The Wood Innovation Research Lab (WIRL) has achieved Passive House certification. Located next to the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George, it is the first educational-industrial building of its type in North America to meet the internationally-recognized standard for energy efficiency. The building is owned by the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).
Certified Passive House buildings use up to 90 per cent less energy for heating and cooling when compared with standard buildings and use up to 70 per cent less energy overall.
“We pulled off something really amazing here,” says UNBC associate professor of engineering Dr. Guido Wimmers. “This building has caught the attention of Passive House researchers around the world because it demonstrates how an industrial structure, constructed with wood, in Northern British Columbia’s cold climate can be a global leader in energy efficiency.”
UNBC provided in-house expertise on the Passive House requirement and shared ideas on how to develop design and building solutions with the architectural, engineering and construction teams. Wimmers, and others in the Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design program, worked closely with the contractors throughout the design and construction phase of the project.
WIRL also set a new standard for air tightness, securing the best North American result of any building using the internationally recognized passive house standard. The testing protocol involves both pressurizing and depressurizing the building and measuring the number of air changes per hour that result. With a score of 0.07, WIRL surpassed the Passive House requirement by nearly a factor of 10.
The result is all the more impressive given the design requirements of the building. With a large bay door installed to facilitate the delivery of materials and a state-of-the-art dust extraction system required, there is a lot of potential for air leakage.
The big red door was sourced from Germany and the other doors and windows hail from Poland. European parts were required for those aspects of the building because Passive House manufacturing is still in its early stages in Canada.
Other components of the building were locally sourced, including the trusses used vertically in the design of the thick exterior walls.
“Using trusses as a vertical component is something unique,” says Wimmers. “I have been working in Passive Houses for more than 15 years and I have not seen any kind of technical system like this before.”
The 50-cm wide walls are rated R-80 and contain blown in mineral wool insulation. The roof is rated R-100 and required special certification from the Roofing Contractors Association of British Columba. Even the floor sits atop 20 cm of expanded polystyrene insulation.
To further reduce WIRL’s carbon footprint, the University has signed a biogas contract. By using gas recovered from agricultural facilities and landfills, UNBC is able to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels.
The Passive House design, combined with the biogas fuel, means the building is expected to produce one per cent of greenhouse gas emissions compared with a conventional building.
“A Passive house building outperforms a code building substantially in the long run,” says Wimmers. “It’s about a third of the environmental impact compared to a code building over 60 years.”