How can we make green, energy efficient housing more affordable? Example from Western Austria – Passive House, Net Zero, Low Energy Buildings

Passive House PLUS Vancouver

Proposed Passive House PLUS Vancouver – Pre-Certified in BP process – Marken Design + Consulting

While an increasing number of municipalities in North America are setting new energy efficiency goals for new construction to tackle the negative environmental impact buildings have, they face the daily challenge of make housing more affordable and the same time trying to encourage more energy efficient design and construction to make their new “greening” programs work.  

To reduce GHG emissions from new buildings, Cities like Vancouver or New York have moved forward aggressively towards implementing much more rigorous mandatory building energy standards/goals (such as Passive House or Zero Emissions) compared to the existing minimum building code requirements seen today . The additional construction costs to achieve these standards average ~ 10% for single family and ~5% for larger buildings based on existing projects compared to standard building code construction in the lower mainland Vancouver. 

Prefab Multifamily Passive House Building Vancouver

Proposed Affordable Prefab Multifamily Passive House Building Vancouver – KOKA Architecture & Marken Design + Consulting


One of the questions critics ask: Does it make sense to establish the most stringent energy standard there is, namely the rather new German Passive House Energy Standard (Newer to North America) , as a mandatory minimum code requirement for all new construction in Vancouver six storeys and less? Certainly worth a separate a discussion….

Looking at the example Vancouver, which has set out to become the world’s Greenest City 2020 recently ratifying a Zero Emissions plan, one of the challenges obviously lies in how to handle the ever increasing construction costs and affordability crisis – do all these new green initiatives not make building and living in Vancouver even more expensive, many ask?

Now the City of Vancouver is currently working on creating different incentives and support programs which would go hand in hand with its’ green targets to compensate for the additional design and construction costs associated with the Zero Emission plan and green policies; a few have already been introduced.

As a working example, I would like to take the opportunity to outline one program from my home province of Vorarlberg in Austria where a comprehensive provincial construction loan/mortgage plan is directly linked to income, energy efficiency, eco standards and the size of the new home/building/family. Similar programs are available in the rest of Austria, also Germany and other EU countries.

Program Summary:

Provincial Construction loans/mortgages are available for both, retrofit and new construction, with loan amounts starting at 0.5% interest and up to a 35 year term.

How to qualify (CDN $ amounts rounded):

  • Net Income limits:  Single Person: up to CDN $4,400.- / family of two or more: up to CDN $7,500.-
  • Max NET Size in m2: up to a 5 person household: 150m2 / 6 person household and more: 170 m2. Different regulations for multi unit dwellings
  • Energy Efficiency: The better the performance the higher the per m2 loan value; Min requirements: Primary Energy Demand max 150 kwh/m2/a; Heat Demand max 44 Kwh/m2/a; Co2 Emission value max 24kg/m2/a

Base numbers by category per m2 – simplified:

  • Single Family Home: starting @ CDN $ 560.- up to CDN $ 1,150.- for retrofits and apartments
  • Child bonus: Starting at CDN $ 70.- per child
  • Income bonus: Up to CDN $ 135,- for net income of less that CDN $ 3,000.- (single person) and CDN $ 4,000.- (family)
  • Energy bonus: Up to CDN $500.- for improved energy efficiency and Co2 emissions
  • Eco bonus: Up to CDN $ 350.- for using eco-friendly materials and products – Regulated by a Eco Index 
  • Density bonus: Up to CDN 70.-
  • Universal Design principles: Up to CDN 120.-
  • There is also a bonus available for intergenerational living
Affordable Low Income House Austria - Low Energy Building Standard

Affordable Low Income Housing Austria – Low Energy Building Standard – Credit: Rhomberg Bau

Construction Loan Amount: 

Example family of four/one single household  –  CDN $ values per m2:

  • Single Family Home: CDN $ 560.-
  • Child Bonus: CDN $140.-
  • Income Bonus: CDN $50.-
  • Energy Bonus: CDN $40.- (PER 130 kwh; HD 35 Kwh; CO2 Emissions 17 kg)
  • Eco Bonus: CDN $75.-
  • Density Bonus: CDN $0.-
  • Universal Design: CDN 50.-

Based on the proposed NET living space of 130m2 ( or 1,400 sqf.) this family of FOUR would qualify for a construction loan/mortgage of CDN $ 122.000.- starting at 0.5% interest (increases over the years) and a 35 year term.

PS: The above list is simplified; every category has a clear definition and values attached.

Now again, this program can not necessarily be translated 1:1 to Vancouver or other municipalities given the different market and other unique conditions/regulations, but might serve as an example on how to make green and energy efficient housing more affordable, especially for families and medium/low income households.

Also, additional programs are available to builders and developers who aim at making their buildings greener and more energy efficient including FSR, Height, Eco-friendly, Affordability and Density bonuses amongst others….probably worth a separate post sometime in the future.


Feel free to contact us for more detailed info on this construction program and other at