Making a haus a home 

Austria Passive House sets a new standard

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Matheo Dufeld has decades of experience building log homes, but he knew he had a lot to learn about building a passive house - a combination of insulating and air circulation technologies that can reduce energy consumption and heating demands by more than 90 per cent.

So, as the local contractor selected to bring together the elements of Austria Passive House in Whistler - the home of the Austrian Olympic Committee and Austrian broadcasting company ORF during the 2010 Games - Durfeld traveled to Europe to see the technology and building process first-hand.

What he saw was exciting, he said, because of the reliance on wood and the opportunities that exist in B.C.

"This may well be the future of the building industry," said Durfeld, adding that the proponents of the technology are already meeting with government officials regarding changing the B.C. Building Code to allow for more passive construction.

"Wood is readily available in Austria, but I think we have some here too."

Durfeld was one of the speakers in attendance at the Nov. 26 open house at Austria Passive House, which included a media presentation and tour in the morning and opening up the venue to the public in the afternoon.

After the 2010 Olympics the building will be turned over to the Resort Municipality of Whistler, which will run it as a day lodge for the Lost Lake cross-country and snowshoe trail network, while providing needed office and meeting space upstairs to the Whistler Nordics and the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association. The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation contributed $150,000 towards the project to secure that legacy.

It's the first certified passive house of its kind in all of Canada and will be used to showcase the technology on behalf of all the Austrian companies that contributed prefabricated pieces of the house and labour to the project.

Austrian Trade Commissioner Robert Luck says the 2010 Games were recognized as an opportunity to "show what Canadian builders and Austrian companies are capable of.

"We are looking forward to working with Canadian companies in the future. This house was shipped in parts from Austria, but in the not-too-distant future we hope to have many more houses like this house built in Canada."

A lot of the technology in Austria House seems obvious, but the concept is to build an airtight structure that is free of thermal bridging - heat stays in and the cold stays out. All of the windows are triple glazed to prevent heat loss and completely sealed around the frame. The insides of doors - themselves over four inches thick - are oversized to completely cover the door frame when closed, while steps within the frame allow for several layers of insulated lining to create a seal.

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