Passive House à la Belle Province
Quebec leads the country in many environmental metrics; however, it has encountered some unique challenges in growing the passive house movement.
A 2016 study on the distribution of climate change opinion in Canada showed that Quebec has some of the highest numbers of climate change belief in the country. On a policy level, Quebec also created Canada’s first carbon market by establishing a cap and trade system in 2013.
These values have also translated to the province’s eco-building community. Quebec has the second-largest amount of LEED-certified buildings in the country at 37% (behind Ontario).
Despite these advances, Quebec has just two passive house-certified buildings to date, though others have been built but have yet to be certified.
“Though they have not been certified, we have done about 20 high-performance homes in the last five years," explains Simon Fauger, director of Maisons Eléments, a high-performance building company in Quebec.
So, what’s going on?
“One of the main issues in Quebec is our dirt cheap energy,” explains William Murray, PBC Board Member and Certified Passive House Builder and Consultant with Construction Rocket, based in Abercorn, Quebec.
As Quebec relies largely on its massive hydroelectric dam system, residents who rely on Hydro-Quebec have the lowest energy rates in North America.
As one of the main selling points of passive house structures is its ability to significantly reduce your monthly energy bill (up to 90%), thus providing a quicker return on investment, the financial incentive to build to passive house standards might not be as great.
Another challenge unique to the province is the lack of information and resources available in French.
“PHI [Passive House Institute] has been working hard to translate information for Quebec, while PHIUS [Passive House Institute US] is not in a position to translate,” says Murray.
Not having these resources readily available in French adds another layer of complexity, especially in coordinating with multiple trades, regulatory agencies, and customers that may not be familiar with the standard.
“I do consulting work with clients and contractors to figure out where to get materials,” says Murray.
The first PHI-certified building in Quebec was the Maison Ozalée. Built to both passive house and LEED Platinum standards in 2015, this project was a renovation of a single family home in the Ahuntsic neighbourhood of Montreal.
According to their website, “More than a home, we hope to make this project a place of meeting and sharing, particularly concerning the collection of techniques and knowledge used here.”
Indeed, this kind of network and knowledge-sharing is critical to grow the passive house movement. The non-profit organization Maison Passive Québec has taken up the mantle of raising awareness of the passive house standard, sharing information, and hosting trainings on passive house in French.
According to Simon Fauger, he thinks that passive house has been catching on. “Within the past year, I’ve observed a growing popularity in [passive house] products, people are more and more informed.”
The first PHIUS-certified home was constructed by Murray’s company in Abercorn, Quebec in 2017. The “Springhouse” cost 15% more to construct than a conventional code home “furring to furring”, that is, excluding finishings. It was also certified LEED Platinum.
Given Quebec’s low energy costs, Murray believes that part of growing the movement in the province has to do with the way it is marketed.
“We need to sell it in a different way. We need to sell comfort, clean air,” says Murray. “You can put a yoga mat next to a window in the winter and not get cold.”
Perhaps with more resources in French and marketing that focuses more on lifestyle and comfort than airtightness and efficiency, passive house will make a permanent home in Quebec.