Ask the Expert: Dr. Guido Wimmers talks about Passive House Design
The CaGBC is proud to be offering our first one-day CaGBC Passive House introductory course, beginning November 28 in Burnaby, British Columbia. Click here to register now.
We spoke to course instructor and expert Dr. Guido Wimmers of the Canadian Passive House Institute, to find out more about how Passive House works, how it complements LEED, and the benefits of taking this new one-day course.
1. Tell me a bit about your professional background and how you got involved in Passive House.
Early on I was exposed to Passive House and the energy efficiency of buildings and it always interested me. After finishing my Masters degree in Architecture at the University of Innsbruck, I started to work at an energy institute in Austria, a research and consulting institute focusing preliminary on the energy efficiency of buildings. I led the building department for a few years and co-developed a quality assurance system for Passive Houses, as well as being involved in the planning and design of Passive Houses projects from small residential to large commercial or municipal such as
office buildings or schools.
One highlight was in 2006, when I was one of the initiators of the “Austria House” in Whistler, the national pavilion which in 2010 became the first official Passive House in Canada.
2. What is the most significant learning you’ve gleaned from working as a consultant on Passive Houses in Austria, Italy and Canada?
I learned how large the environmental impact of the energy consumption is on our built environment, and how carelessly we deal with this issue when we design new construction which will consume huge amounts of energy for decades to come. I also learned how surprisingly easy it is to optimize and to reduce this footprint by almost a factor 10 with a relatively modest additional investment.
Our current building industry is far behind compared to other mindboggling developments we’ve seen in the last few decades in the communications or transportation sector. The building sector is very conservative and slow moving in adopting new but well researched and proven concepts. I realised that Passive House was becoming a global movement, but that the speed of adaptation might be very different from continent to continent because of different factors.
3. The CaGBC is offering a new, one-day Passive House course, beginning in November which you are teaching. What can those attending hope to learn from you and this course?
Generally speaking the goal is to open up the mind of all attendees and motivate them to forget about codes and other things they were confronted with in the past, and think about this issue in a very pragmatic way. They will be confronted with a common-sense approach which should help to set their priorities straight. They will also get an overview about how they can focus on addressing the largest environmental impacts of buildings.
4. There are many competing energy efficiency standards now. What makes Passive House stand out from the pack?
Passive House was established 1991 and is probably one of the oldest standards in the field, and by far one of the most rigorous energy efficiency standards out there – even outperforming the vast majority of net-zero buildings. In my opinion, it is the best evaluated and scientifically developed standard. There are also now more than 40,000 Passive House units in 36 countries which makes it internationally very successful.
But most of all – Passive House is based on science and therefore no requirement is arbitrary; everything is interconnected.
5. Why would someone involved in LEED building be interested in Passive House?
LEED deals with a very wide scope of criteria, which is certainly a good thing because all of these criteria are important in building greener buildings. But from my point of view, in order to really change the environmental impact of our buildings and truly achieve sustainable architecture, the energy consumption has to be reduced significantly. This is where Passive House comes into play.
Having said this, I think that LEED and Passive House are a perfect complement to each other. For example, Passive House does not focus directly on numerous environmentally related issues such as water consumption or formaldehyde content in the interior air – things that might already have been covered by codes and laws when Passive House was created in Europe.
Here in North America, the situation is very different and LEED has helped raise the awareness for these issues and changed the general perception of green architecture. Still, the most important of all criteria – energy efficiency – has to be improved in order to achieve sustainable construction, and for that I believe Passive House can be the key.
6. Where do you think the future of the green building industry as a whole is headed?
Generally the green building industry is probably heading in the same direction on most continents; the emphasis on “green” however comes at different times and has different starting points depending on the place.
In Europe, new construction is generally much more energy efficient than in North America, as they have had to focus on this issue much earlier due to their dependency on foreign energy sources. The gap between standard building code and Passive House code in Europe is actually quite small in some areas, and will vanish over the next few years.
In Canada, while the gap is generally still quite large, we are also going step by step towards higher energy efficiency. Because Passive House is already so well researched we have an advantage and can implement this approach much faster, but we still have to deal with education of the industry and the awareness of the clients to speed up the process and avoid getting side-tracked.
We now know a lot more about what practices will truly have the most impact on the road to sustainable buildings, and I think we will be able to smooth out that road over the next 10 years or so to enter an era of truly sustainable construction.
For more information on Passive House with the CaGBC or to register for the Burnaby course, visit www.cagbc.org/passivehouse. It is here that you will also have the opportunity to fill out a form requesting a Passive House course in your region.