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Prefab Passive Solar Offers Simpler, Faster Construction, Healthier Homes, Lower Emissions

With prefabricated housing gradually gaining ground in North America, Canada is beginning to see a small surge in the number of companies producing prefab, high-performance wall panels for passive solar homes.

“I think it’s a natural progression,” said engineer and consultant Rob Blakeney of BuildSMART, described by Passive Buildings Canada as the first North American company to build prefabricated passive house wall panel systems. “In North America, we’re experiencing a skilled labour shortage and very high-priced labour, so it’s natural that we move towards prefabrication.”

“We have quick assembly and construction times and have exceptional measures of installation,” added Abby Xerri, president of Minden, Ontario-based Quantum Passivhaus. “We’re building in our shop in seven to eight days and we install in anywhere from a day to a day and a half—that’s a complete structure with the floor systems.”

In general, Passive Buildings Canada notes, “prefabrication saves money. Not only can offsite modular construction save between 10 and 25% in building costs compared to conventional onsite construction, you can also minimize the transport of workers and equipment and shorten project schedules significantly.”

And while onsite passive house construction can call for specialized expertise, “prefab panels don’t require the same know-how. This can remove barriers and allow for passive house buildings to be constructed in more remote areas where this type of skilled labour is lacking.”

“We’ve done lots of stuff in northern B.C., Vancouver island, and the Gulf Islands, and we can skip out a contractor to do the framing and build almost overnight,” said consultant Kyle Moen of BC Passive House in Pemberton. “It really allows us to achieve higher performance standards and avoid mistakes made onsite. If something is framed wrong onsite, it takes a lot of time to correct.”

“A major advantage that prefabrication has is the control over detail that is achieved in a shop setting,” explained Jan Pratschke of Collective Carpentry in Invermere, B.C. That matters with passive homes that “tend to be a lot more complex and need to live up to very high air sealing and insulation standards.  Prefab also excels at scheduling simplicity, and controlling damage caused by weather during the construction phase.”

For Rick Zytaruk of Muskoka-based Tooketree Passive Homes, passive solar construction is largely about the bigger picture. “We need to ensure that everything we build today is our best effort to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis,” he told Passive Buildings Canada. “Simultaneously, we have a great need for safe, healthy homes. By prefabricating passive house enclosures that store carbon and use safe materials, we are building climate-safe buildings faster and assuring higher quality with less waste.”

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