Western Quebec meeting centre aims for Passive House certification

Builders of an events centre, just north of Ottawa in Wakefield, Que., are hoping to set a new precedent in terms of energy efficiency.

They hope Le Belvedere, a place for weddings, meetings and other gatherings, will become the largest structure in North America to receive Passive House certification.

It’s all about energy efficiency

To achieve this status, a structure must meet certain standards in the efficiency of its heating, cooling, airtightness and primary energy usage. Unlike LEED certification, which considers elements such as water usage, waste and materials used in the building process, Passive House recognition is narrowly focused on just energy performance.

“If you have a Passive House, you can marry that with LEED, and you basically would get all of the energy credits of LEED, which, generally speaking, gets you pretty close to (LEED) Gold right from the get-go,” said Stephen Magneron, an advanced buildings specialist with Homesol Building Solutions Inc., based in Almonte, Ont.

Homesol has been helping to make Le Belvedere a Passive House. There are a few different agencies that act as certifiers of Passive Houses. Le Belvedere is working with the Passive House Academy based in Ireland.

Specific Passive House standards, Magneron explained, include that neither the heating nor the cooling can use more than 15 kWh per square metre, total energy usage cannot exceed 120 kWh and air-tightness must allow no more than 0.6 air changes per hour. This means that no more than 60 per cent of a building’s air can escape over an hour with winds as strong as 56 kilometres per hour.

Magneron said this kind of efficiency is achieved by using superior quality insulation, drywall and windows that seal the building in a way that allows it to get the most out of its heating and cooling systems. As well, a highly efficient ventilation system allows the fresh air to be brought in with minimal loss in the heat or coolness of the centre.

Magneron said the concrete floors absorb heat from the crowds, resulting in less of a need for cooling on the warmer days. And for colder days, there are large, south-facing windows that facilitate a great deal of solar heat.

The structure opened in May, and with a few minor adjustments still being done, Magneron said Passive House certification might be attained this fall.

The business case for being ‘passive’

There are some notable efficiencies predicted for this structure, which has about 8,000 square feet of floor space but its high ceilings give it volume equal to about 15,000 square feet, or about six times the average size of homes built in North America last year.

It’s expected to see annual heating costs of just $600 a year. The installation of LED lighting is also supposed save about $4,000 a year in electricity costs (when compared to the use of incandescent bulbs).

Magneron said a structure that meets Passive House standards is 80 to 90 per cent more efficient than if it was built in a conventional manner, yet construction costs are only about 10 per cent more.

“If you take that into consideration, the ongoing costs make Passive Houses affordable,” he said. “If you put up the 10 per cent against you mortgage and your ongoing costs, you end up on top in terms of cash flow.”

Brian Fewster, owner of Le Belvedere, said it cost about $2.5 million to build the structure. He said it made financial sense to construct it to this level of efficiently.

“It really comes down to — for me, because I’m a business man — energy efficiency and low overhead costs,” he said. “I heard some nightmare stories about some large buildings that were in the area that came in with these crazy hydro bills that they couldn’t afford to pay.”

Fewster is confident the touted savings of building a Passive House will materialize. He said it’s hard to assess the costs right now, since use of power tools during the later stages of construction have added extra to the electricity bills, and he has not had to use the heat yet.

The coming ‘explosion of Passive Homes’

Magneron said there are only two other structures in the national capital area he knows of that have achieved Passive Home status – both residences – one in Ottawa and the other in Montebello, Que. But he said a Passive House movement is taking shape.

“There’s going to be an explosion of Passive Houses that will be certified. . . . Because of the fact that we’re not certified yet, other bigger structures might beat us to it, but we’re definitely on the leading edge of the Passive House movement in North America,” he said.

Fewster said he’s unsure whether the efficiency of Le Belvedere has any effect on customer experience. But perhaps the point is that it doesn’t diminish the experience, and the business benefits from cost savings.

“We’re just focusing on giving (customers) great food, great service and a great venue,” he said.

“I don’t think that the customer, at this point, really pays a lot of attention to the fact that this is an environmentally friendly building,” Fewster said, adding that it could become a marketing angle in the future.

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