Smart House

SMART HOUSE
Britco Construction built this energy-saving modular/passive townhome development in Bella Bella

The veteran builder can construct passive homes, which use up to 90 per cent less energy than their traditional counterparts, much faster than rivals that work on-site

You probably know Britco for its tan-and-orange rental trailers, a fixture on construction sites. But the Langley-based company has other talents. The Britco Construction division recently married its expertise in modular building design with “passive house,” a building standard that is only now gaining traction in B.C. Although neither is a new idea, combining them allows swift construction of highly energy-efficient homes.

Unlike traditional construction firms, Britco Construction pre­assembles its buildings offsite, in a climate-controlled factory. “The benefits are higher quality control, greater speed and greater accuracy,” says Craig Mitchell, director of innovative solutions. On average, modular construction is 30 per cent faster, Mitchell adds; projects typically produce less than five per cent waste, versus up to 30 per cent on a construction site.

Passive house, an international certification that originated in Germany in the late 1980s, requires meeting a series of metrics based on features such as building-envelope airtightness and energy gain from sunlight. The resulting structures use up to 90 per cent less energy for heating and cooling than their conventional counterparts, according to Victoria-based non-profit Passive House Canada.

Switching to passive could have a major environmental impact, given that buildings consume as much as 40 per cent of the world’s energy and produce up to 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the environmental benefits, passive houses have excellent indoor air quality and maintain a pleasant temperature in all seasons.

Passive makes a good fit with modular because meeting the standard is easier in a factory than on a job site, Mitchell explains. So far, Britco Construction has completed two modular/passive projects. The first was a six-unit townhome development in Bella Bella that the company delivered to client Vancouver Coastal Health in just seven months, despite the remote location. The average passive house in Vancouver takes two years to build, Mitchell estimates.

In March, Britco Construction was bidding on a 50-unit passive house project in Fort St. John for BC Housing. Although passive can deliver big savings on heating in a northern B.C. climate, the case is less compelling on the South Coast, where energy costs are relatively low, Mitchell says. But as he points out, the City of Vancouver is pushing passive as the new standard for rezoning applications. As for modular alone, Mitchell says large building industry players are looking to Britco Construction to help speed up construction in a busy market. “Getting projects built within a shorter time period and turned over to the owner faster is an attraction, and that’s why we’re seeing a lot more pickup in the areas of affordable housing and multifamily developments.”