With the cold snap reaching -40 degrees Celsius this winter in some parts of BC, The University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the City of Prince George have teamed up to create a reliable and energy-efficient industrial-style building. This building is known as the UNBC Wood Innovation Research Lab and is recognized as a passive house for energy efficiency.
The UNBC Wood Innovation Research Lab (WIRL), made almost entirely of wood, is the first of its kind in North America to exceed the exacting international standard. This building has caught the eye of many researchers around the world because it demonstrates how an industrial structure, constructed out of wood, in a cold climate such as Northern British Columbia, can be a global leader in energy efficiency. These types of buildings use up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling, compared with standard buildings using up to 70 percent less energy overall.
Research showed that within the first two weeks of February when temperatures dropped from -1 to -37 degrees Celsius, the heating demand that was needed for -1 degree Celsius weather, compared to the heating demand that was needed for -37 degree weather only fluctuated 3.5%. Dr. David Claus, UNBC Facilities Director stated that in comparison, when temperatures got cold, the heating for the main campus doubled whereas the WIRL did not.
Using 50cm-think walls filled with insulation, paired with the attention given to the construction and design to make the building as airtight as possible are the main reasons for the building’s excellent performance. Dr. Guido Wimmers, UNBC Associate Professor of Engineering stated one of the biggest challenges of constructing the building was the large overhead door and finding a manufacturer who can deliver a well-insulated air-tight product. Some of the doors and windows had to be sourced from Germany and Poland, as European parts were required because Canadian manufacturing is still in its early stages.
The main benefit of a Passive Building is it outperforms a code building substantially in the long run. Over 60 years, a Passive Building will have about a third of the environmental impact compared to a code building. To further reduce WIRL’s carbon footprint, UNBC has signed a biogas contract, allowing WIRL to use gas recovered from agricultural facilities and landfills, lessening its reliance on fossil fuels.
With its innovative design, coupled with the biogas fuels, the Passive House design as used by UNBC, is expected to produce only one percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
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