, keeping the temperature constant regardless of the weather.
The North Park building is south-facing, ideal for capturing heat through the large windows that also flood light into the Gisbornes’ airy condo. Although just shy of 900 square feet, it feels spacious with its high ceilings and clean and contemporary lines.
The triple-paned windows have a built-in solar shade that they lower when it gets too warm. There’s no air conditioning or heat source, other than the radiant floor tiles in the bathroom. The condo is usually at 20 or 21 C.
“We can stand by the window in the dead of winter and there’s no chill,” Jesse said.
While they love the cost savings and having a smaller environmental impact, the couple seems mostly to just love their home and their neighbourhood.
“I think we’ll be here a while,” Carolyn said.
PASSIVE HOUSE TOURS
Free guided tours and presentations are being held across Canada during International Passive House Days, Nov. 10 to 13.
Victoria area-open houses are all on Saturday, Nov. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information, please see passivehousecanada.com/passive-house-days
• Cascadia Passive house, 954 Byng St.
• North Park Passive House, 860 Queens Ave, unit 302
• 2740/42 Fifth St.
• Bernhardt Passive House, 1535 Oak Crest Dr. (exterior tours only)
• 732 and 734 Mary St. (exterior tours only)
• 406/408 Wilson St. duplex (exterior tours only)