City Policy Spurs Innovation – But Can We Handle the Pace?

November 6, 2017

As part of a dedicated effort to become the greenest city in the world, the City of Vancouver has formulated a plan to eliminate emissions from buildings.

It will happen incrementally, but the end goal is to see high-performance building standards like the Passive House standard, Living Building Challenge, and Net-Zero Energy (NZE), become the norm for new construction in our city.

And this forward-looking policy is excellent news for many reasons:

  • These buildings have near-zero energy bills and fresh, filtered air: that’s great for homeowners, asthma sufferers and long-term affordable housing initiatives.
  • They produce almost no emissions resulting in clean outdoor air: that’s great for all Vancouverites.
  • They stay warm, quiet and comfortable inside even without power. Some even produce their own energy on-site! That’s great for fostering a resilient city.

But the question remains: to what degree are businesses impacted, supported or influenced by the City’s goals to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 2050?

Several local construction and manufacturing firms were asked: “how does progressive City policy impact your business?’

dPoint Technologies

James Dean is the Founder and CEO of dPoint Technologies – a local manufacturer of membrane-based heat and humidity exchangers. They’ve grown from a grassroots small business to a 75-person company with 30,000ft2 of local manufacturing space that supplies products for numerous building types across the world.

The City of Vancouver is one of only a handful of jurisdictions in North America to require heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems. These devices simultaneously save heat and deliver fresh, filtered air to the entire building.

“This local level mandate for energy recovery systems resulted in immediate local product demand for our products,” says James. “This in turn allowed us to develop our next generation products and scale up manufacturing capacity. dPoint air exchangers are now widely recognized as a global leader in the HVAC and Green Building industry.”

A locally-made dPoint heat exchanger core.

And as a sign that it’s more than just about good business, James and his family are currently constructing their very own Passive House in West Vancouver.

Cascadia Windows and Doors

In 2008, a few building science engineers got together when they realized high-performance windows and doors were in growing local demand. They formed Cascadia Windows.

Nearly 10 years and an additional 75 employees later, they’re shipping their ‘Universal Series’ fiberglass windows and doors from their manufacturing plant in Langley to projects across the West Coast.

“Cascadia’s mission”, says Michael Bousfield, Technical Director, “is to develop and offer products not for what’s currently required, but what will be. This makes for an inherently risky business in an already risky industry.” Michael says that having concrete progressive government policy validates their business decisions: “it represents confidence that there’s going to be a market, and provides assurance of the direction we’re collectively headed.”

Clearly they feel confident in the industry’s direction, considering their plan to further expand their manufacturing space in the next 3 to 5 years, and continue to optimize production in the wake of growing demand. They’re also awaiting their ‘Passive House Certified Product’ designation to arrive any day.

Peak Construction Group

Doug Wilson, CEO of Peak Construction Group, had a more sobering perspective to share in regards to fast-moving City policy.

Doug and his business partners decided that zero-emissions construction was where the industry was headed, so why not push the envelope, so to speak?

“We wanted to understand it before anyone else.”

The exciting result is The Heights on Skeena, Vancouver’s first multi-family Passive House rental building which is just being completed at the time of writing.

The Heights on Skeena, a 5-storey rental Passive House.

It all sounded great on paper, but Doug shared his experience from the leading edge:

  • trades and contractors are learning how to use new techniques and products,
  • the local Passive House design community is still in its adolescence,
  • availability and choice in local high performance products is limited;
  • municipal government staff and City processes are learning to handle and adapt to these new building designs

Fortunately, Doug then noted that in the short few years since starting Skeena, tremendous advances have been made in all these areas.

Local stores such as Small Planet Supply offer a wide range of high performance building products. Tradespeople and builders operating in Vancouver can join the 5-day Passive House trades course at BCIT (currently offered at a 50% discount). And over 160 City of Vancouver staff, including inspectors and plan checkers have attended Passive House training sessions.

Although progressive policy means leading industry in to uncharted territory, support is growing rapidly and these companies clearly demonstrate that there are tremendous benefits to be had.

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