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A very well attended Passive House Canada (PHC) Conference was held at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, Ontario during October. The event is relevant to members of the HRAI, insofar as Passive House and other zero energy or energy-neutral building concepts are becoming more popular, not just in the marketplace, but also in the language of building codes and municipal building standards.

Passive House is a building standard that requires particular outcomes, such as minimum airtightness of the envelope (as measured in air changes per hour), and total energy usage per square foot. It involves heavy insulation practices, energy recovery ventilators, and triple-pane windows. Passive houses are usually heated and cooled using air source heat pumps and small coils.  The official definition of Passive House is “a building for which thermal comfort (ISO 7730) can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling of the fresh air mass, which is required to achieve sufficient indoor air quality conditions – without the need for additional recirculation of air.”

Passive House may not be the actual language or may not precisely match specifications used in codes and standards, but it is likely very similar to future requirements.


In August at the C40 meetings in Copenhagen three Canadian mayors, alongside 16 mayors from around the world, representing 130 million urban citizens, committed to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions from their cities by ensuring that new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030. They signed the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration. By doing so, the Mayors of Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York City, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Tshwane & Washington D.C also pledged to ensure all buildings in the cities, old or new, will meet net-zero carbon standards by 2050.

Many have already passed phased-in new standards for new construction. Some are going beyond and moving quickly. New York City has already selected some classes of existing buildings and passed a bill requiring them to be retrofitted by 2024, with stiff fines in place for non-compliance.

In Canada most of the shift has so far been aimed at new buildings and, in Vancouver, the passive house standard is part of the language of its new step code.


At the conference, PHC CEO Rob Bernhardt said “What’s happening in many countries is a shift to outcome-based building codes, where the code requires that you design and build a structure that will meet certain performance metrics, and the Passive House level of performance tends in most instances to be the level that a country feels it needs.”

Along with other low carbon models, the Passive House standard is growing in popularity around North America, “Two years ago we would have to get on an airplane to go and see large projects. This Saturday you will be able to see several projects within driving distance of this conference. Yesterday 22 Canadian suppliers received Passive House certifications for new products, and two of them won international awards.”


Ashrae Standard 90.1 was updated during 2019 and next month countries will vote on the 2021 IECC standard. Both of these key guidelines are moving very strongly towards building decarbonization, along pathways that are similar to, or the same as Passive House.

Progressive construction professionals are also very active. The market for residential zero-energy buildings grew 59 percent across the United States and Canada last year, according to a July report from the New Buildings Institute in Portland Oregon, a coalition of organizations, manufacturers, and low carbon building professionals.


The fourth annual edition of the Zero Energy Residential Buildings Study documents 22,146 units that are either in design, construction, or operation. These include single and multifamily projects that are working to achieve zero energy or zero energy-ready performance. According to the New Buildings Institute (NBI), there are 31,000 additional zero energy residential units in the planning stages that are not included in that count.

BC and Ontario are among the top zero energy regions in North America, with the explosive recent growth in Ontario making it the third biggest on the list.

“As an organization, we were originally bigger in western Canada, but now we are gaining more memberships in the province of Ontario than all of the rest of the country combined,” said Bernhardt. “Our federal government recently brought the provinces together to create and sign the Pan Canadian Strategy on Growth and Climate Change and our National Building Strategy is a piece of that. This federal/provincial agreement is very powerful for guiding our national performance, and the provinces and cities are running with it.”