Local Construction Leaders Go Passive

August 8, 2017

In a public experiment to test the capabilities of a high-performance building, two white structures have been set up in Vancouver’s Olympic Village Square, each containing 1 tonne of ice. The key difference between the two ice boxes is their building envelope; one of them is built to BC’s current building code and the other is built to the energy-efficient Passive House Standard. The structures were designed and built for the Ice Box Challenge that was organized by Passive House Canada, Vancity, the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Park Board. The display will be left outside for 18 days, from July 27th to August 14th, during which they will be subject to the elements and will have to endure the heat wave that has swept through Vancouver. The public is invited to check out the project and guess how much ice will be left in each box at the end of the challenge, with prizes to be awarded for the best guesses.

The Design

The winning design for the challenge was created by Stark Architecture. “Our challenge was to create something that was evocative, with shapes that would draw people in and make them curious to learn more,” says David Arnott, a Passive House certified designer at Stark. Anticipating that the other design submissions would be in the form of houses, Stark Architecture took a different turn and looked to Vancouver’s natural landscape for inspiration. With the technical expertise of E3 Eco Group, their vision materialized as an abstract version of Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn (Twin Sisters), commonly known as “The Lions” to Vancouver locals. The two recognizable snow-covered peaks were transformed into slopes of white-painted plywood that were angled to deflect and reflect light. David is confident that the Passive House ice box will retain most of its ice, while the conventional ice box won’t have any left in it by the end of the challenge.

Ice stacked into a 1 tonne block will gradually melt over the duration of the Ice Box Challenge. Photo credit: Passive House Canada

It Takes A Community

The ice boxes were built in BCIT’s High Performance Building Lab and transported to Olympic Village. “I was so impressed with the collaborative community. It wasn’t competitive, just companies working together,” says Brady Faught from the City of Vancouver.

Shaun St-Amour from Footprint Sustainable Housing also believes that the Passive House movement in Vancouver takes the effort of a community. “Because this movement is pretty new, we wanted to get as many builders involved as possible. If we’re all working together and working through the challenges in the process of building the passive house, we can check each other’s work. The more builders we can get on board, the better.” Shaun suggests checking out the display either in the early morning when the ice boxes are casting shadows, or at night when the boxes are lit up.

Passive House In Vancouver

Chris Hills, the Managing Partner at Ritchie Construction, says his company got involved with building the ice boxes because they wanted to promote Passive House in the Vancouver construction community. Most of the employees at Ritchie Construction are certified builders and they want to continue to play an active role in the Passive House movement.  Chris believes that Passive Houses are like F1 race cars, being extremely efficient and “the best living environment that you can possibly build”.

Vancouver has set bold environmental goals and is spearheading the Passive House movement. According to the City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan, by 2030, all new buildings in Vancouver will produce no operational greenhouse gas emissions. In the City of Vancouver’s Sustainability Group, Brady is optimistic about the role that Passive House technology will play in Vancouver’s future:

“The City of Vancouver believes in a future where buildings don’t create emissions; where homeowners live in healthy, fresh-air, comfortable homes, and spend pennies a month on heating and maintenance; and where our local builders and designers are global experts of cutting-edge, high-performance building design and construction.”

Enthusiasm and optimism are equally high in the local construction industry. “To have [Stark] out here, in a city that is pioneering and pushing the limits of building envelopes, raising the bar and environmental standards,” David comments, “- it’s great, we love that!” Currently the five day Passive House building course at BCIT is offered at a discount for tradespeople. In partnership with the City of Vancouver, BCIT will be offering a its five-day Passive House Tradesperson course from October 2 to 5  at a discount.  See www.bcit.ca/construction/passivediscovery for registration details.

Word of Vancouver’s Ice Box Challenge has already spread and the display is scheduled to visit Seattle in the near future. Seeing this example, other cities have been inspired to host their own Ice Box Challenge as well, including Christchurch, New Zealand.

The building envelope is lowered over the blocks of ice at Olympic Village Square. (Photo credit: Passive House Canada)

To check the live temperature stats in the boxes, visit the Ice Box Challenge homepage. Final results of the Ice Box Challenge will be posted here after August 14th. Be sure to tune in!

Note: the featured image is Ice Box Challenge at Vancouver’s Olympic Village Square (Photo credit: © Krista Jahnke)


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