It’s easy to spot gas-guzzlers on the road, such as an emissions-belching super-duty pickup that could tow a commercial fishing trawler up to Rogers Pass at the posted speed limit, but instead is used as a runabout for grocery shopping. Less discernible and less discussed are the stationary energy hogs among us: our homes and workplaces whose greenhouse gas emissions make up a significant portion of our total emissions — just compare your monthly vehicle fuel bill to your home heating bill during a Revelstoke winter. We have a growing array of options to reduce our transportation greenhouse gas emissions, but where are the electric cars of the building sector?
A new commercial building under construction in Revelstoke is shining a LED light on possible solutions.
The new 7,500-square-foot build at 306 First Street West is vying to be among the very first commercial buildings constructed to a specific commercial certified ‘passive house’ standard in Western Canada. The passive house certification is a strict set of rules and standards designed to dramatically reduce a building’s greenhouse gas emissions by regulating not just insulation standards, but also a long list of requirements that make the building more efficient, and also improves the air quality in the building.
Lawyer Michelle Bowlen and bike shop co-owner Selim Sabbagh commissioned the building from Greg Hoffart, the owner of Tree Construction. They sat down with the Mountaineer to chat about the project, and their reasons for choosing a passive home standard.
Bowlen and Sabbagh’s current home was built to a very high emissions standard, which included improved air quality, and Bowlen said she’s noticed the difference. “I noticed the respiratory issues experienced a big change,” she said. “We noticed how much of a difference it made in our lives.”
With the home construction experience under her belt, Bowlen said there were many reasons to choose a passive house standard for the Tantrum building, including greenhouse gas reductions and improved building environment.
The building method increases construction costs significantly, but the payoff comes over the long term, with reduced heating and cooling costs, and reduced maintenance costs on mechanical heating systems.
The building standard requires significant expertise, and is strictly regulated by a national passive house organization. Tree Construction focuses almost solely on the passive house standard. Hoffart is convinced that the low-emission buildings are the path forward for reducing residential and commercial emissions.
“To save the planet, if we simply reduce our demand on the planet, then we don’t need to have the next latest and greatest technological advancement to solve our problems. We need to reduce our consumption,” Hoffart said.
So why isn’t everyone building to these high emissions standards? Both technically and financially, the builds are challenging, increasing up-front costs for the project, which disincentivizes many.
Bowlen is sold on their goals, but said more could be done to incentivize greener building methods. She lists tax breaks, parking regulations, DCC reductions, or other tax incentives for lowered greenhouse gas emissions as policy measures various levels of government could implement to spur greener building practices.
Dan Gellein is the Manager of Building Services for the City of Revelstoke. He said that greener building practices are in the pike, and the next decade will mean big adaptations for everyone involved in construction. The provincial government is targeting 2032 for all new buildings to be “net-zero building” ready, a designation that means new buildings are constructed so that all energy requirements could be produced on-site, such as through solar panels. In addition, the provincial government introduced the B.C. Energy Step Code in 2017. It is a five-step system that rates a new building’s emissions standards. Local governments can adopt the standard through their bylaws, such as by requiring new buildings to be a “step 2” or “step 3” building. By 2032, the provincial government wants all new buildings to be the highest standard, step 5, which includes the Passive House designation.
Gellein said that some municipalities in B.C. have adopted bylaws requiring mid-level steps, but Revelstoke has yet to.
Gellein said many new builds are already adopting de facto mid-level steps without being required to, as energy efficiency is a consideration whether it’s a requirement or not.
Gellein said that an economic counterbalance to high levels of energy efficiency is cost. In Revelstoke, where affordable housing is a major issue, new step code requirements would bump up construction costs, which are then passed on to the buyer. “Most people aren’t [building passive] because the payback is there,” Gellein said, adding he favoured offering incentives to use greener building standards.
While the new Tantrum building is an early Revelstoke example of a new paradigm, the future of energy-efficient building standards, Gellein said that provincial regulations and targets are the writing on the wall.
“We’re going there anyway,” Gellein said. “Anyone in this industry who wants to be working in 2032 needs to start gearing up.”