Deep Performance Dwelling built in Montreal for Solar Decathlon China 2018

Townhouse on street in Montreal
© TEAMMTL

It's urban, Passive House and prefab. What's not to love?

The Solar Decathlon is a wonderful idea, where teams from all over the world compete to design the most energy-efficient buildings which are, of course, solar powered. Most have tended to be the size of mobile homes, so that they can be built at the universities and shipped to the decathlon, and then shipped home. Most entries act like mobile homes, being detached buildings that will stand alone.

In context© TEAMMTL

The Deep Performance Dwelling (DPD) being built for the Solar Decathlon China 2018 is different. It’s designed and built by a team from Montreal’s McGill and Concordia Universities, and is a contextual design that will fit right into Montreal’s urban fabric. Montreal has unusual housing, a very high percentage of dense townhouses and apartments that we have written about in TreeHugger before. But it is also designed to fit into a Chinese milieu, as they explain in perfect architectese:

The DPD is a uniquely syncretic product of our study of two proven traditional housing typologies born of different cultures. The row house typology, typical of Montreal’s urban fabric, accommodates single-family scenarios in a long and narrow low-rise form. The Siheyuan courtyard house demonstrates an environmentally and culturally specific approach to city dwelling of great historic, social, and functional value.

The DPD is also designed to the Passive House standard, which can be a challenge in a city like Montreal; there is a reason that an unofficial anthem for Quebec is Gilles Vigneault’s “Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver” (My country is not a country, it's winter). So it has a lot of insulation, an energy recovery ventilation system, and is designed for serious air-tightness. I looked in vain to see who the Passive House consultants were but see that they are “using passive design and construction principles” to design “a net-zero energy capable dwelling”. A press release says that it is a “Passive House-inspired design”.

model of house© TEAMMTL

Another feature of the house is that it is prefabricated.

A key innovation of the DPD is the utilization of off-site (factory) prefabrication methods of construction. It is designed for both modular & panelized options. Prefabrication addresses issues of affordability, reduction of waste, health and safety of workers, greater export capacity, and quality control to achieve high-performance building standards. Quebec’s prefabrication industry is one of the most robust in North America and its expansion into the high-performance building industry is a key to its development.

panels on truck© Ecocor

But they are not doing Passive House quality prefabs in Quebec yet, so the team turned to Ecocor in Maine, which builds houses from Passive House quality panels. Chris Corson, founder and President of Ecocor tells TreeHugger that there was nobody in the Province who could deliver this and having seen Ecocor’s work at the North American Passive House Network conference last year I can believe it, these are closer to cabinetry than wall panels. They had to be modified so that they could be easily taken apart in Montreal and reassembled in China, and the insulation was changed from Corson’s preferred, cellulose, to what everyone in Canada loves (it’s made there), Roxul rock wool.

There is a lot to love about this project. It’s not a stand-alone but “ an urban single-family home that answers the pressing global challenge to provide affordable and robust housing in cities that must achieve greater environmental and cultural sustainability, livability, and social equity.”

It has all the smart home stuff, including “Sensor networks and Internet of Things technologies installed throughout the home for performance and durability monitoring, consumption, and automation.” But with that much insulation, and being a townhouse with neighbours on either side, it is also what I like to call a dumb home- it is resilient in the face of power outages, and could keep people warm and safe for weeks.

Ben Wareing, Architecture Lead of TeamMTL, waxes eloquent in perfect press-release-ese:

TeamMTL’s goal is to employ socially, culturally and technologically advanced architecture that embodies energy efficiency, comfort, wellbeing, affordability, environmental sustainability and ecological awareness. Sustainable building starts with quality construction and design, and Ecocor’s 21st Century, prefab approach to building the most energy efficient homes on the market today helped us reach our objectives.

It really does press all the buttons; small, urban design built with the most sophisticated prefab technologies to the highest standards of energy efficiency and comfort. Most solar decathlon designs are one-offs but I hope this one gets multiple printings.

Tags: China | Design Competitions | Montreal | passive house

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