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School-age children immersed in Passive House via Super Scientist program

Latest project at Homeland Senior Public School challenged more than 400 students to build their own Passive Houses


Up to two thousand Ontario children – and counting – now grasp the fundamentals of Passive House, and it’s all thanks to an extra-school program called Super Scientist.

The Super Scientist company runs STEM programming in Ontario across both private and public schools, during STEM classes and private afterschool classes, for children as young as six up to age thirteen. While the program changes each year, this spring, Super Scientist company founder Louise MacPherson used the program to introduce kids to Passive House.


“Our projects all have some sort of environmental sway,“ says MacPherson, an engineer by training who originally hails from Europe, where Passive House is well-known. “We watch what’s going on with global warming people, and there is always something in our projects around what’s changing in the world, so the Passive House project, for us, was actually quite an obvious choice.”

Projects in the Super Scientist program run five to six weeks, one school at a time. Thus far, the Passive House project has appeared in three different school districts around the GTA Ontario, with approximately 400 children active in the program at each school.

Homeland Senior Public School in Mississauga, Ontario is where the program is currently wrapping up. More than 400 students ranging from age 11 to 13 were taught the history of Passive House, its impacts on comfort, health and the environment, as well as the fundamental building concepts behind the standard before being tasked with building and presenting their own Passive House.

To build the projects, the Super Scientist team put together more than 430 materials kits for the Homeland students. Each kit contained identical materials, including a piece of foam board, felt, bubble wrap and duct tape. Two windows and a door that could be opened and closed were required. During the presentation stage of the project, the houses are subjected to air tightness and insulation (heat) testing.

“We had [students] who were amazed by the concept that you could have a house that is so efficient that it doesn’t need a boiler or furnace, and the disbelief that that house would be capable of being in Canada.”

“The program changes the way they think,” says MacPherson, who noted that students participating in the Passive House project range from the “disbeliever” who thinks Passive House is impractical, all the way up to “the evangelist who is never going to live in a regular house again.”

Engaging the students’ more flexible minds is a main objective of the Passive House project, says MacPherson, and it works.

“We had [students] who were amazed by the concept that you could have a house that is so efficient that it doesn’t need a boiler or furnace, and the disbelief that that house would be capable of being in Canada. And when they start thinking about it, they were like, wow, this is quite amazing,” MacPherson adds.


Passive House Community support

Several companies from Passive House Canada community stepped up to support the Passive House project. Aaron Waldt from 475 High Performance Building Supply, Margaret Legue from 27 Local (Carpenters) and Andrew Peel of Peel Passive House supported the project testing.

In the next few years, Ontario is set to lose more than 120,000 engineers, skilled technicians, and scientists at all levels — with only 31,000 university-level students able to replace them.

Additionally, materials and/or information were donated by 475 High Performance Building Supply; Owen Corning; SIGA Swiss; and Passive House Canada. Some of those donated materials helped make the project more life-like for the students. 475 High Performance, for instance, donated their air tightness verification logo. “So when the house is approved as airtight,” MacPherson says, “[the students] receive a little certificate sticker with the 475 logo on it that goes on like an official sticker.”

Addressing the skills gaps

Through projects like the Passive House challenge, the Super Scientist program raises awareness about the various impacts of high performance building on people and the environment. But it also hopes to redress a growing skills deficit in Ontario.

In the next few years, Ontario is set to lose more than 120,000 engineers, skilled technicians, and scientists at all levels — with only 31,000 university-level students able to replace them.

“If they don’t catch that [gap], Canada just gets left behind,” says MacPherson. “That knowledge gap and that loss of intellect is not replaceable,” she adds. Super Scientist addresses that gap by “giving [students] real experience where they’re actually touching some of these problems and feeling like they can have an impact.”

Importantly, the students who participate in the Passive House project also learn to examine their homes and neighbourhoods through a critical lens.

“Traditional housing is built in a scheme, it’s built to fit along roads,” says MacPherson, “It’s not built to think about where the sun is and the practicalities of the landscape that you’re building in.”

Turning that kind of logic on its head, these young minds are learning to reprioritize energy efficiency and environmental impact, and to privilege health and comfort — that’s two thousand minds and counting.

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