National strategy aims to make high-performance buildings Canada’s standard

by Rob Bernhardt, CEO

When Canada’s federal and provincial energy ministers approved a new buildings strategy for the country in St. Andrews, NB, they set the direction for Canada’s buildings for future decades. Build Smart: Canada’s Buildings Strategy is a comprehensive agreement that outlines the goals for Canada’s buildings, and is a significant step towards making high-performance buildings the standard in Canada.

A federal/provincial/territorial agreement, with all its moving parts, is an achievement. But what makes achieving such agreements difficult is also what makes them robust—they are difficult to undo. Furthermore, the strategy aligns with earlier policy initiatives (outlined in last month’s newsletter), adding additional weight to the strategy.

The release of the strategy sets the stage for Canada to become a global leader in high-performance building design and construction. With the broad goals identified and agreed upon, Canada is in a position to begin the hard work of drafting the codes and standards to achieve those goals. The strategy declares an intention to have the net zero ready code drafted by 2022.

Build Smart: Canada’s Buildings Strategy is important on several levels.

It focuses on benefits to people

It focuses on quality-of-life factors that concern all Canadians on a personal and emotional level—comfort, health and affordability. The language used in the strategy is powerful, stating that when buildings fail people, they fail the planet. This emphasis enables our leaders to endorse the need for high-performance buildings by emphasizing providing better buildings for people.

Without using the term “Passive House,” the strategy makes the case for most of the elements of our building standard—that building better means living and feeling better.

It identifies the need to maximize efficiency

The strategy recognizes and expresses pride in Canada’s net-zero efforts to date and identifies the need to maximize efficiency as a foundation for net zero–ready building codes. By defining the need to maximize efficiency and focusing on the quality-of-life factors mentioned above, the resulting buildings increasingly have the performance characteristics of a Passive House high-performance building.

It identifies the need for domestic market transformation

The strategy lays out a specific process and strategy to transform building-component performance. For example, the long-term goal for windows is to have a U-value of 0.8 as the lowest-performing window. Specifying that performance level as the minimum level to be accepted in the future will serve to prompt window manufacturers and sellers to change their product lines.

By acknowledging the need to address our domestic building-component standards, the standard lays the foundation for improving those metrics.

It specifies innovation as the way forward

The entire strategy starts from the premise that innovation is required. As those who understand Passive House know, lower levels of energy efficiency can be achieved without innovation, but Passive House requires a change in how we design and build—business as usual is not sufficient.

Build Smart: Canada’s Buildings Strategy embraces that imperative. It explicitly recognizes the current overall lack the capacity to achieve these goals, and identifies innovation as an economic opportunity. Federal funding programs advancing the strategy’s innovation goals have already been launched.

It recognizes Passive House

The strategy lists Passive House Canada is listed as a national resource, and includes a link to our website.


Build Smart is just a first step. Broad market uptake requires a solid regulatory framework… which will take years of detailed and technical work. But, even though we do not yet have all the technical elements in place, Canada’s Buildings Strategy gives high-performance advocates and practitioners reason to be confident that attitudes have changed—often the hardest part of market transformation—and that, with time, high-performance buildings will be Canada’s norm.

Government policy and numerous studies demonstrate that high-performance buildings are not only desirable, they are affordable and achievable. With this national strategy in place, we now have a national declaration to that effect.

Build Smart: Canada’s Buildings Strategy sets our course and marks the start of the next phase of Passive House Canada’s work in supporting a transition to healthy, comfortable, affordable buildings that achieve the highest levels of energy efficiency.

With the summer season now behind us, it is time for Passive House Canada to work on that next phase. We are always looking for help, so please become a member if you have not already done so and offer to lend a hand. If policy development is your passion, your assistance can be invaluable.



Download and read the national strategy documents: