Interview with Rob Bernhardt, CEO of Passive House Canada

Passive House on an upward curve

Rob works to advance building energy efficiency. A certified Passive House consultant and the developer of several certified Passive House projects, Rob is familiar with the economic and social advantages of high-performance buildings.

What is a Passive House Building and how does it work in Canada??

Passive House (Passivhaus) is considered to be the most rigorous voluntary energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today. They consume up to 90 percent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings. It is recognized internationally as the proven best way to build for comfort, affordability and energy efficiency of residential, institutional and commercial buildings, through all stages of design, construction, and livability.

The Passive House approach works because it’s a pragmatic combination of applied building science and economics. Designs and components vary to suit the local climate, enabling comparable levels of comfort, hygiene and performance in varied climates.  All Passive House buildings are designed using detailed energy modelling software, which allows the design team modify the architecture and specify the combination of insulation and components required to bring a building to the required performance standard in their own climate zone.

Why was Passive House Canada created?

Passive House Canada was incorporated by practitioners wanting to transform Canada’s buildings, making the multiple benefits of high performance buildings the norm. We started with few high-performance resources in Canada but have ramped up resources through educational services, events, advocacy and communications over the few years we have existed.  With time Canada’s policy, regulatory and incentive environment has become very support of Passive House as the level of building efficiency required for Canada to meet its Paris commitments become apparent.   

Why do you think the movement has been successful so far?

The successes that we have experienced are directly attributable to the dedication of industry professionals and elected officials who are passionate about sustainability.

Their momentum and enthusiasm has given us the privilege of assisting all levels of government in building policy development, the ability to support the growth of a national membership of over 1,100 members (in eight provinces and two territories) and deliver hundreds of courses, with over 5,000 registrations across Canada. 

This appetite for a higher standard of building bridged partnerships resulting in the launch of Canada’s first Zero Emissions Building Exchange in Vancouver and a successful inaugural national conference with over 350 delegates attending each year.

Why do you think people are making the change to Passive House buildings?

While the initial driver is, of course, environmental and the common goal to mitigate climate change, this alone does not catalyze market transformation, represent the motivation of everyone involved, or simplify the process of managing change. 

For many, the primary motivation is a desire to have better buildings. The unparalleled comfort, health, durability, resilience and affordability of buildings offering Passive House levels of performance are reason enough to make the choice. Affordable housing advocates may focus on the reduced costs of ownership, operation and utility costs to tenants, homeowners on the comfort, while absolutely everyone craves a constant supply of filtered fresh outdoor air.

Some professionals, developers and trades are attracted by the quality of work such buildings entail and enjoy the pride of workmanship. Others know high performance building regulations are coming and are looking for a competitive advantage, a market differentiator, in establishing their company brand. Increasingly, some are simply responding to the developing market for Passive House buildings and their components, which they know will grow.

Why do you feel Canada is winning in the change to Passive House building?

During our 2018 conference, the federal government took the opportunity to say it is probable that the final tier of the Net Zero Energy Ready Code will be very close to Passive House standards. This is a significant win for Canada, and with recent budget support we can see our national buildings strategy taking root across cities and provinces, nationwide.

We know our role at PHC will change and likely diminish as building codes and standards approach Passive House performance levels and we can’t think of a better reason to become redundant.

Taking a “mission first” approach enables more rapid progress, facilitating collaboration with industry and consumers in addition to government. We can best achieve our mission by collaborating with aligned groups and individuals, and we invite you to do the same.