Energy efficient home takes up residence in the Columbia Valley

Tomaž Stich and wife Jasminka nearing completion of the first passive house in the Columbia Valley.

By Breanne Massey

Special to the Pioneer

Tomaž Stich and his wife, Jasminka, are nearing completion of the first passive house (PH) in the Columbia Valley. “Every province moves at a different pace, but I think right now, B.C. is seriously ahead of the game,” Jasminka explained about their home which serves twofold for their consulting business on passive houses.

A PH is a construction concept that focuses on building energy efficient homes with on-site renewable energy. There are a total of 27 certified residential PH properties in Canada, including 18 PH in B.C. with three located in the East Kootenay region.

Stich, who is a carpenter, engineer and certified passive house designer, now runs a consulting business for building PH for individuals and helps to educate engineers, architects, carpenters and DIY-ers about the scientific benefits of renewable energy through Stich Consulting and Design.

“When we came 11 years ago, there was nobody to talk about passive houses, but the awareness has increased because of the step code implementation … and it’s gaining popularity,” explained Tomaž. “The biggest challenge is providing knowledge about the cost part. Energy in North America is very, very, very cheap compared to Europe, but the consumption is huge, so it’s difficult for people to connect that and make a decision to go efficient with better materials.”

However, thinkBright owners Paul Denchuk and Meredith Hamstead have been collaborating with the Stich family as general contractors on the project and gaining hands-on experience to the provincial standard of construction that is soon to become the highest standard (Step Code 5) for what’s required on new home builds by 2032.

“There’s a national building code review happening right now that will come in line. Those reviews happen once a decade. This is a major leap forward for the building code in B.C.. There’s an incredible opportunity, particularly right now with build back B.C. for the future of the housing industry of B.C. to be better than it is today. B.C. really is the leader in the country for regulating better, more energy efficient homes and we at thinkBright view the Stich home as a leader in our community,” they said.

Eighteen months from now, every new home being built in B.C. will be required to be 20 per cent more energy efficient under BC Energy Step Code 3. The BC Energy Step Code was an objective introduced by the province of B.C. in 2008, which the National Building Code of Canada is working towards achieving by 2030. In B.C., the highest performance designs, materials and systems are expected to be available in a cost effective way for new builds as a minimum requirement for construction by 2032.

“The Stich house is the first passive house (in) Invermere,” Hamstead explained, as the guarantor of the home. “It’s the gold standard for high-performance housing. Our community now has an example to look at for energy efficient, draft free, low operating cost homes. It’s essentially a living case study in Invermere, so hopefully it will continue to push customers to this kind of model and this product going forward.”

In addition to working together and being close friends for more than a decade, Denchuk and Tomaž work, study and travel together.

“Canada used to be a leader in energy efficient housing, but we are no longer the leader,” Hamstead said. “Europe is, so we work closely with Tomaž to learn more about the reality of high-performance housing in B.C.. It’s a really mutually beneficial business model.”

When asked about the cost of renewable energy homes, Hamstead replied: “It is a myth that energy efficient, environmentally friendly housing needs to be more expensive. We, at thinkBright, build high-performance houses for mid-market prices in Invermere and the Columbia Valley … We believe every home can be built more efficiently for the price of a standard code built price; that’s what we can commit and that’s what we’re delivering.”

In an effort to promote awareness about PH, the Stich couple offers certified PH courses and exams four times per year that are regulated through the Passive House Institute (PHI) via Germany. “What we offer is officially a preparation course for the passive house exams,” said Tomaž. “It is a very challenging exam,” Jasminka added. “Tomaz checks the exam. Then it goes to Germany for another check.”

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