While climate change is seeing global temperatures trending up, UBC’s Okanagan campus is committed to trending greenhouse gas emissions down and its newest and most efficient student residence building is playing no small part in those ambitious plans.
This week, UBCO’s Skeena Residence officially received Passive House certification—a stringent set of efficient design and construction standards—making it the first student residence in Canada to receive that status.
“This is an incredible achievement and one that our team has been working on since the building was first imagined four years ago,” says Lesley Cormack, Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “As our campus community grows and develops, we are committed to taking bold action on climate and employing the most innovative and efficient building practices is an important way to achieve those goals.”
Passive House certification is an internationally recognized high-performance building standard developed in Germany that focuses on the design, construction and operation of energy-efficient buildings.
“This building allows hundreds of new students to experience living on-campus in a sustainable way,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “Not only does this residence meet CleanBC goals, but it also represents the highly skilled workforce here in BC. Working together, we were able to execute UBCO’s vision of environmentally friendly and functional design.”
“UBC Okanagan is showing leadership and a path forward to address climate change and create a better future for young people with affordable housing that’s built to the highest standard—the first Passive House-certified student residence in Canada,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Through our CleanBC plan, we’re helping BC universities accelerate their actions on climate change with significant investments to make sure we have buildings that are energy-efficient, comfortable and ready for future weather events.”
While Passive House is defined by extremely low energy usage, the Skeena Residence in particular is marked by an interior that is bright and welcoming.
“The six-storey building houses 220 students and it’s important that they feel comfortable and at home while they live there,” says Shannon Dunn, UBCO’s Director of Campus Operations—the group in charge of running the campus’ student residences. “We deliberately chose bright and vibrant colours and included plenty of open spaces with large triple-glaze windows to ensure a positive and inspirational environment.”
Dunn says the building features thick insulation, an airtight and high-efficiency building envelope and heat recovery ventilation system, all of which work together to make a remarkably comfortable space—despite requiring only one-third the amount of energy of a typical residence building.
“Whether in the depths of winter or the blistering Okanagan summer, students often note the building temperature is incredibly stable and they hardly ever need to touch the thermostat,” she adds. “That thermal stability means that the heat and air conditioning are needed only sparingly, keeping power usage to an absolute minimum without compromising livability.”
Even during the height of the summer 2021 heat dome, when temperatures in the Okanagan and across the province reached historic heights, Dunn says the Skeena Residence only rose by one degree and the chillers had no issues keeping up.
“It’s an incredible feat, considering the strain the heatwave put on infrastructure throughout BC,” says Dunn. “With these extreme weather events expected more frequently in the future, this kind of innovation and technology will become ever more important.”
While the Skeena Residence was primarily built to house students, the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering is seizing the opportunity to study the long-term impacts and benefits of a Passive House building on campus. An array of sensors was integrated into its design and construction in order to establish the residence as a living lab. Researchers aim to identify the energy patterns of passive residential buildings and resident behaviours to provide recommendations on the most energy-efficient uses.
The Skeena Residence is an integral part of UBC Okanagan’s recently announced Climate Action Plan. In 2020, UBC Okanagan achieved a reduction in absolute campus operational GHG emissions by 41 per cent since 2013, based on the continued implementation of projects to optimize buildings and energy supply systems.
“As we look to the future, we intend to learn from Skeena and employ best practices for energy reduction during building planning and construction,” says Cormack. “Best of all, our students get to live in and be a part of what is sure to be the future of sustainable construction.”
- The $24.98-million new student housing facility received $18.74 million from the Province of BC. The university contributed $6.24 million.
- Passive House certification is an internationally recognized high-performance building standard developed in Germany that focuses on the design, construction and operation of energy-efficient buildings.
- Buildings designed and constructed to this standard use up to 90 per cent less space heating and energy consumption than conventional buildings.