Photo credit: Wing. Source:

On the corner of East Hastings and Skeena Street in Vancouver, Canada’s largest Passive House is under construction.

The Heights, an apartment complex due to be finished later this year, aims to be one of the greenest buildings in Vancouver.

Passive houses are built according to an international standard of energy efficiency. The buildings are highly insulated and require very little energy for heating, because so little is lost through the windows and walls.

The Heights is just one example of Vancouver’s move toward greener buildings. The city has adopted a zero-emissions building plan, which aims to have all new buildings emit zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

According to the city, buildings are the largest source of emissions in Vancouver, representing 56 per cent of the city’s total emissions in 2014.

“I think it’s aggressive,” said Penny Martyn, UBC’s green building manager, of Vancouver’s plan. But she believes the goal can be met if all levels of government cooperate to make it happen.

UBC, too, is making strides toward improving the sustainability of its own buildings. Martyn said the university is working on a 20-year green building plan that should be finished later this year.

“Striving for buildings that not only ‘use less’ but positively impact pressing issues like climate change and the health and wellbeing of inhabitants is an essential part of shaping our future,” said Mike van der Laan, a planning analyst involved with the new plan, in a university Q&A.

One goal, Martyn said, is to have campus buildings ready to be net-positive with respect to energy 20 years from now, meaning they should be ready to link into a renewable district energy system.

UBC already has some green building policies in place. LEED Gold certification is mandatory for all new construction and major renovations of institutional buildings. The university also has its own green building rating system—the Residential Environmental Assessment Program—and all new residential buildings must have REAP Gold certification.

Martyn said UBC is “quite far ahead in terms of sustainability” compared with other universities.

Last month, UBC Okanagan announced that two experimental homes it has built in Kelowna are ready for families to move in. One, called the House of Today, is built to current standards, while the House of Tomorrow was built with a geothermal heat pump, LED lighting and better insulation. Energy use in the two homes will be compared over the next three years.

The university is also building its new Brock Commons student residence, which has a wood structure. Martyn said wood is “a great fit for [UBC] because it’s a local material,” and also sequesters carbon.

But while there are many green building technologies out there, Martyn said UBC is discovering that simplicity is often the key.

“If you can make something really simple that works well that doesn’t require a lot of energy,” she said, “that’s a really good goal to have.”

By Maura Forrest, 09 February 2017