The Heights: Canada’s Largest Passive House Project under Construction in Vancouver


The largest Passive House project in Canada is under construction in the East Hastings corridor of Vancouver Heights. The project is named The Heights and is a six-story mixed-use building that will feature retail space on the first level and 85 units of rental housing above.

“A Passive House is special because it is a more comfortable building to live in than a typical building. It doesn’t have drafts, it has fresh air, it isn’t cold near the windows, and it uses 10% of the heating energy for a typical building,” says Scott Kennedy, principal of Cornerstone Architecture.

This ultra-high-efficiency project will be a certified Passive House project that meets rigorous standards for energy efficiency and comfort. Lots of insulation and high-efficiency Zehnder heat recovery ventilators ensure low energy bills and high indoor air quality. There has been a dramatic increase in Passive House certified units in North America, and Vancouver in particular, in the last couple of years.

Buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vancouver, accounting for  56 percent of the city’s emissions in 2014. The Heights complements both Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan and its zero-emissions building plan.

Vancouver’s zero-emissions building plan encompasses a variety of projects including houses, office buildings, and apartment towers. The initiative largely targets emissions from space heating; the Heights project is especially energy efficient in this area.

“You don’t need much heat [in a rental unit in the Heights],” says Kennedy. “You can heat with 300 watts in many of these suites with a simple electric baseboard heater.”  

The Heights is air-sealed to promote energy efficiency, which significantly reduces the airflow in and out of the project through gaps and cracks in the building envelope. A blower door test was used to measure the air changes per hour in the Heights to ensure it complies with the Passive House standard.

“If I were to test an old house, I would probably get 10 or 12 air changes an hour [using a blower door test],” says Kennedy. “If I built a well-built modern house, I would probably get 5 air changes an hour. A Passive House has 0.6 air changes an hour, which is a whole order of magnitude tighter.”

Very tightly constructed buildings need proper ventilation to promote indoor air quality, however. The Heights has Zehnder ComfoAir 550 heat recovery ventilators to provide a continuous stream of fresh, filtered air. These balanced ventilation systems supply and exhaust equal amounts of air throughout the project for optimum comfort and healthy home air.

Heat recovery ventilators are highly energy efficient because they capture heat from the exhaust air and transfer it to the intake air. Zehnder systems are certified Passive House components and are the most energy-efficient ventilation units on the market.

In addition, Zehnder America offers technical support to ensure the ventilation systems are working properly; company representatives visit projects after heat recovery ventilation systems are installed to measure and adjust the airflow in every housing suite and retail space.

As Vancouver advances toward its goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings by 2030, projects like the Heights are paving the way. This building is 90 percent more efficient than a typical project and contains a state-of-the-art heat recovery ventilation system.

Want to learn more about indoor air quality and ventilation systems? Contact Zehnder to learn more.