Canadian Consulting Engineer

Austria uses Olympics to promote Passive House construction

February 23, 2010
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

While the eyes of all the world are on the sporting events during the Winter Olympic Games, scores of countr...

While the eyes of all the world are on the sporting events during the Winter Olympic Games, scores of countries, Canadian provinces, corporations and other organizations are taking advantage of the international event to showcase their talents and technologies. Pavilions and venues are dotted throughout Vancouver and Whistler.
Austria took advantage of the opportunity to showcase its technology in green building technologies. On February 15 over 70 press, engineers, and green technology suppliers travelled from Vancouver to Whistler, a three-hour journey over the Sea-to-Sky Highway past a security checkpoint, to see Austria House, or Osterreich-House.
The structure, which was used to host the Austrian delegates, teams and media crews during the games, is Canada’s first European-style “Passive House.” The house exceeds a LEED Platinum energy standard by 50 per cent, but it is more important in showing how concerns with sustainability and conservation are impacting construction technology in Europe.
Whistler’s Austria House is showcasing what has happened in Tyrol where 700,000 residents are pushed onto 13 per cent of the land base in a highly sensitive Alpine region. As a result, the country has been forced to adopt “energy savings and ecological friendly construction means,” said Hannes Gschwentner, vice-governor of the Tyrol, one of Austria’s nine regions. Now the Tyrol uses passive building technology in single or multi-residential buildings, offices, commercial buildings and even utility structures such as police stations.
Passive structures require 10 per cent of the energy employed by a conventional home built to current code requirements. They use no diesel or fossil fuels, opting for solar and geothermal technologies.
Standards for passive homes originated in May 1988 between professors Bo Adamson of Lund University in Sweden and Wolfgang Feist, a professor of Building Physics at the Institute for Construction and Material Science at the University of Innsbruck. Feist is one of three university professors who contributed to the Whistler passive house design.
While Germany and Austria have around 15,000-17,000 passive homes, Canada has approximately 50 houses that are similar to a passive house design according to Austrian research.
Dr. Harald Gohm, chief executive officer of the Tyrolean Future Foundation, said Austria is interested in building relationships with businesses that lead to technology transfers to the Canadian market. That cooperation between companies was seen in the construction of Austria House.
Austria’s Sohm Holzbautechnik (wood technology) supplied the design and manufactured wood products for the project. However, Sea to Sky Consulting Inc. served as project manager for the Whistler construction. Vancouver based Equilibrium Consultants did all engineering building code equivalencies and structural engineering. General contractor for Austria House was Durfeld Log Construction based in Whistler.
Matheo Durfeld said one main difference in construction the Austria passive houses was preventing thermal bridges that can conduct cold. Also, components of the wall were heavily sealed to ensure the shell was airtight. Inter-locking dense foam modules called Isoquick from BASF were used to insulate the floor slab.
The wall was constructed of a European milled 3 x 4-in. lumber that is dowelled together into 2-ft. wide panels. These are used on the interior wall of the home making a solid fence-like structure rather than just a frame carrying drywall. “You can actually store energy in the wall,” said Durfeld, explaining that the wood acts as a thermal mass.
On the exterior of the lumber wall is attached 3/4-in. plywood, which is taped at the seams. Another frame is attached to the plywood to store approximately 12-inches of insulation and over this is placed a DVD fibreboard that is waterproof but breathable, to serve as a rain screen. Wood siding, the exterior finishing is then attached. The roof is constructed similarly.
Durfeld estimates the walls and roof reach an R56 insulation rating, more than double what is seen in B.C.
As for the cost of constructing to a passive standard? In Europe, it is estimated passive construction adds seven to 15 per cent more to building costs compared to European traditional building costs. In Canada? “No one can really tell yet,” said Durfeld. The Austria House at Whistler cost $1.33 million to build as materials were milled and shipped to B.C., but Canada has the potential to supply its own wood. There are also different combinations that can be used to achieve the thermal wall massing, said Durfeld.
“It is more expensive than conventional housing. We will not find out the real cost until we do it ourselves,” he said.
Austria House is to be given to the Whistler resort municipality after the games as a club house for outdoors groups.





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