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Passive house building boom shows low-carbon future may be closer than we think

December 29, 2016

By Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, Dylan Heerema, and Karen Tam Wu : straight – excerpt

A building standard that curbs carbon pollution and locks in ultra energy efficiency

Did you know that buildings are responsible for nearly a quarter of Canada’s carbon pollution? Buildings are also linked to about a third of carbon pollution in the United States and constitute the largest source of emissions in North America.

Meanwhile, leading countries, states, provinces, and cities have committed to taking action to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, and adopted targets informed by climate science. When looking at emissions from the building sector, they face a unique challenge: buildings last a long time.

Retrofitting buildings is costly and complex, so it is crucial that we construct new buildings to the best standards of energy efficiency as soon as possible. Every building built to suboptimal standards represents a 50-plus year liability in a world that needs to be almost fully decarbonized within the next 30 years.

One strategy to reliably reduce emissions from buildings at a low cost, while also improving their durability, comfort, and resilience, is to improve the thermal performance of building enclosures. By increasing the insulation and airtightness of walls, roofs, and windows, it is possible to reduce the energy used for heating buildings by up to 90% compared to common practice. This low-tech, “passive” approach to thermal comfort — in contrast to active approaches that rely on complex mechanical systems — is the cornerstone of the Passive House movement and a strategy used by thousands of green buildings around the world…

Coming to a block near you

Not surprisingly, the majority of Passive House buildings are residential, most of these single-family homes. Non-residential projects are less common, but this is a reflection of relatively few developments specifying highly efficient standards. Larger Passive House developments in cities like New York, Kansas City, and Vancouver are beginning to challenge this status quo. (The City of Vancouver’s leading-edge Zero Emissions Building Plan calls for a 90% reduction in emissions from new buildings by 2025, and achieving zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030.)… (more)


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