Study: Passive House/Net Zero and Concrete Block

Grantee: Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association
Principle Investigators: Andrea McChesney
Year: 2021
Project Number: 2021.017

Sustainable design frameworks are being used more and more. This project is investigating how concrete masonry can play a role in these types of projects.


It is a well-known fact that the concrete masonry industry, in particular concrete block, has challenges relative to inclusion with the architectural and design communities, particularly in discussions on sustainable design. This challenge is not specific to Canada or the US, but is a united struggle against building materials that seem to be PR powerhouses (namely mass timber) which are marketed much more strongly around product sustainability and the carbon conversation. As timber prices continue to soar and supply remains challenging, it could provide the ideal opportunity opening for CMU and for this research. Developing and completing a study which clearly demonstrates how concrete masonry / block can not only support but drive sustainable building design, would be an essential lever. Particularly a project that while having definitive technical elements, is presented in a much more conceptual context in order to be marketed beyond the engineering community.

Work Plan:

This project will investigate the concepts of Passive House and Net Zero design in residential, commercial and mixed-use buildings. The goal is to understand and articulate the physical properties in concrete masonry / block which support these design strategies. Each element of the designs should be investigated to best understand where concrete block excels and where an alternate building material may be a better option. (Ie: Acoustics supported better by CMU then mass timber, etc.)

What makes this project unique is the that it is being undertaken by a post-graduate M of Architecture candidate and not a typical structural engineer. Theoretically, the knowledge and communication gap between the architectural community and concrete masonry will be easier to bridge with a resource that is positioned to that exact target audience. While this project is undeniably technical in nature, there will also be a strong presence of leading design concepts and adherence to forward thinking standards (Net Zero and Passive House). This unique combination of the technical merits of concrete masonry and demonstration of inherent resilience and sustainability as a building material blended with an aesthetic approach, will hopefully act as a lever for CMU inclusion in the conversation about sustainable materials in building design.

The Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association and Masonry Works are collaborating on overseeing this project.