The feasibility of net-zero building design has been a topic of controversy in Canada’s North. RDH conducted a comprehensive study to assess the feasibility of achieving Passive House and near-net zero energy performance levels, specifically conforming to Step 4 and 5 of the BC Energy Step Code. The focus was on residential buildings in Canada’s challenging northern climate, encompassing the Far North (climate zones 7a to 8).

The study’s implications go beyond individual projects, aiming to influence the formulation of new near-net zero energy policies, and contributing to targets in the National Building Code energy performance tiers.  The research outcomes are particularly relevant, providing valuable insights into achieving high-performance targets in the unique climatic conditions of northern regions.

Additionally, the study identified barriers specific to northern locales, revealing challenges related to building science considerations, material and labor availability, and the suitability of cold-climate HVAC equipment. These findings are crucial for advancing NRCan and NRC code development objectives and aligning with goals outlined in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

A follow-up technical bulletin highlighted a case study building, the northernmost Step 5 building in BC, as a practical example of advanced energy performance standards.  The takeaway from the case study building and feasibility study is that net-zero design is an achievable reality in all Northern climate zones.

By exploring the complexities of achieving superior energy performance in the northern context, this study substantially contributes to the ongoing discourse on sustainable building practices. The insights from the case study building, along with the broader analysis, position this research as a valuable technical resource for architects, builders, and policymakers dealing with the challenges of energy-efficient construction in northern climates.


December 6, 2023


Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Year Published:


Download The Pdf Download The Pdf

Key Services

Concept Review
Code Compliance

Research at RDH Building Science Laboratories (RDH-BSL) is wide-ranging—from R&D projects that help manufacturers with product development to major research programs that help government and industry partners answer fundamental questions or address large-scale issues. Each project is approached as a unique challenge, requiring a tailored solution.

We undertake these projects in our two laboratory facilities and at field research sites in multiple climate zones across North America. Our staff includes highly trained and experienced researchers and technicians who understand the behaviour of assemblies, components, and materials, as well as the construction and design-related issues that impact performance.

In addition to laboratory and field research, computer-based modeling is an indispensable tool. We analyze and extend measured results using various modeling programs, including two- and three-dimensional heat flow programs (THERM, HEAT 3D), hygrothermal modeling software (WUFI Pro and WUFI Plus), and other in-house proprietary software. Many projects include several phases to allow validation of modeled results with measured data.

Brittany Coughlin | MASc., P.Eng., BEMP, CPHC

Regional Director – Canada East, Energy & Climate Specialist
View Bio

Robin Urquhart | MBSc., CEA

Senior Project Consultant
View Bio

Graham Finch | Dipl.T., M.A.Sc., P.Eng.

Principal, Senior Building Science Specialist
View Bio

Yukon Cold Climate Heat Pump Field Study

RDH has a long history of monitoring buildings to better understand their performance. From building enclosures to energy performance to indoor environmental quality, long-term monitoring provides invaluable insight into the way things actually behave out in the real world.

Read More
RDH Building Science