Member’s Corner

Five things every contractor should know about high performance buildings

Radek Pilarski, Dipl.-Ing. Arch. (M. Arch), CPHD

Technical Manager, Graham Construction

Radek Pilarski portrait

Passive House Canada member Radek Pilarski

Radek Pilarski is a technical manager for Graham Construction. A general contractor who has worked as a subcontractor, a consultant and client-side project manager, Radek concentrates on the whole project cycle, including preconstruction, rather than just construction. He has been a Passive House Canada member since 2020.


I am a strong believer in early general contractor (GC) involvement in projects. I believe that understanding the basics of design allows general contractors to participate productively in the project from its early stages, to find best constructability and procurement solutions. It also allows GCs to include subtrade input at the right time.

Here are five things I think every general contractor (GC) should know:

  1. The basics of building physics (thermal transmission, air tightness, condensation, thermal gains, thermal mass etc.) is where the story starts. You can’t productively participate in a high performance project if you don’t understand why this performance is required and how it impacts the building.
  2. GCs need to understand the basics of energy balance between envelope and mechanical systems and their interfaces with structure. These three elements have the biggest impact on project cost, duration, procurement, and quality. They are also the ones that need to be understood and coordinated as early as possible. This allows for the procurement to be done on the basis of specifications and designs that are coordinated and aligned with systems available on the market.
  3. The implications of higher thermal performance and certification requirements for the supply chains need to be understood. This includes cost, but also availability of systems, lead-in times, necessary documentation etc. This will also help with the ability to quickly find suitable alternates, if necessary, because of supply chain constraints.
  4. A strong quality assurance and quality control is essential. It goes without saying that you cannot have an airtightness layer or well-performing MEP system without strong quality management. It only works, though, if quality management is planned and correctly resourced well ahead of construction. A successful project team will have analyzed difficult details, installation sequencing and identified major quality risks well ahead of time. They will also have challenged design solutions if they are not suitable or constructable. Correct control and documentation on site will help communicating quality expectations to subtrades. Collecting valuable lessons learned that can be applied on future projects is also essential.
  5. Finally, GCs need to understand the requirements for commissioning and hand-over of high performing construction systems. Early preparation and planning for project handover and commissioning will not only speed up the close-out of the project and make it more successful, it will also allow the GC to identify the correct requirements and necessary documentation at procurement stage —avoiding unpleasant surprises later.