– The Ottawa Construction News Special Feature
Salus Clementine is a four-storey, 42- unit affordable housing project for men and women living with severe mental illness. Described as a beacon project in North america, the building has been designed to Passive House standards by CSV architects and is being constructed by Taplen Commercial Construction Inc. The project is also targeting LEED for Homes certification.
CSV architect Sonia Zouari, the certified Passive House designer and project architect, says Salus Clementine is slated to be North america’s largest Passive House project built to the International Passive House standard and the first light steel Passive House construction in North america. “It will also be the first multi-residential affordable housing in Canada and the largest cold climate Passive House in the world.”
According to Salus Ottawa executive director Lisa ker, the organization currently owns and operates 13 buildings in Ottawa. The new construction will add considerably to the 171 units Salus already directly manages and is being constructed based on the standard model of single occupancy, bachelor style independent suites. “Our buildings are for people living with mental illness who are able to live independently in the community and require an affordable housing option.”
Ker says as part of a funding agreement, Salus is committing to house 42 people out of homeless shelters. Given the size of the current Salus portfolio, individuals from the shelters have already begun moving into existing units as they become vacant. This move up from the shelters will give these tenants stability. “Rather than a temporary solution that is limited by time or some other marker, these apartments become people’s homes for as long as they need them and a place from which they can access the mental health supports they need.”
She says the move towards more sustainable properties began with Salus’ property constructed on Gladstone ave. It was the first affordable housing project in Ottawa, after Conservation Co-op, to introduce heat recovery ventilation. Emerging technologies in low-emissivity glass were used as well as in-floor radiant heat, and higher performance insulation. Efforts stepped up again with the construction on athlone ave., a brownfield site redevelopment which also included heat recovery ventilation and a high efficiency envelope. athlone also houses the organization’s head office.
The jump to Passive House for this project had a lot to do with the collaboration with CSV. “When you’re dealing with a board and a publicly funded organization, anything new or cutting edge such as this must be viewed with a risk management approach. We underwent a rigorous design charrette before coming to any decisions and in the end, recognize the benefit of operational savings that will be generated from this building.”
These operational cost savings will be redirected towards programming for tenants. Zouari says Salus will also benefit long term because Passive House buildings such as this will also retain their value as building codes increase energy efficiency standards. “Energy efficiency is highly correlated to resale value in jurisdictions where labeling programs exist. Consumers will pay more for efficient buildings.”
She says part of the work of educating the team involved information sessions, training, pre-installation meetings and mock up reviews to ensure any gaps in knowledge were addressed and that no critical details were overlooked.
Ker says in deciding to construct to Passive House, there was still an awareness of fiscal responsibility to supporters. “a green roof or solar panels would present additional challenges and higher costs that we felt were not justifiable.”
Instead the focus was directed toward add-ons that did make sense, such as landscaping that will use native sustainable plants that also provide an opportunity for a community garden for tenants, for example.
Besides the financial benefits, Passive House construction results in an environment that is more comfortable and provides better air quality. “In the context of affordable housing and gaining control over health, access to a dependable, stable environment that is also comfortable and healthy is an added bonus,” said Ker.
While many believe that a building constructed for energy efficiency will somehow stand out in its design, ker says Salus has always had a perspective, whether buying or building properties, that considers how the building will fit in. The premise she says of integrating people into the community must also take into account that their residence be integrated as well.
“I think people will look at this building and perhaps be intrigued because it is new but its beautiful simplicity is also familiar and will be welcome.” Zouari says from the start the team was aiming for a bright and engaging building that residents could identify with. “We also had to design a compact building that would make maximum use of the site and had to avoid any shape thermal bridging and minimize exterior surfaces and difficult connections.”
She says strategies for fitting into the surrounding residential neighbourhood included varying the size and colour of exterior panels. “a passive house flavour has also been introduced to our building elevations with the “grass” design of the window guards which will allow users to fully open the windows while meeting code safety requirements.”
All of the south, east and west openings on the ground floor will be fully shaded with either exterior canopies or interior solar shades to mitigate any overheating risk, she says.
She says while achieving Passive House performance for a project with such challenges will prove to the construction industry that the standard is achievable in cities across Canada and for all residential buildings, the residents will simply enjoy quality comfort and quiet living spaces. “Windows and doors are the only building envelope component that occupants interact with on a regular basis. For this project, we are using high end components combining beauty, robustness, flexibility and adjustability in operation that the tenants will appreciate.”
Michael Assal, president of Taplen, the construction management firm engaged on the project, said his company is experienced with challenging high performance building projects and became involved with Salus Clementine during its early design stages. “Initially Passive House was mentioned but was not the formal goal during the design charrette in late 2012. Since then the Ontario Building Code and the adoption of LEED design has changed the market and set the bar a bit higher, standards for design and construction have continually improved, increasing the feasibility of Passive House buildings in Canada.”
Assal says he embraces the idea of building to the Passive House standard with a bigger context in mind. Passive House, he says, is the next evolution of where the industry needs to move. “at one time it was LEED that everyone was trying to understand and there were the exceptional models of LEED construction. Now many projects build to LEED standards just because that is where the building code has gone or is going. Passive House needs to be that next step to push the performance of our buildings to the next level in terms of energy consumption, emissions and occupant comfort.”
Assal says one of the biggest challenges for contractors and project teams on Passive House projects is the level of proactivity required. He says anyone involved in a Passive House construction has to buy in from the beginning and be willing to come to the table ready to invest more time. “It takes a front end loading of time and a bit of a learning curve, but once the project details are set, it is possible to build effectively and efficiently to Passive House standards.”
Design challenges included addressing thermal bridging with the lightweight steel frame construction and research into the best exterior assembly. Several options were examined including a German framing system of stainless steel rods which will support the façade 14 in. out from the structure to accommodate the insulation and required air space. In the end, an “external, structurally insulated panel [SIP] system was chosen. The SIPS are attached over the building frame, including the roof, to provide a composite of insulation and cladding support with integral air and vapour control in the oriented strand board [OSB] faces.”
Zouari says these SIPs were not conventional. “Despite not being structural they had to accommodate a strong connection to the streel structure on one side and to the cladding on the other side and that’s where introducing the I- joists every 2 ft. came into play.” She says a tray slab foundation allowed for the elimination of footings and minimized thermal bridging. Structural insulated panels were installed at the below grade foundation walls and used for above grade wall systems and the roof.
Other constructability challenges included poor soil conditions with low bearing capacity and limited access to the infill site. “The design adapted as we progressed. The tight site access added costs in some ways but the warm winter we’ve had so far will hopefully reduce our overall winter heating expenses so we may see savings in that area.”
As of December, assal said the team was pushing hard to get the prefab SIP roof panels and roofing on before the winter sets in. after that the prefab SIP wall panels will be fastened into place. “The exterior system will require extensive taping at the windows and joints for airtightness and the installation of a Swiss airtight, but moisture permeable weather barrier. Once we install the Passive House certified windows from austria we can test to check for leaks with a rigorous air blower test and then we’ll install the façade.”
Assal says one of the challenges of Passive House certification is the testing required. He says energy consumption has to be examined down to the verified energy consumption of all the equipment, including the elevator. “We need to be able to predict the energy consumption of the building right down to the fans and motors in the elevator. unfortunately, because that isn’t standard required information from the manufacturers (although it is available from them in Europe), it has been difficult to come by so we’ll have to wait until the equipment is in and then self-test to be sure we have the results we want.”
Peel Passive House Consulting principal andrew Peel is the project’s building certifier and has been involved since the design stages, engaging with the team to ensure the project is on target to meet its goals. He says with any Passive House project there is a learning curve involved that everyone has to embrace.
One of the biggest challenges to Passive House in Canada he agrees, is the robust product information certification requires, because it looks at equipment and systems as part of the building’s overall performance. “When the manufacturer is not required by code to provide such detailed information, it is hard to come by.”
He says there is often a gap as well in what Passive House demands and the products currently available in North america. as a result, many components have to be sourced from Europe.
Zouari says though European products were specified for this project, she is confident that large scale projects such as this will stimulate the demand and encourage local manufacturers to upgrade their products to higher levels. Salus Clementine used Passive House certified Gaulhofer windows and doors from austria, along with similarly certified Raico wood curtain wall from Germany. Tapes and membranes for air tightness were sourced from Swiss company SIGa and German Passive House certified EJOT anchors have been used to fasten the below-grade SIPs.
Describing Passive House philosophy as “heat with a candle, cool with an ice cube while enjoying constant fresh air,” assal says this higher level of construction quality and performance results in a building that is better for the environment and for the owner’s operational cash flows in the longer term.
He says it is unfortunate that businesses who should be looking at Passive House for the long term benefits of ownership have not yet made the shift. This is probably in part due to the building industry still learning how to build to Passive House and a reluctance to shift to the long term cost of ownership evaluation of projects.
Though construction is not expected to be completed until mid-way through 2016, the project has already received its official precertification letter. This letter confirms that the project has successfully met all of the Passive House design requirements and is on track to achieve full certification.
Zouari says the assessment was completed according to the German Passive House institute requirements. “The modelled space heating demand is 14 kWh/m2/yr. That’s approximately 3,500 litres of oil/year for the entire heating season, roughly the amount needed to run two cars for a whole year.”
The primary energy demand, which includes all building services, including domestic hot water, heating, cooling, auxiliary and household electricity, is 116 kWh/m2 per year, which is 84 per cent below that of a conventional building. “The key to Passive House is to optimize the design, rather than looking later at bolt on solutions intended to improve what is already there. Salus Clementine has achieved the Passive House design requirements and once completed, it will be a beacon for the capital and the nation,” says Peel.
Once the building is in operation, he says it will be monitored. “This has frequently been done in Europe to show that actual performance matches the predicted performance.”
Zouari said at the precertification announcement, City of Ottawa councillor and chair of the city’s environment committee, David Chernushenko, invited all parties “to look at what Ottawa can do to bring this achievement up to scale. I have seen a neighbourhood, a supermarket and a school to the Passive House standard. I would like to see it now in Ottawa. Our job, me and city council, city staff who are here or at the seminars, and all of you in the professional community, can be working together to show that it is possible and it makes no sense to build any other way.”
Assal says he has been surprised by the level of interest from the city and will be interested to see how Passive House factors into future city programs.
Zouari says the project was fully supported by the City of Ottawa Housing Branch, Councillor David Chernushenko and the construction community and industry.
She says it has been a privilege to work with such an intelligent and inspiring client as Salus Ottawa and a pleasure to be involved with the entire team. “Passive House is a team sport. It is not only the technical solutions that matter; dedicated decision makers play just as important a role as committed architects, engineers, trades and product manufacturers.”
Ker says the project has benefited from incredible collaboration right from the beginning. “We have had the benefit of a wonderful synergy of skills, ideas and commitment. Though we are technically the client, we have felt part of a broader team all committed to the same goal. Rather than feeling alone in moving our vision forward, we have been able to do so with partners who also support that vision.”
She says the project, which is set for June 2016 occupancy, still has some fundraising to do to meet its capital campaign goals. “Mental health issues and the issue of homelessness are important to the community so we’re confident people will step forward to help us realize this goal.”
Donations and in kind contributions are welcome. More information is available at www.salusottawa.org/projects.