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Austria Passive House Update

In an earlier blog post we mentioned the Austria House, which will be the party house for all things Austrian during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The house is designed and constructed to meet the rigorous Passive House standards. At it’s essence, a passive building will maintain a comfortable interior climate without an active heating and cooling system. Passive refers to the fact that the home will heat and cool itself.

Our lead designer, Tessa Smith, visited the Austria House recently. Having gone through the Passive House training earlier this year, she knows the critical level of thought that must go into every aspect of the design for it to be truly “passive”. She’ll be blogging on her visit soon, so check back for that.

Though it’s not super current, this article below is from the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper, it’s a nice little write up on the passive house project.

Made for Olympics, Energy-Efficient Building in B.C. Sets New Standard for Canadian Design


When the Winter Games get under way in Whistler, the gathering spot for Austrian athletes, media and Olympic officials will be a simple, two-storey, A-frame house that might be the most energy-efficient dwelling in Canada.

When the Games are done and the Austrians go home, its designers will leave behind the dwelling, which uses a whopping 90 per cent less energy than a regular Canadian home. It will be wrapped, like a gift, in swaths of sturdy insulation and heated largely by triple-paned, floor-to-ceiling windows.

Architect Guido Wimmers said he hopes the structure, which is heated entirely without a furnace and cooled without air conditioning, will inspire Canadians to reform some wasteful construction habits.

“I think it can be a showcase,” said Mr. Wimmers, who was among a group of Austrian builders who pitched the idea of constructing the energy-efficient building to officials in the Olympic resort town.

“People can touch it, feel it, see it and say: ‘Okay, it’s possible.’ ”

When Austria House is finished, it will be the first home in Canada to meet the rigorous design standards of a passive house. (The German designers who developed the energy-efficient building called it a “passive” house because it requires no active heating or cooling systems.) Its Austrian promoters hope it won’t be the last.

If properly designed and built, a passive house dramatically improves a building’s energy efficiency – even in the coldest climates – by encasing it in an airtight shell that keeps out the cold and retains the heat already generated inside.

The concept originated in Germany in the early 1990s. There are about 17,000 buildings in Europe – mainly in Germany and Austria – which meet the passive-house standards.

Yet the design has failed to catch on in North America. Mr. Wimmers, who moved to Canada two years ago, noticed the different mindset immediately. Lower energy costs and a sparse population on this side of the Atlantic haven’t fuelled the same kind of fervent desire to reduce energy consumption, he said.

When Vancouver-Whistler won the bid for the 2010 Winter Games, a group of Austrian builders gathered some sponsors and pitched the idea to Whistler town officials, offering to leave the building intact as a parting gift to Canada. After the Games, the passive house will be a day lodge for skiers.

The first hurdle? The needed materials weren’t available in Canada. Eventually, every scrap of wood and glass and insulation was shipped by sea and rail to British Columbia in six containers. An Austrian construction crew was also imported.

The design is simple. A thick band of insulation encases the house from the roof to beneath the basement floor, to a depth of three to four times the amount of insulation in most Canadian homes. The house sits atop an insulation pan, separating the basement floor from the ground.

Triple-paned windows, facing south and encased in wood and cork-insulated frames, draw heat in and don’t let it out. In most Canadian homes, flimsy window frames account for about 60 per cent of a home’s heat loss.

Heat is generated largely through these window panels. The airtight construction also helps retain the heat generated from lights and appliances and human occupants.

The temperature is controlled by an elaborate heat exchange system that warms cold air drawn from the outside with hot air from inside that is being vented to the outside.

The cost of all this energy efficiency is steep. The final price tag will top $1-million.