By Roy L Hales
When I first interviewed Rob Bernhardt in 2014, you could count the number of British Columbia’s passive houses on your fingers. The Berhardts built the first certified passive house in the Victoria region. Rob went on to become the CEO of Passive House Canada. I recently interviewed him again, during a quick peek at Victoria’s passive houses.
Victoria’s Passive Houses
“There is currently millions of square feet of passive house buildings in BC. In all climates; in all types. There are commercial, institutional [and] larger multi-family. There are a number of high rises on the drawing boards … ” says Bernhardt.
Though the words “passive house” are not used, he said that this is the standard being used in Vancouver’s zero emissions building plan, Toronto’s zero emissions building framework, and Canada’s new BuildSmart strategy.
If we follow through with the latter, Bernhardt believes Canada could become a world leader in building standards.
Passive House Canada’s searchable map displays 38 completed projects in British Columbia.. The biggest cluster(20 buildings) is in the Lower Mainland. There are five shown in Greater Victoria.
This is by no means a complete survey.
“Today you can’t count the passive houses in the Victoria area on two hands and I’m not actually sure what the number is, because it is difficult to keep track of.”
North Park Passive House Condominium
James Smyth, of the CamoSun Solar Thermal System, told me about the North Park Passive House Condominium project in 2015.
This was the only one of the three projects I visited that had solar panels installed on the roof.
Bernhardt’s son was the builder and Robert later emailed me:
“The building is not net zero due to the small roof area available for 6 two bedroom apartments. The building has a sloping roof, reducing the available roof area by over 50% given the design, and the two dormers on the front occupy most of the remaining roof area, and shade other parts. Despite this, the strata will receive an annual cheque from BC Hydro, rather than an energy bill because the net meter is run through the strata corporations meter, and the loads on that meter are quite small. Strata fees in the building are therefore very low. Each owner pays their own electrical bill, which are modest. One owner has not turned on any heat in the 2 winters they have been living there.”
Victoria’s First Certified Passive Home
The Bernhardt residence is Victoria’s first certified passive home.
“I think it would have been 2011 that we were considering building a new home with our son [Mark] and daughter-in-law, and they have a couple of grandchildren for us. We decided if we were going to build something, we’d like to build something that is worthwhile. We looked at the different standards were out there. Passive house made the most sense to us, so we decided to build one,” said Bernhardt.
Since then, his son Mark founded Bernhardt Contracting and built three passive market properties, including the North Park condominium, in the Victoria area.
I asked Rob, what it would take for this home to become a generator, rather than consumer, of energy?
He replied, “I like to say it would take about two weeks. The roof is designed so that we can just put the photovoltaic panels on the roof … With any passive house building it doesn’t take that many panels … Again, not a high-rise, With density, comes more difficulty .. but for this house to generate, on an annual basis, the amount of energy it consumes on an annual basis, would take a small number of solar panels that can easily just be put on the roof. … The electrical panel is set up for them to be wired in and we are in business.”
The Bernhardt’s home was designed by Cascadia Architects.
Peter JohannKnecht, one of the parters of that firm, and his wife Sharon Stoose-Johannknecht live Oak Bay’s Cascadia Passive house.
I asked her if all passive homes have similar appearances.
“No, definitely not,” she replied. “This is a very modern home, it has a modern European aesthetic to it, but a passive home can also have a traditional shape. It can have the pitched roofs. … Big windows are still advantageous because of of the solar gain. This house is wired for solar panels, but you can do that on any home; any roof … [Passive homes] do not need to be ultra modern and flat roofed by any means. Passive standard condo buildings, or passive standard schools and hospitals are your traditional shape and form quite often.”
Sharon says the air is much cleaner in a passive house.
As they do not need a furnace, heating bills are infinitely lower.
(Rob Bernhardt thinks he pays about $200 a year.)
Peter JohannKnecht is currently designing low-income passive home projects for the Greater Victoria Housing Society in Colwood and Saanich .
Sharon explained, “The idea of low income housing being a passive house standard effectively means that the people living there do not have heating bills. You don’t have a furnace, you don’t have the high expenses. This can be a factor with people who have low incomes. I know from my own past, my mom kept the heat down because she couldn’t afford to pay the heating bill every month with four kids [being] a single mom.”
There is much more in the podcast at the top of this page.
Top Photo Credit: Interior of Bernhardt residence – courtesy Derek Ford