On February 15th, I interviewed a passive house designer from RDH Building Science, the industry leader in integrating green building concepts in new construction projects and existing buildings to achieve ultra-high energy efficiency.

This video explains the basics of passive houses in 90 seconds.

The Interviewee

Name of interviewee: Sherman Wai
Organization: RDH Building Science
Title: Passive House Consultant
Email: swai@rdh.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sherman-wai-72000b44

Roles and Responsibilities: As a certified Mechanical Engineer and a Passive House Consultant, Mr. Sherman Wai is responsible for designing structural as well as energy models for Passive Houses. He collaborates with developers, building owners, architects, and contractors to meet the rigorous standards of certifying durable, watertight, and energy-efficient buildings.

Reason for interviewee: Ever since Greta Thunberg’s global #FridaysForFuture movement, I have begun to think about what I can do as an individual to reduce my personal carbon footprint. One day, I came across a YouTube video about the first Passive House in Vancouver. Although I did not fully understand the technical aspects of the design, my mind was blown that no furnace was needed for the chilly Vancouver winters! Also, I have always had an interest in civil engineering, therefore I wanted to learn more about the industry from a local passive house designer.

The Interview

  1. Why are you passionate about your work?
    I am passionate about my job because I believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to future proof our planet and fight climate change. While the media has made us more aware of the small changes we can make in our daily lives, such as switching to LED light bulbs, unpluging unused electronics, or buying Energy-Star applicances, many people don’t realize that they can cut down energy use by a jaw-dropping 90% in an eco-friendly home that follows the Passive House standards. I take pride in not only being a drop in the bucket in this movement but also offering my expertise in helping our community make a difference.

  2. What qualifications are required to become a Passive House designer or consultant?
    You can achieve the internationally recognized certification by either passing the 3-hour exam offered by Passive House Canada, or participating as a Passive House designer in a project that is approved as a Certified Passive House.

  3. What obstacles have you faced to get you where you are today?
    The biggest obstacle I faced is in realizing that the field I had selected after I graduated wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. So I had to take it on the chin, start from scratch, and take my chances in another field. That’s how I embarked my journey in clean energy engineering.

  4. What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
    I’m most proud of being able to find my passion for clean energy engineering. Identifying and pursuing my passion put me on a career trajectory that I would never have imagined. I assert we would be living in a very different world if everyone had the luxury of finding and pursuing their passion.

  5. Was there a time you felt like throwing in the towel? How did you bounce back?
    Not getting into my first choice of post-secondary school was a challenging time. It made me question my abilities and direction. After some introspection, I decided that I loved science and still wanted to become an engineer. Later, I was accepted into Mechanical Engineering by another school, and I love what I studied. It was a lesson for me in that grit is the key to success. Most of us tend to give up when success is just around the corner.

  6. How do you cultivate innovation?
    Remain curious and be bold. Innovation comes out of the creative juices of people with a wild imagination. But having inspirational visions is not enough. I always remind myself not to let the fear of uncertainty hold me back. To be innovative, one must step out of his or her comfort zone, take action, and expect failures. One must have the courage to stride into the epic adventures of innovation. You will find that doing things that you have never done before is intellectually seductive.

  7. How common are Passive Houses in Canada?
    Passive Houses are not very common in Canada yet, but tremendous growth has been observed in Toronto and Vancouver. Given that the City of Vancouver has declared a climate emergency, it is expected that the number will continue to grow, as a commitment to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

  8. This is a Passive House Certified building Mr. Wai worked on, located in the Grandview-Woodland area of Vancouver.

    Another Passive House Certified building in Whistler.

  9. What is the biggest pitfall you see in the industry?
    The biggest pitfall in the industry is that it is primarily reactive to building code and government regulations. As of today, we still face many barriers within the municipal regulatory framework for Passive House designs. We can be much more proactive in determining where the industry should go and establish leadership as a province and nation.

  10. What advice would you pass on to someone interested in following your footsteps?
    Do hard things – There are very few worth-achieving ambitions in life that are not hard. They are intimidating because most people haven’t achieved it. However, if you passionately challenge yourself throughout your life, you will distinguish yourself from others around you. Those who rise the highest are those who keep doing hard things. You’d be surprised at how intellectually lazy we can become. For example, we may choose to take an “easy” course so that we can get an A. We think that getting an A is supposed to be a proxy for how brilliant we are, but our brilliance is not measured by what grade we got. That is why when you talk to the most successful people out there, you never ask them what grades they got in school. Rather, you want to know what they have accomplished in life and how they attain them. Their grades are irrelevant.

  11. Would you be open to further contact from Riverside students, and if so, how can someone contact you?
    Most definitely. I can be reached by email at swai@rdh.com.

The Afterthought

This interview fueled my passionate commitment to join hands with others to avert climate change. In my opinion, if humans have the intellectual prowess to colonize or even terraform another planet like Mars, why wouldn’t we focus on solving the problems on Earth? I hope that there soon are regulations to require all new construction projects to reach zero-emissions. Passive Houses alone, of course, cannot eliminate global warming, but it’s an important step. After all, buildings contribute up to 30 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to Passive House Canada.

Passive House Principles.

This interview also made me realize that perseverance towards our goals, rather than innate talent, is the deciding factor for attaining monumental success. I must build my resilience and not to give up easily.

Image and Video Credits

  • https://www.youtube.com/embed/CasrjYhZB1M
  • https://twitter.com/RDHBuildings/status/1092907721383469056/photo/1 with Interviewee’s permission
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28z38pSRky8
  • https://www.clipart.email/download/435435.html
  • https://www.imghumour.com/categories/comic-strips/view/never-give-up
  • https://myriverside.sd43.bc.ca/calebc2019/files/2020/02/Lakeview-Church-Vancouver.png provided by interviewee
  • https://myriverside.sd43.bc.ca/calebc2019/files/2020/02/WHA-Passive-House-Whistler.jpg provided by interviewee
  • https://www.habitechsystems.com.au/passive-house
Community Connection
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2 thoughts on “Community Connection

  • Thank you for interviewing me, and I’m glad that more students are interested in how they can reduce their carbon footprint.

  • Thank you for submitting your Community Connection assignment for COL. We have reviewed your Edublog post, and have the following observations regarding your work:

    – Great job interviewing someone and seeking out information regarding their expertise
    – Way to incorporate your answers on your edublog
    – Thanks for going the extra mile on this assignment. This is a great example of a connection!

    Thank you,

    Mr. Barazzuol and Mr. Robinson
    COL Teachers

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