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Building Sustainability - Passive House

Written by Ed Newton

The Humber North Campus Parking Structure is Net-Zero with 750kW of solar panels installed on both the roof and portions of the Southern façade. Link to read a full project description at the bottom of this article.

The idea of changing the world seems like an impossible task until, like anything else, you can look at your personal impact and see what more you can do. As owner and operator of a large precast manufacturing construction company in Guelph, ON, Kiwi Newton Group, my passion for environmental sustainability may be hard to understand. When it comes to environmental sustainability, the construction industry holds an important role to play in this, specifically with building sustainability. The materials, technology, architecture, technical design, and site time are all factors that can affect a structure's overall footprint, and it is all of our responsibility to do what we can to lower our impact.

Why Building Sustainability?

The construction industry is responsible for creating around 11% of global carbon emissions due to embodied carbon in the manufacturing of the materials and 28% of the world's carbon emissions due to the energy use of the buildings. World governments, including Canada,

have made promises, and set goals to reduce carbon emissions, and organizations like the Green Building Council of Canada are urging companies to find ways to lower their carbon footprint. The National Engineering Policy Centre has stated the industry must reduce carbon emissions by 78% before 2035. Adapting to new technology and building methods will play an integral role in the transition towards achieving lower embodied carbon and lower energy use intensity in buildings. In some buildings now, net-zero energy use is a reality as green technologies advance away from carbon to non-carbon emitting systems, the task will become easier and more widespread.

An important goal for Kiwi Newton Group is to develop buildings that meet the environmental targets set by world leaders and various authorities. Using innovative building systems as the cornerstone with the integration of advanced green technologies at the fore, Kiwi Newton Group is succeeding in the environmental endeavor. Kiwi Newton Group is planning further measures to lower the embodied carbon in the manufacturing of concrete and fabrication of steel. These measures will allow our clients to meet environmental requirements for their new buildings, save capital costs and reduce operating costs.

Looking at things differently, utilizing nature to make positive change

I have learned to properly observe and take in natural surroundings in both nature and the built environment. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open while traveling around the world, as it can certainly teach you a lot if you’re open to taking it all in.

Growing up and living in the wildland in New Zealand farming before taking 4-years to work in the construction industry, I returned able to introduce what I had learned and develop farms that protect the environment, waterways, and forests while still being able to produce good stock and jobs for local residents.

My experience is all practical apart from my school years right up to the end of grade 12, ready for university. My university was as a shepherd in hill country looking after 14,000 sheep over the summer and 1000 head of cattle. Growing up before the internet, I believe, has allowed me to see the world from a different perspective and how I apply that knowledge to what I do now.

Concrete as an environmentally sustainable material

As an incredibly durable building material, concrete creates structures that are built to last, whereas wood-framed, for example, can rot or decay, creates homes for vermin or insects, and is susceptible to natural disasters such as bush fires and tornadoes. Concrete is noncombustible, more resistant to tornadoes, bush fires, and solid and impossible for vermin and insects to take up residence within. These factors of longevity need to be considered when comparing the entire cycle of a building’s carbon footprint.

Kiwi Newton Group designs using an integration of functions and disciplines, enabling the delivery of the building with a lower embodied carbon and reduced energy use while keeping the building affordable. Kiwi Newton Group continues to look for ways to reduce the carbon footprint or embodied carbon of concrete from using less to do the same job. Utilizing carbon dioxide treatment during the concrete manufacturing process produces higher quality concrete to last longer in its environment.

Solar Energy

As the movement towards green energy increases, solar power has been gaining momentum as property developers begin to see the benefits. Generating electricity on the building with clean, renewable solar power instead of electricity generated with fossil fuels can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the life of the building while saving the owner operating costs, thus providing a reasonable return on the investment. Energy prices are likely to increase as time goes on, making these investments more meaningful as the building ages. Localized power generation reduces draw on the power grid and reduces the need to invest in more upgraded grid distribution saving capital investment and curbing the increase in power costs as developments are created.

As solar and other lower-carbon technology advance, these can be integrated into buildings to make them less grid-dependent.

We provide options to clients for solar integration on their buildings with cost and payback calculations enabling the decision by helping them see the economic and environmental benefits.

Putting Ideas into Practice

Knowing all of this, our team has been putting these values into action and developed a system called “KiwiCondo Commercial.” This system, which is prefabricated and manufactured in our Guelph plant, can produce net-zero buildings that meet or exceed Passive House standards.

Passive House is the only internationally recognized, proven, science-based energy standard in construction. At a basic level, a structure built to Passive House standards will employ good insulation and minimal thermal bridges. It will contain well-designed use of solar, and internal resources, maintain high levels of airtightness, and have a ventilation system that provides efficient heat recovery along with good indoor air quality. The appeal of Passive House buildings is that they are built with airtight insulation that maximizes the use of natural heating systems, such as the sun, and consume 90 percent less heating and cooling energy than conventional buildings. The core principles behind this system are simple; ventilation by promoting natural ventilation through simple openings and mechanical to encourage cross-ventilation, minimal space heating, and lighting and electrical control.

When it became clear we needed to expand our plant to include more office space to accommodate our growing production management and logistic team, we saw the opportunity to showcase our cutting-edge KiwiCondo Commercial building system.

The KiwiCondo Commercial Building System is a system that provides us an alternative to traditional methods for building condominiums and commercial projects as the entire building is pre-designed and tailored to suit the specific needs of the client. All building components are factory-made, then shipped to the site as an integrated element to be placed specifically in its location on the building. Various integration occurs including architectural, mechanical, electrical, and structural elements integrated within the design and manufacture, made into one piece of the building. Once on-site, all integrated elements are erected and connected together. Finishing times in the building are shortened due to the integration of things in the factory, this allows while the quality is high due to factory-controlled manufacturing. The results are extremely high energy efficient architecturally designed buildings, with all the advantages that come with the controlled conditions of a factory-made product.

What sets this building system apart from other types of structures is that this building system centers around inherent energy efficiency. Non-flammable, non-combustible insulation is installed to the exterior side of the precast concrete walls, with all the windows thermally broken and triple glazed for even higher performance with details that provide continuous moisture and thermal protection. When the building is heated, the concrete acts as a large thermal mass, mitigating fluctuations in outdoor temperature and allowing the inside temperature to remain consistent. The thermal insulated concrete mass gives 8% more energy efficiency due to the leveling peaks and valleys of the temperatures. during the day and then from day to day. The in-floor hydronic Heating/Cooling systems use this thermal mass to provide temperature control to the building. Utilizing this hydronic system for in-floor heating and cooling is more efficient than pushing hot air for heating and cooling due to the energy draw on fan capacity.

The result has been a testament to show that we practice what we preach with a net-zero office space that offers cutting-edge technology in providing clean energy solutions.

Moving forward Sustainably

Ultimately, green energy will become the standard for all buildings, as it should be. As an industry, we have an obligation to our clients and the environment to find cost-effective solutions to meet the needs of our clients while also providing green alternatives that don’t break the bank. Education will be important in this feat; people need to understand not only what is available but how it will benefit them. It is outlets, like Building Good, that are an excellent way to start getting the message out and, once it becomes more mainstream, I think we will see Passive House become the gold standard in building construction and, that is something to be excited about.


If you would like to learn more, check out these links:



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