Interview with Robert Bernhardt of Passive House Canada, "If we want to do this, we can do this"

Rob Bernhardt, CEO of Passive House Canada, has guided the organization’s growth and development since its inception in 2013. During that time, Canada has experienced exponential growth in Passive House projects, practitioners, and policymaking. I got the chance to sit down with Rob on Day 2 of the Passive House Conference in Toronto last week to ask him about PHC’s successes as well as the path forward for Passive House in Canada…

Zachary Semke: As you look back on the last few years, what are the successes that you’re most proud of in terms of what Passive House Canada has achieved and what are some of biggest accomplishments of the Canadian Passive House community in general?

Rob Bernhardt: From the perspective of the organization, I think I’m proud of how it’s come together. We started with nothing and we’ve built it up over the past few years to the point where we’ve now got a sustainable organization, and we’ve created the platform on which we can grow to the next level. We’ve become established enough to operate and to have some impact—not as much impact as we need, but we’re able to have some impact at this point. From an organizational perspective, that’s what I’m most proud of.

More broadly, in terms of the development of Passive House across the country, the one thing that struck early policymakers the most about Passive House was the passionate following it had and its solid building science foundation. It’s outcome-based. That ticked a lot of boxes for policy makers and it clearly provides a solution that they need. And so, with that, it’s become the preferred and, really, the identified destination for codes and standards.

With that recognition, all this higher-level policy stuff starts to fall into place. We’re announcing budgets to back up to those polices. We’re starting down the road of developing codes and standards to make them real, to take them out of the high-level political statements, and down to something that actually delivers something, and that process is incredibly powerful. When you engage those public resources and they start to go to work, and you can see the entire market start to shift, the culture of the industry starts to change.

But that isn’t something that we as an organization can do. That takes government. What we can do is act as a bit of a resource, we can help where we can, we can help build capacity within the industry. That’s our role. But the biggest change, I think: the dramatic shift in public policy. We just happened to be around at the right time.

We can do this. We have engineers. We have designers. We have people. If we want to do this, we can do this. It’s just time that we stood up and we said that we do this.

ZS: What stage are we in, in terms of market transition toward Passive House?

RB: In Canada we’re just starting our climb up the hockey stick. In some markets, we’re a little higher up that steep curve than we are in other markets, but we’re not close to the top yet. We have a lot of work to do. I referred earlier to starting to develop things like codes and standards. There’s a tremendous amount of work to do to create effective ones, and there is no guarantee that the path we’re starting on is going to take us where we need to go. It’s going to take a great deal of work to ensure that happens because none of this happens by itself.

ZS: What is it that practitioners should be focused on in order to be agents of change in accelerating this transition?

RB: First of all, join and engage with organizations like ourselves and, secondly, do a good job. Do your job well. Our members can’t necessarily attend all the endless meetings and do the kind of stuff that we [Passive House Canada] can do, but if they are producing great buildings, whether they’re designing them, building them, manufacturing components…it doesn’t matter. If they’re doing their job well, that’s the example we need, because there’s nothing that is as important as having buildings done. And they need to work. These early examples become very important. The quality of them is very important.

ZS: What role do you see Passive House having in its relationship to decarbonization? Has that evolved over the years?

RB: Essentially, the world has said we need to decarbonize. Canada has said we need to decarbonize. That’s our future. So the Passive House performance level make that affordable, and it’s something we need to get on as quickly as we possibly can. Once a building is efficient enough, the clean energy sources become the most affordable option. So that, I think, is an important piece [of the puzzle].

What Passive House as a building standard doesn’t address is embodied carbon. Certainly, building Passive House with low embodied carbon materials is an incredibly viable thing to do and some low embodied materials, in fact, have thermal properties and thermal performances, that make them in fact easier to use if you’re looking for energy efficiency. Wood, for example, compared to steel or concrete, has a higher thermal resistance. When you’re designing a thermal bridge, it’s not as big a problem, and those sorts of materials actually make it easier to be high performance.

If you combine the operating efficiency that Passive House provides, then embodied carbon may be the largest carbon impact of the building, and you need to address that. Why not address it right away? It isn’t something that we as an organization have a mandate to do, but I know it’s something that our members are interested in.

ZS: Is there anything else that you want to convey to the community or that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to share?

RB: Just how pleased we are with the progress we’ve seen, and the enthusiasm and commitment we see from the people that come to these conferences, as well as the sharing of knowledge that we see and the level of interest we’re seeing from government and from larger companies now. The number of components that are coming onstream, especially the number of Canadian certified components…is just skyrocketing. There are windows that are being produced now in several providences, so that’s new. Two Canadian components won a component award at the International conference. Globally, these were judged to be superior products—judged to be the best in their category. We have one exhibitor here that is showing a curtain wall that is the first cold climate curtain wall certified in the world.

We can do this. We have engineers. We have designers. We have people. If we want to do this, we can do this. It’s just time that we stood up and we said that we do this.

Author: Zachary Semke
Categories: Leader