Another passive house in Whistler

Affordable, resident-restricted duplex planned for Rainbow

A heating bill of about $300 for an entire year for the 2,700 square foot PassivHaus at Lost Lake was what "cinched the deal" for Matheo Durfeld when he decided to use passive house technology to build a duplex in Whistler.

The founder of Durfeld Log Construction, Durfeld's new passive house duplex planned for the Rainbow subdivision will be part of the local resident-restricted housing inventory as part of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA).

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The concept of a passive house - a super energy-efficient building with little or no active heating or cooling year-round - was first showcased in Whistler during the 2010 Olympics with the Austria Haus. Now called the Lost Lake PassivHaus, the building has become a community asset housing ski and bike rentals, a day lodge for trail users and other functions.

Durfeld's company was the general contractor and a partner in the PassivHaus project, and now he wants to show people in Whistler and beyond that passive house technology can be an affordable option for residential construction in Canada.

He's designed a prefabricated panel system that reduces costs for low energy and passive house construction. Durfeld said his concept costs about 10 per cent more than a regular home to built, but it's 90 per cent more efficient than conventional construction.

Work is due to start on the duplex in mid-May with projected completion by winter 2011, Durfeld said. The goal is to deliver the units for a construction budget of less than $300 per square foot.

The units at Rainbow will be super insulated and include mechanical systems that bring in warm and fresh air to create a healthy environment, while using as many sustainable Canadian products and labour as possible. Durfeld partnered with Vancouver-based architecture company Marken Projects on the plans.

"It's a unique opportunity for alternative housing types. It would be first on our inventory and we support going in the direction of conserving energy," said Marla Zucht, general manager of the WHA.

Zucht said the WHA is very supportive of this type of construction and she hopes it is affordable so more can be built. These first two duplexes "will be a catalyst to have more of them," Zucht said.

About 85 per cent of the homes in Rainbow are already resident-restricted and Durfeld, along with the interested buyers, believe the passive house concept will fit perfectly into the area.

Zucht pointed out that the WHA never asked specifically for the passive duplexes, but Durfeld and the interested purchasers were adamant that the new duplexes be passive houses.

Kevin Damaskie, who works in sustainability at the municipality, is one of the first in line to buy one of the duplex units and he said he's fully prepared to forego luxury finishings in the name of sustainability.

"My family isn't your typical Whistler family where we care about granite counter tops," he said.

In the long run, Damaskie is positive that he will save much more money on his month-to-month cost of living after investing a little extra in passive house technology.

Damaskie points out that buying a giant house that's aesthetically pleasing doesn't help his family's capital or the environment at all and that reducing our carbon footprint is imperative.

Damaskie said he's not surprised the WHA is onboard with the passive house concept.

"The only surprising thing is that this can be done affordably and everyone should be doing it," he said.

He said the passive duplexes are at the next level of affordability, which takes into consideration the long run energy costs.

"Affordability isn't about doing things cheaply - it's about doing things with access to tools you have," he said.

Durfeld said he isn't building a luxury home.

"We could do a luxury passive house but that's less of a challenge," he said. "Give me lots of money and I can build you any house. We want to show the passive house is affordable."

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