Situated in the rapidly developing city of Fort St. John, is a very special house.
Most houses, especially in cold northern climates like Fort St. John, require quite a lot of energy to make livable.
They require large amounts of natural gas or electricity to generate enough heat to maintain a comfortable temperature in which we can enjoy kicking up our feet and watching Netflix at the end of a long day.
Fortunately for Fort St. John and its surrounding communities, the city is known for its energy production. However, there are ways to maintain a comfortable living space without using quite as much energy as we typically do.
I’m speaking of course, about Fort St. John’s Passive House or passivhaus.
What is a passivhaus?
A passivhaus is a building which is built to incredibly high standards of energy efficiency with the goal of reducing the carbon footprint of a building as much as possible.
The concept of the passivhaus came about in 1988 through a multitude of research projects conducted under the direction of Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist of Sweden and Germany respectively.
A passivhaus typically achieves maximum energy efficiency through a number of ways including the use of superinsulation, custom designed insulating window technology, and heat generated from lighting appliances, and occupants.
The first of these sorts of structures were built in 1990 in Germany. Today, there are around 25000 such buildings. However, the vast majority of these are located in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Fort St. John Passivhaus Performance
The Fort St. John Passive House is a 1900 square foot home located at 9904 – 95 street. This incredibly energy efficient structure is the northernmost passivhaus in North America and contains 2 floors with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, office and living area.
When they say it is built to a high standard of energy efficiency, they mean it. The primary way in which the passivhaus maintains its energy efficiency is an incredibly high degree of air tightness.
Canadian R-2000 standards for air tightness sit at 1.5 ach50. This is a voluntary standard which is significantly more efficient than current Canadian building codes. The passivhaus efficiency standard is a more stringent .6 ach50.
Where does the Fort St. John Passive House land on this scale? Well, it blows other supposedly air tight houses away, with an air tightness level of .33 ach50.
Furthermore, an average house would normally get an EnerGuide rating of 65-72. However, the Fort St. John passivhaus boasts an A rating of 91. This is based on tests and an analysis of the building’s plans.
Why Do This?
According to the city website, the Passive House project is an experiment meant to “prove that homes here can be built to a high level of energy efficiency”. It can serve as an example of how the city can meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
The experiment is still ongoing, with a family currently living in the Fort St. John passive house in order to prove its livability and the extent of its energy efficiency.
What makes the implications of this experiment more significant is the fact that a house of this type can be built for near the same cost of a conventional house at around $314 per square foot. This makes the potential for cost savings (in addition to energy savings) very high.
What’s The Latest?
An open house was just held by the current tenants of the Fort St. John Passive House. It saw hundreds attend, and comments from the tenants and visitors give the impression that it is a consistently warm and quiet place to be. But what else would you expect from a house that is insulated as much as possible?
Eventually we will be able to analyze the full results of the passivhaus experiment in Fort St. John. If the results are as good as some expect them to be, we all may see more houses built in a similar fashion, not just in FSJ, but in all of Canada as well.