Foundations laid for Austria Passive House 

European technology will be a legacy of 2010 Olympics

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The foundations for the Austria Passive House have been poured, laying the groundwork for a style of building that - while common in Europe - is one of maybe a dozen of its kind in North America, and likely the first in Canada.

Other sections of the building are being readied in Austria, and will be added to the foundation once they arrive.

Crews from Austria and Germany are overseeing the assembly of the house while using local labour to assist with the general contracting.

"In Europe this wouldn't be that big a deal... but it's a bit different technology and design than we would typically do," said Mattheo Durfeld of Durfeld Log Construction.

While his company has manufactured a lot of custom homes over the past 30 years, Durfeld says the passive house is a lot different and that Canadian builders have a lot to learn from the example in Whistler. Starting with the foundation.

"Normally when we do a foundation we dig a hole and pour concrete on the ground, then infill it and put in the wood walls... but they make a big deal insulating underneath the foundation, which is all about (eliminating) thermal bridging," said Durfeld, referring to gaps in construction and insulation where heat can escape.

A passive house is basically a building where the interior climate is maintained without active heating and cooling systems. It also optimizes light and energy use, air exchange and sustainable building materials, and as a result uses about one-tenth as much energy as a conventional building of the same size.

The Austria Passive House is being constructed at the entrance to Lost Lake Park as a national house for Austria during the 2010 Games. It will remain on the site as a legacy of the Games. During the Games it will be used as a home away from home for Austrian athletes and officials, as well as to showcase the passive construction technology and builders. Different companies in Austria are prefabricating the components for the house, and have sent representatives to Whistler to oversee each stage of the construction.

"A lot of the products they're using don't exist here, I know because we've done a bunch of research to see what's available," said Durfeld.

The foundation of the passive house is sitting on sheets of interlocking polystyrene insulation, which is sitting on a slab of level concrete poured by Durfeld's crews. They have also serviced the site, something which had to be done in such a way that it didn't interfere with the insulation.

As to whether the design makes sense for Whistler and Canada, Durfeld says the Austria Passive House will help decide the future of the technology.

"What you'll find is we'll start doing this stuff over here if it makes sense financially, so everybody is really curious to see the building once it's complete," he said.

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