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high performance building

The Passive Narrowtive House

Infill project a model of gentle densification and adaptability to changing needs

By Nick Bray Architecture

“The Passive Narrowtive” is located on a narrow infill lot near the centre of Vancouver. The house is lived in by the architect’s young family, with a tenant living in the garden suite below.

The intent was to demonstrate that a certified Passive House could be built on a small and challenging site, rethink housing design, and test innovative products and technologies.

The size and orientation of the site presented unique challenges, being long and narrow with the south elevation limited to a width of only 5.5 metres. More critically, its location in a peat bog with a high water table, required an innovative, low-impact foundation system to maintain the natural hydrology and comply with new environmental regulations. The house sits on a grid of beams spanning between 46-12m deep piles, its basement waterproofed with a durable, high quality tanking membrane.

The original one-bedroom house was beyond repair and was deconstructed, with over 90% of materials recycled. The elongated plan of the new house, with a depth of 14.6 metres, resulted in a high surface to volume ratio and hence a less than ideal form factor for the Passive House energy modelling. The narrow south-facing elevation was designed with large windows and deep solar-shading canopies to provide sufficient natural light, winter-solar-gain, and to prevent overheating in summer.

Space-efficiency was a critical design objective, the main consideration being to minimize the environmental impact of the building over its anticipated 100-year service life.  The 246m²  home contains five spacious bedrooms and five bathrooms.

The above-grade walls built with pre-fabricated structural insulated panels. The air barrier used on the house, the NS-A250 barrier by Naturaseal, is an eco-friendly waterproof, vapour resistant, UV stable elastomeric coating that is cold-applied using a spray system.

Large glazed doors bring natural light into the basement apartment. The high performance triple-glazed wood windows and doors, and the HRV ventilation system, were supplied by Vetta Building Technologies.


  • Owner/Developer/Architect  Nick Bray Architecture Ltd
  • Contractor  JDL Homes Vancouver / Black Thumb Contracting
  • Structural Engineer  Miskimmin Structural Engineering
  • Commissioning Agent  Rudy Sawatzky
  • Photos  Martin Knowles Photo / Media


  • Total energy Intensity (base building and process energy) = 54.5 KWhr/m²/year


One Planet Reno, Ottawa