Thursday 27 February 2014

Passive House: Comfortable, Energy-Efficient Homes

Prairie dwellers pride themselves on enduring long, cold winters. And yet, when the power goes out, even for just a few hours, our homes rapidly lose heat and can no longer shelter us. During a recent power outage in Nutana, the temperature in some people’s homes dropped by as much as 10 degrees in just three hours. But an energy-efficient home only dropped 2 degrees – barely noticeable.

Prairie Pioneers
When energy prices skyrocketed after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, many home-builders focused on trapping solar heat. This is an effective approach in a moderate climate but doesn’t work as well in our cold climate. Far more effective was the work done by Harold Orr and Rob Dumont on designing a more efficient building envelope that would retain heat.

The Saskatchewan Conservation House in Regina was completed in 1977 and was one of the first buildings to combine superinsulation, airtightness, and a heat recovery system. The Lo-Cal House in Illinois followed a similar pattern with lots of insulation and triple-pane windows. 

Unfortunately, when oil prices came down, builders stopped focussing on energy-efficient homes and went back to their standard models.

StarPrebuilt Homes
German Leadership
Dr. Wolfgang Feist, a German building physicist, had spent 25 years studying buildings and energy. In 1996, he developed the Passivhaus standards that would reduce energy consumption by 80-90%. The standards incorporated three key principles: superinsulation, airtightness, and optimized solar glazing.

Passivhaus standards focus on energy efficiency rather than the use of renewable energy sources. Extra layers of insulation and an air-tight envelope keep warm air in and cold air out. A heat recovery system keeps the interior air fresh while warming the cold, incoming air with the warm, outgoing air. Strategically-placed windows ensure maximum solar exposure during the winter, while shading the building from unnecessary solar heat in the summer.

Dr. Feist built his first Passivhaus in 1991, with the standard quickly spreading throughout Europe. Approximately 25% of new builds in Germany and Austria today follow Passivhaus standards and examples exist in nearly all climates – from Abu Dhabi to the Alps.

Passive housing design has caught on in the United States with 30 certified buildings and over 300 buildings following the basic principles.

Austria provided Canada’s first Passivhaus in 2009 for the Winter Olympics in Whistler. Dozens of projects are now underway across Canada. 50 passive house-inspired projects can be found in Edmonton alone.

Energy Efficiency
Passivhaus has been erroneously translated as passive house, but the principles apply to all building types – residential, commercial, or retrofits.

Stuart Fix is a Director of Passive Buildings Canada and the Senior Sustainability Engineer for the City of Edmonton. He also owns his own business, ReNu Building Science, and has been active in various passive house designs in Edmonton.

He spoke in Saskatoon recently and explained that certification is based on falling under the heating and primary energy consumption targets as well as passing airtightness tests. In Europe, the standards can often be met with minimal energy inputs. The Prairies are colder, however, and require additional insulation and more substantial energy inputs. The Passive House Institute in the United States is developing a modified standard that will be easier to meet in our extreme climate.

At the moment, passive house construction costs 8-10% more than standard building techniques. However, 90% savings due to energy efficiency over the life cycle of the building quickly outweigh the additional up-front costs.

“Passive house takes construction quality to a new level, resulting in incredible performance and durability,” Stuart says. “It provides unparalleled indoor comfort and air quality.” There are no drafts or cold areas. Indoor air is fresh and the buildings are quiet. Even more important, long-term energy security concerns are minimized. “If we’re using 90% less energy, we’re not so reliant on cheap gas,” Stuart says. “We can take some shocks.”

Mosaic Centre - Manasc Isaac Architects
Stuart’s business, ReNu Building Science, assisted in the design of the Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce in southeast Edmonton. The Mosaic Centre is a 30,000 square foot building, providing office space but also internal and community facilities, such as a restaurant and a day care facility. It hopes to be the first Living Building Challenge petal certified* building in Alberta.

Passive house design for commercial buildings differs substantially from residential design. For example, commercial buildings create more heat so cooling is more important than in a residential building.

Houses can be oriented so that the large living room windows are on the south side. It’s harder to optimize solar energy in commercial buildings as there are offices on all sides.

Passive house designers encourage owners to move away from floor to ceiling glass, but this is difficult as people like natural light and a view. The Mosaic Centre will include a high-performance, triple glazed curtain wall, but it’s very expensive.

Stuart’s focus in Edmonton is on retrofitting existing buildings, and he says there can be huge energy savings by adding additional insulation to the outside of the house. The XWrap offered by Vereco in Saskatoon is one example of this technique.

“If you have to replace siding or windows, upgrade the insulation as well,” Stuart advises.


Building Standards
For many years, LEED has been the most popular sustainable building standard, but it does not guarantee energy efficiency because it incorporates a wide variety of green building aspects, such as the availability of public transportation and water efficiency.

Current building codes do not incorporate energy efficiency standards and the standards that are in place, such as R2000 and EnerGuide, are dated and need upgrading. Only two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, have updated their building codes to incorporate energy efficiency standards.

In addition, the energy efficiency standards that are in place are only recommendations and there is no enforceability. Developers choose what standards they will follow, and their focus is on immediate costs rather than savings over the lifecycle of the building.

For now, Stuart recommends that individuals show leadership by requesting high standards of energy efficiency. “You can control your own house,” Stuart says. “It’s the only way until we bring cities and developers up to speed.” In return, individuals receive the benefits of a comfortable home, energy security, and long-term cost savings.

Passive House Design & Construction
The Canadian Passive House Institute is offering their full course in Passive House Design and Construction for the first time in Saskatoon March 13-15 and 27-29, 2014. It's an excellent way to learn the details involved in building to the standard and an opportunity to take a leading role in energy-efficient building techniques.

Additional Resources
High-Performance Homes, Monte Paulsen (Canadian Geographic)
Step Inside the Real Home of the Future: Passivhaus (The Tyee)
The Passivhaus Handbook, Janet Cotterell and Adam Dadeby (available from Saskatoon Public Library)
How to Future-Proof Your Home: A Guide to Building with Energy Intelligence in Cold Climates, Shane Wolffe (available from Saskatoon Public Library)
Canadian Passive House Institute website
Passive Passion (21-minute video)
Andrew's Home Insulation Project

* The Living Building Challenge is the industry’s most rigorous performance standards. It attempts to consider all aspects of the building’s impact on the environment over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy

Tuesday 25 February 2014

EcoSask News, February 25, 2014


Watermark, Mar. 4
Photographer Edward Burtynsky focuses his lens on the landscapes of water that have been radically altered by human intervention in Watermark to be screened at 7 pm, March 4, at The Broadway Theatre. The director, Jennifer Baichwal, will be in attendance.

Growing Cities, Mar. 6 
CHEP will be hosting a free screening of Growing Cities, a film about urban agriculture, at 7 pm on March 6 at The Broadway Theatre.

Saskatoon Zoo Society AGM, Mar. 16 
The Saskatoon Zoo Society will be holding its annual general meeting at 1:30 pm, March 16, in the Affinity Learning Centre. Everyone is invited.

Young Naturalists 
Five to 11 year olds and their parents are invited to participate in the Saskatoon Young Naturalists:
March 9, 1 pm – Great horned owl ecology
April 6, 1 pm – Bird house workshop

Birding in March 
Join the Saskatoon Nature Society on one of their upcoming walks:
March 2 – Montgomery Place bird walk (songbirds and raptors)
March 15 – Forestry Farm birding; warm up with Georgia the Porcupine
March 29 – look for ducks geese, gulls, and eagles at Gardiner Dam (bring a lunch)

Take Action 
We can make a difference. We just need to take action. Here are 17 tips for using less less plastic, including:

  • Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag.
  • Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  • Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.


Thumbs Up
Innovative companies in South America are making plastic from sugar cane, have built the world’s first solar-powered stadium, and are providing off-grid hotels and communities with biomass energy services.

Walmart has incorporated sustainability into its business plans because it understands that ecosystem health and vitality is good for business.

Thumbs Down 
Researchers are concerned about the impact of the Alberta oilsands on Saskatchewan lakes

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 20 February 2014

Urban Growth and Native Prairie

The Northeast Swalewatchers are fighting for the protection of the Northeast Swale, a 26 km long strip of native prairie and wetlands joining the river at each end, which is now one of the few remaining natural areas left near Saskatoon. Urban growth pressures continue, relentlessly, to have a deleterious effect on the natural world and therefore on us, whether we fully realize this or not. The Northeast Swalewatchers believe that protecting wetlands and native prairie grasslands, in unbroken parcels or as corridors, must be part of the planning for the growth of the City of Saskatoon.

The Swalewatchers are particularly concerned that the Rural Municipalities of Aberdeen and Corman Park are not interested in protecting the Swale within their jurisdictions. They are also concerned about the impact the proposed Perimeter Bridge could have on the Swale. As a result, they were eager to attend the one-day forum on Urban Transportation and Design: Getting Where We Need To Go, sponsored by APEGS, City of Saskatoon, and the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability, on January 24, 2014.

EcoFriendly Sask provided the Northeast Swalewatchers with a grant of $200 to cover the registration fees for Louise Jones and Anna Leighton.

Native Prairie
Saskatchewan retains between 17 and 21% of its original native prairie; however, most of it is in small parcels (PCAP-SK website). Areas no smaller than 225 hectares are required if animals and plants are to thrive, and adding up small parcels is not the same as a large parcel of the same size.

The Swale is a specific example of a large intact natural area whose ability to survive is being threatened by the surrounding urban neighbourhoods and supporting infrastructure. Knowing how quickly these natural areas are disappearing as the city expands its boundaries, the Swalewatchers believe it is critical to designate areas for protection. Natural areas are important in their own right as habitat for many plants and animal species, but also for reducing GHG emissions and absorbing excess rainwater.

Forum Summary 
Derek Thompson, Lands Branch – Balancing Sprawl and Density 
Derek defined urban sprawl in terms of density and discussed the concept of an urban village. He expects the new neighbourhood of Aspen Ridge to have a slightly higher density than Evergreen with a collector street with commercial on either side.

Alan Wallace, Planning and Development – Growing Forward! Shaping Saskatoon
Alan discussed how to sustainably grow the city to a population of half a million. If we do not change what we do, our city is going to be costly to build and to maintain, nor will it be the city that people want. The City is setting a goal of getting 30% of the next 250,000 residents to live in the downtown area. Public transit is going to be a major area of focus with Bus Rapid Transit. The City is holding its first public consultation on February 25 at TCU Place.

Rhonda Toohey, City of Edmonton 
Rhonda spoke about transportation planning for a sustainable and livable city. Edmonton began the process six years ago as they faced the same issues. Recently their population has grown by 13% while the increase in traffic has doubled. They now have an implementation plan and a means of measuring progress. They have staff looking at social marketing to help the City meet its objectives since one of the biggest challenges is getting the support of the citizens as the City implements the Transportation Plan. They are looking at school curriculum as a way to imbed behavioural changes.

Bob Patrick, Regional and Urban Planning, University of Saskatchewan – Transportation Behaviour, Trends and Adaptation
Bob looked at the growth of suburbia and the use of curvilinear streets and cul-de-sac designs and with it the increased dependence on the automobile. He showed a chart which clearly demonstrated the relationship between low urban density and high transport-related energy consumption. Sustainable communities must look at other ways to move people during the commute to avoid building and maintaining costly infrastructure for peak energy use.

Angela Gardiner, Director of Transportation, City of Saskatoon – Saskatoon Survey on Transportation Behaviour 
Angela spoke about a survey to collect data on movement of vehicles on the roads that was completed in the fall of 2013 (last survey done in 1999). Out of 9500 residents, 3800 surveys were submitted. The University of Saskatchewan was targeted separately and 500 surveys came from there. Unfortunately, the analysis will not be completed for several months. It will inform the travel demand plan. There was no discussion of transportation demand management.

Ian Loughran, Manager Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Corporate Initiatives – Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Transportation
Ian related saving GHG emissions to economic savings. Saskatchewan is the top per capita emitter in the country, and Canada is the highest in the world. Transportation creates about 43% of the GHH emissions “pie” with 86% generated by automobiles. We need to increase bus ridership and carpooling (84% of car commutes travel alone). Increasing bus ridership is possible. While Saskatoon is at 4%, Calgary’s ridership is at 15%.

Anna and Louise asked questions of the speakers in plenary and participated actively in the various roundtable sessions.

There also were many opportunities for networking during the breaks. Roundtable sessions were recorded and a report will be made available to participants by the end of March.

Further Information
Giving Nature a Voice at the Urban Planning Table: Saskatoon's Northeast Swale
Edmonton Planner Offers Advice to Saskatoon
EcoFriendly Action Grants

Tuesday 18 February 2014

EcoSask News, February 18, 2014

sunrise ducks

Salmon Confidential, Feb. 27
The Saskatchewan Eco Network is showing the film Salmon Confidential at 7 pm on February 27 at the Frances Morrison Library. The film documents one biologist’s struggle to overcome government and industry roadblocks in order to save BC’s wild salmon.

Wild Birds Unlimited, Feb. 22 & 23
Come meet the guests at Wild Birds Unlimited:
Feb. 22, 11 am – noon – Lori Johnson and a burrowing owl
Feb. 23, 1:30-2:30 pm – Greg Fenty with a Swainson’s hawk

Kenderdine Gala, Mar. 7
The University of Saskatchewan Biology Club is organizing a Kenderdine Commemorative Gala on March 7 to assist students who were affected by the closure of Kenderdine Campus, Emma Lake.

Environmental Activism Awards, Mar. 7
The Saskatchewan Eco Network is calling for nominations for individuals or groups who have made a significant contribution to protecting the environment. The deadline for nominations is March 7.

Nature SK Spring Meet, June 20-22
Nature Saskatchewan’s Spring Meet will be held June 20-22 in Fort Qu’Appelle. Activities will include tours of the Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station, Crow’s Nest Coulee, and Stushnoff Century Farm.

Take Action
We can make a difference. We just need to take action:

Why not host a Repair Cafe like the one in Calgary to fix small appliances, clothing, or toys?

Thumbs Up
Shane Wolffe, author of How to Future Proof Your Home: A Guide to Building with Energy Intelligence in a Cold Climate, has a website with informative videos and articles. Be sure to sign up for his newsletter

Waste coffee grounds, a readily-available source of second-generation biofuel, will soon be put to work in London, England

The Federal Court has ruled that it’s unacceptable for the federal government to miss the mandatory deadlines set out in the Species at Risk Act

Thumbs Down
Are we on the path to peak water? [infographic]

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Tuesday 11 February 2014

EcoSask News, February 11, 2014


Family Week at the Creek, Feb. 17-21
Learn about the local owls and make an owl-inspired craft at Beaver Creek from February 17-21. Join an interpreter for a hike on Sundays at 2:30 pm.

Permaculture Potluck, Feb. 20
Raising chickens, buying land outside the city, and urban agriculture – join the Permaculture Research Institute at their monthly potluck on February 20 to learn more about these local experiences. Eggs for sale and a seed exchange as well.

Birds in the Parks, Feb. 22
Join the Saskatoon Nature Society as they look for songbirds in Lakeview and Heritage Parks on February 22.

Shaping Saskatoon, Feb. 25
Have your say in shaping Saskatoon’s future. Provide input on options that will shape future growth, such as rapid transit, managing growth along corridors, and improving travel across the river on February 25 (10 am - 1 pm or 6-9 pm).

Financial Statements & Audit Prep, Mar. 7
KPMG and the United Way of Saskatoon & Area are presenting a breakfast seminar on Financial Statement Basics and Audit Preparation for Not-for-Profits on March 7. Contact Brianna Bergeron at 306.934.6263 for further information.

Below Zero, Regina, Mar. 15
Join the SOEEA for a snowy safari on a Below Zero workshop in Regina on March 15. Below Zero is an educational program designed to promote understanding of wildlife under winter conditions.


Take Action
We can make a difference. We just need to take action:

Use art to shape your message. Green Patriot Posters are inspired by WWII era propaganda. Contribute your own design or vote for your favorite.

Don't forget you can apply for an EcoFriendly Action Grant to support your project.

Thumbs Up
7 ways to help species at risk [infographic]

Mitigating oil and gas impacts on PFRA community pastures [fact sheet]

Community gardens and farmers markets do more than just provide food. They also build community and increase public safety

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 6 February 2014

Impacts of Climate Change on the South Saskatchewan Watershed

The Outdoor School in Saskatoon, with support from EcoFriendly Sask and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, went on a trip to Lake Louise to explore the question, “How will climate change affect the South Saskatchewan River system?”.

Students completing their first semester of grade 11 had researched the area's eco-region and watersheds, including glaciations, geography, biology, ecology, and wildlife management. The plan was to ski into a back country hut at Lake O'Hara and present their research there; however, avalanche conditions and road closures prevented that plan. Instead, students skied and snowshoed in the Lake Louise area, including the Tramline, Lake Agnes, and Moraine Lake trails.

Erin McVittie and Mitch Lowe (their teachers), along with Iain Phillips from the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, taught and travelled with these engaged young people. Learning about our environment and how pollutants can both collect in high alpine areas and contaminate downstream watersheds, including Saskatoon, was a key area of learning.

The Outdoor School's mandate is to engage student in learning in the best place possible and, with the help of EcoFriendly Sask, students got to do just that. When students are immersed in outdoor learning, they are more passionate and inspired to make a difference in the world around them. Outdoor School aims to create environmental leaders for tomorrow and these young people can create change with the knowledge and passion that they have gained.

All in all, it was a successful trip, despite the weather.

Erin McVittie 
Saskatoon Public Schools

Tuesday 4 February 2014

EcoSask News, February 4, 2014

prairies in winter

Lake Agassiz, Feb. 20
A huge part of the northern plains was once covered by a lake larger than the Caspian Sea. Alec Aitken will explain what happened to Lake Agassiz at 7:30 pm, February 20, in Room 106, Biology Building, U of S, as part of the Saskatoon Nature Society's monthly program.

Downstream, Feb. 21 
A play about the South Saskatchewan River Basin and water security? Now that sounds interesting! Downstream will be performed in Saskatoon at 1 pm, February 21, in Convocation Hall, University of Saskatchewan. There are additional performances in Calgary, Medicine Hat, and Cumberland House.

Seedy Saturday, Regina, Mar. 1
Seedy Saturday, Regina, will be held at St. Mary’s Anglican Church from 10 am to 2 pm. Lots of fun activities for kids as well as speakers on making baby food with garden vegetables and a plant-based diet.

Passive House Design & Construction, March
Building and design professionals are invited to attend the Canadian Passive House Institute’s course on passive house design and construction, which is being offered, for the first time, in Saskatoon. Part 1 is March 13-15. Part 2 is March 27-29.

SWANA ReForum 2014, May 7-9
The joint regional conference of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council (SWRC) and the Northern Lights Chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is being held in Regina from May 7-9. Keynote speakers include David White (resilience), Jerry Powell (recycling markets). And don’t miss Penny’s session on Solving the People Puzzle: Public Education. You can register online.

NatureCity Festival, May 25-31
More than 70 organizations and businesses participated in last year’s NatureCity Festival, and they’re hoping that even more people will get involved this year. You can submit your activity connecting people with the natural world on the Festival 2014 tab at

prairies in winter

SK Photo Tours
Branimir Gjetvaj is leading photo tours of Grasslands National Park (June 20-22), Great Sand Hills (July 4-6), and Prince Albert National Park (Sept. 19-21). Photo tours are less structured than workshops, providing participants with an opportunity to explore and photograph in an informal atmosphere.

Thumbs Up
Kudos to the following groups and individuals who are taking action and making a difference in our community. We’re proud to be able to support their work with EcoFriendly Action Grants.

Northeast Swale Watchers - two representatives to the recent Urban Transportation conference ($200)

Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan - Gold sponsor for their 2014 annual meeting and conference ($500)

Saskatchewan EcoNetwork - Saskatchewan Environmental Film Festival ($500)

Brittney Hoemsen, TRoutreach Saskatchewan - continuing research into the ecosystem health of Saskatchewan streams ($500)

Permaculture Research Institute of SK, Saskatoon Food Bank’s Garden Patch, and Let’s Talk Science - soil regeneration through compost extract and mycorrhizae ($500)

Thumbs Down
Whooping cranes face uncertain future

Report on water and agriculture informative but unlikely to be effective

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. Additional upcoming events can be found on our Calendar.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).