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The future of sustainable living

Squamish CAN tours Austrian Passivhaus in Whistler

Locals got their first look at the future of sustainable living last week when the Squamish Climate Action Network enabled a tour of a structure designed with energy efficiency in mind.

More than 20 members of Squamish CAN joined other interested residents last Friday (Oct. 16) for a presentation by Dr. Guido Wimmers, a building science "Passivhaus" specialist. Following Wimmers' presentation at the Squamish Arts Council building, the group car-pooled to Whistler to see Canada's first contemporary Passivhaus, Austria House, a building specially designed to require minimal energy.

The Austria House, located in the Lost Lake region of Whistler, is a collaborative effort between the Austrian Olympic Delegation and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

As Wimmers put it, the end goal of this type of construction is "building affordably for very low energy consumption."

The building as designed will rely almost solely on the sun, geothermal and body heat from people in the building for warmth This is made possible largely due to the envelope which wraps the entire structure to minimize heat loss, triple-paned windows, and maximal insulation.

During the Games, the building will accommodate Austrian officials, as well as an Austrian television studio. Afterwards, the first floor of the "haus," which translated means building), will serve as a summer home for the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), and the Whistler Nordic Ski Club in the winter. The second floor will be devoted to ski and bike rentals that are currently housed in a small shack adjacent to Austria House.

Although the goals are both environmentally and economically-focused, Wimmers said this particular haus can be improved upon. Due to its demonstration nature, most of the material was shipped from Europe, as that's where the Austrian delegation was able to find sponsorship from various suppliers.

"We shipped six containers over to Whistler," said Wimmers. "For the first of its kind, we had to do something like that."

Wimmers also admits that, due to the unusually high level of traffic the building will receive during the Games, it is "just a little bit over-engineered."

In any case, Wimmers said, the house can be run affordably "regardless of energy prices."

"It's up to everyone to decide when the second solar age will begin," he said.

The first, he said, was centuries ago, before mankind's exploitation of fossil fuels and electricity.

Squamish CAN Green Building enthusiast, Eric Andersen sees a future for Passivhauses in Sea to Sky country, but would like to see more local materials and labour involved in the construction process.

"Though we don't have the high energy and housing costs of Europe, the trends are clearly the same," he said. "The incentives to move towards renewable energy and energy efficiency are the same.

"In Squamish we should not only be interested as consumers of energy efficient housing designs. We can position ourselves to be producers of these advanced housing systems, as well. This could be part of the green energy strategy that council is talking about."