Given Calgary’s typical winters, it would seem impossible to conceive of building a home without a furnace to warm those long, cold days and nights.
However, Brookfield Residential has done just that with its Passive House located in northwest Calgary’s Symon’s Gate – a unique estate home of approximately 2,500-sq.-ft. that takes energy efficiency to new heights using 90 per cent less energy than a typical new home constructed today.
“The idea behind this was to look at where the building codes and energy targets are going in the next 15 years,” says Doug Owens, senior director of strategic development and regulatory affairs at Brookfield. “When we look into the future, we want to make sure that we’re building quality communities and homes as efficiently and effectively as possible. For this home, we wanted to use cross-laminated timber, which is available in Canada, but not is being used for house construction.”
So while the home was designed in Canada, a company in Germany engineered and prefabricated the home including the R45 walls, and shipped it to Calgary. A special foundation was poured using foam to create a complete “thermal break” from the external environment, and Brookfield’s master builders worked closely with project partners to assemble the home on site.
With super-insulated walls and roof, air-tight construction and ultra-efficient windows, the home is draft-free and incredibly quiet. Sixteen-inch-thick timber walls, concrete floors and metal roofing means it can withstand extreme weather, and the home is oriented on the property to take full advantage of Calgary’s sunshine.
But the most surprising aspect for many is the home has no furnace.
“Because of the construction and materials used, the body heat of people in the home and activities like cooking and showers will heat the home. In fact, you can’t have a gas fireplace or gas stove because it will generate too much heat,” Owens says. “A common misconception is that super-insulated homes are prone to over-heating in the summer, but the insulation that serves the home so well in the winter also works just as hard in the summer,” he explains. “The steep summer sun angle reduces the amount of warmth coming in, thick walls keep the heat from penetrating the home, and the thermal mass of the cross-laminated timber walls and concrete floors all help to keep the home from big temperature swings. The catch phrase commonly used to describe a Passive House is ‘You can heat it with a hairdryer and cool it with an ice cube’.”
The Passive House also utilizes an advanced energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system that was chosen to work with the design of the home. The ERV acts as the ‘lungs’ of the home and runs continuously, ensuring a reliable supply of fresh, clean air to each room.
Construction of this Passive House gave Brookfield, trades partners and suppliers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of new building techniques, gain expertise in advanced energy-efficient design, work through building code challenges and help prepare them for anticipated future energy code improvements.
Brookfield is also sharing the knowledge it gained by opening the doors to this home to the public.
“We had a tremendous response from people the first weekend we opened – we had about 1,200 people come through, from the general public to industry people and government officials,” Owens says, noting news videos garnered 7.5 million visits. “Eventually, we’re hoping that while a lot of the materials for this home came from overseas, companies in North America will see what has been crafted and will work towards creating those materials here and improving on them for the future.”