News / Ottawa

Ottawa Salus, city's new affordable housing complex, boasts top efficiency rating

A 42-unit apartment building opening this week expects to be North America's first affordable housing complex to be certified as a passive house.

Lisa Ker, executive director of Ottawa Salus, expects tenants to move into the charity's latest supportive housing complex next weekend.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Lisa Ker, executive director of Ottawa Salus, expects tenants to move into the charity's latest supportive housing complex next weekend.

How would you like to pay $28 to heat your apartment – for the entire year?

That’s exactly what Ottawa Salus hopes to offer when it opens its new 42-unit affordable housing building this week.

The four-storey supportive housing complex on Clementine Boulevard near Billings Bridge will serve adults with severe mental illness, but it’s also designed to support ambitious environmental and cost-saving goals through a passive house design never before used for affordable housing apartments in North America, according to executive director Lisa Ker.

Using things like thick insulation, tightly sealed doors and windows and a special energy recovery ventilator that circulates fresh air into the building, the apartments will likely be up to 90 per cent more efficient than regular buildings.

“We’re hoping to take the energy bills from this building after a year and compare them to a single family dwelling in the neighbourhood, and we hope they should be the same,” said Ker.

That’s not just an environmental gain – it could save up to 90 per cent of utility costs for the charitable organization, too, she said. The savings will help them maintain their other 13 supportive housing buildings around the city.

As a tax-funded building, that’s a major push to be passive.

“It’s imperative we manage the asset on behalf of the public … and that we always seek to keep those costs at a reasonable level,” Ker said.

Passive house certification is a long and stringent process, one the apartment building has yet to finalize. Ker expects the certification to come this fall.

But Ker said the 42 new residents will be at the forefront of a shift to sustainable building – despite being some of the most vulnerable in the community.

“That’s a powerful message,” she said. “People who we consider to be the poorest, still they would be considered to be championing an approach that is good for all Canadians. And I love that we can be part of that.”

Passive approach:

Passive houses need to use less than 15 kilowatt hours per metre of living space per year for heating, and less than 120 for primary energy. The new building uses several key techniques to keep energy and heating costs low.

1. Windows: The building’s European windows and doors are passive house certified, meaning they’re triple glazed and sealed tightly against heat loss. The windows are nearly three times more efficient than the Ontario building code requires, and the doors are two times more efficient.

2. Walls: The apartment’s exterior walls are padded with 13 inches of insulation layered in a sandwich of insulation panels, graphite-based Neopor insulation and special tape to seal joints, to make them 2.3 times more efficient than the building code’s rules.

3. Roof: The building’s roof is painted white to reflect heat in the summer and –hopefully – make the building’s backup cooling system redundant. It’s also 1.5 times more efficient than the building code requires.

4. Ventilation: A massive centralized energy recovery ventilation unit is located in the basement to circulate fresh air throughout the building. Fresh air is pumped in – and old air is pushed out – once every three hours.

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