Austria in the (passive) house 

Advocacy group to showcase $1.3 million energy-efficient building in Whistler at 2010

The Neighbourhood of Nations may have disappeared from Whistler's Olympic agenda, but at least one country will still have a tangible presence during 2010.

Architects from Austria are working together to build a house for next year's Winter Olympics that will represent their country. And there's an innovative catch to their proposed building - the house won't have a furnace.

Also known as a "passive house," the ultra-energy efficient building will be able to maintain a comfortable inside temperature through a complex system of ventilation and heat recovery.

The Austrian Passive House Group decided the Olympics would be a good opportunity to showcase this technology to the world. Passive houses were pioneered in Germany in the 1990s and have gained steam in Europe over the past 10 years as oil prices continue to climb. About 15,000 such houses exist to date.

"They (The Austrian Passive House Group) realized the values we have expressed to the community align very nicely with the idea of a passive house," explained Bob McPherson, manager of community life for the municipality, who recently got back from a trip to Austria.

"(B.C. Finance) Minister Hansen was in Europe speaking about opportunities with the green Olympics and somehow made a connection with this group. They then approached Whistler for the opportunity to realize the delivery of a very green building for the Olympics."

The proposed $1.3 million building will be built at the entrance to Lost Lake. During the Olympics, the Austrians will use the space to either host their Olympic committee or their public broadcaster, although McPherson said plans have not yet been finalized. Once the Games are over, the group plans to donate the building to Whistler.

"They would build the wood panels in Austria, put those in containers and ship them over here. Then they would put them together like a big Lego set, on site," said McPherson.

Whistler Nordics and WORCA will have use of the Austrian house after the Games. McPherson, who took over the project in December, said he does not know why the two groups were chosen for the space, but said they seem like a good fit to him.

"I never questioned how that relationship came to be," he said.

The reason the house's components are being created in Austria is because British Columbia does not yet have the manufacturing technology to build such houses, explained McPherson. He added that he hopes having the Austrian House in Whistler will kick-start a local passive house movement.

"It is really an unbelievable building they are building in terms of performance, and comfort, fresh air, and also acoustics," said McPherson.

The house will use 10 per cent of the energy a traditional home sucks up, since no heat will escape and no cold air will seep in. The space inside will apparently feel different too, since the building's uniform temperature means even window panes and floor tiles will not feel cold to the touch.

The RMOW plans to spend $280,000 to service the Lost Lake site before the Austrian group erects the house. Council has not approved this expenditure yet, but McPherson said they are supportive of the project and that is "not likely to be a problem."

Whistler Nordics and WORCA have also applied to the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation for additional funding, but no final decisions have been made.


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