A Passive House for Fort St. John, British Columbia, #Passivehouse

A Passive House for Fort St. John – a learning demonstration project

by Ayme Sharma

With the municipal slogan “The Energetic City” we should not have been surprised when a young, ambitious sustainability & planning team approached Marken Projects to design a Passive House for the first building in a brand new sustainable neighbourhood in Fort St. John, BC.

The City of Fort St. John is aiming to become an environmental leader in the Peace River region through the use of pervasive sustainable and environmental best practices. They own a 37-hectare site that is currently zoned for agricultural use. They have deemed that the future use of the site should be principally residential and has allocated it for implementation of a sustainable neighbourhood. The City drafted a concept plan for a sustainable neighbourhood in 2009. In their view, the implications of the neighbourhood reach beyond the confines of the 37-hectare site. They are interested in developing an approach that can be tested and refined and eventually applied community-wide. In essence the current neighbourhood plan is a learning demonstration.  It is a classroom where new approaches and new technologies can gradually be introduced to the Fort St. John area through developing local skills and supportive policies, and providing residents and decision-makers with familiarity and confidence.

The site is currently a blank slate (and a flat slate as well). The concept plan defines some broad land-use zones but no specific subdivisions.  The general location of our project site was identified but with no indication of the typical site information one normally begins a project with – site elevations, streets or utilities. We were given the amazing opportunity to break ground for this neighbourhood before the development plan is even in place.


This first building in this sustainable community will be a demonstration project of a single-family dwelling designed to meet Passive House standards. The City is interested in certifying the project as Passive House to validate cold climate applications of this building standard. The design parameters for a lot size of 50 feet X 120 feet were to design a 1.5 storey house with a footprint of 1200 sqft with a 300 sqft loft at a budget of $300,000 (approximately $180/sqft).

We started with a rectangular floor plan oriented to maximize southern solar exposure. The layout meets universal design principles to attract a wide range of demographics. It is efficient enough to enable a compact size but adaptable to the different end-uses of potential future owners.  The open plan kitchen/dining/living spaces are centered on the ground floor to face a wall of southern glazing and open onto a generous south-facing deck.  There is a flex room near the covered entry to the west, which could function as a home office, meeting room, an extra bedroom or even a playroom. The master bedroom and bathroom are located to the east. The upper floor was originally designed as an open loft with a bedroom and flex area looking out over the living space, opening to a dormer in the roof that would share clerestory southern daylighting with the ground floor spaces.

The design concept is a house with an overbearing roof that wraps the northern side like a warm winter coat and opens up to the south.


The darker aesthetic will have high contrast in the generally snowy climate. The dark wood siding has a rustic look taken from the Japanese blackened board technique (shou sugi ban). Traditional Japanese homes commonly used this technique for exterior siding so that it would resist rot and fire.  The blacked board has a silver sheen.


 Shou sugi ban – Japanese blackened board


Southeast View - June 21, 10am

The house will be equipped with a subsoil heat exchanger plus HRV, ductless mini split heat pump, mini baseboard heaters as backup, a solar hot water system, rainwater collection, and pre-wired for photovoltaic.

If we are successful in building this project and certifying it – it will not only be a demonstration of the most ambitious building standards, it will also demonstrate that being uber-green is not only achievable but also highly affordable.

Thank you to our clients at the City of Fort St. John – who have inspired us with their proactive and progressive vision!


Southwest Winter Rendering

Fast Facts:

  • Total Sqf: ~ 1,700 sqf.
  • Design heat load: 15 Kwh/m2/year
  • Design max. energy demand for heating/cooling:  9800 BTU/h/W
  • Design Air tightness: less than 0.6 ACH
  • High Performance Heat Recovery Ventilation: 93% efficiency
  • Triple Pane Wood Windows: U-value 0.8; SHGC 52% / 64%
  • Prefabricated Panelized Building Shell: R-values: R 52 (Walls), R 70 (Roof), R 57 (Slab)

The project will also incorporate the following:

  • Rainwater collection
  • Low flow fixtures throughout
  • Solar hot water panes and drain water heat recovery
  • Native landscaping and permeable paving where necessary
  • Lumber from FSC certified sources
  • Flooring and millwork from sustainable sources
  • Regionally sourced materials where possible and appropriate
  • Use of recycled materials where possible
  • No VOC to be used

Marken Projects have recently completed the Building Permit Drawing Set for this Passive House. The design is being presented to the Fort St. John City Council for approval to proceed. Watch this space for more updates.