Upcoming: Certified Passive House Designer Course

Jan 16

Interview with Mike Cairns from Innotech

An in depth discussion about the journey to Passive House Components Certification

Kelly Fisher
Andrew Peel

Kelly: All right. Joining us today are Andrew Peel, myself, Kelly Fisher, and our guest, Mike Cairns. Mike works with Innotech Windows and Doors which we have supported with Passive House component certification. Today we're gonna be learning more about who Innotech are and their journey towards Passive House components.

First, we'd like to start off with a bit of an introduction about Mike and his experience with Windows and Doors and generally his experience in the industry. So Mike brings nearly three decades of construction and fenestration experience to his role at Innotech. His combined technical experience, hands-on experience and passion for sustainable construction ensures the windows and doors in every project are engineered and installed to exceed each project's performance requirements.

Mike is a certified Passive House Tradesperson. He sits on the Passive House Canada Manufacturers and Suppliers Committee, is Vice Chair of the Home Builders Association of Vancouver Education Committee, Chair of the Home Builders Association of Vancouver Technical Committee and an instructor for window installation at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Welcome Mike, and thanks for joining us today. 

Mike: Thanks for having me. 

Kelly: We're gonna get started with a few kind of easy questions to get you a bit comfortable. So I guess the first question that we wanna ask, just as a bit of a warmup and an icebreaker and I often find that this is one that, that I struggle with just because of the industry that, that we work in here.

 How would your parents describe what you do? 

Mike: It would depend on if you ask my father or my mother. My dad knows quite a bit about what I do in detail. I'm a second-generation window guy. My mom would probably say he builds those Passive things and he does these really neat windows.

Kelly: That sounds about right. My mother still thinks I'm like two careers ago. She's always introducing me as a cabinet maker or a mill worker or furniture builder. But good that they understand the Passive House component, that's exciting at least.

 And I guess the next question I've got is what is the most important lesson you've learned over your career? 

Mike: I think it would be probably that things can go well, things can go badly. No matter what you do. There are so many different people involved.

There are so many different, potentials in interactions and consequences that can occur on a regular basis. Not everything is under your control, so if you just do the best that you can. That's really what you can do. You can go home happy at the end of the day, as long as you're proud of what you did and what you tried to accomplish.

Kelly: That's some great advice. I especially like the part about not everything is in your control. That is that's a hard one to come to terms with as you get older. Thanks for those little tidbits candid responses there. So I guess we'll just kinda move forward then with some of the meat of the interview and get into a little bit about what we're here to talk today about.

So firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself and where your passion for your work comes from? Why did you choose to get into this industry?

Mike: You could call me a classic nerd. Plenty of people certainly have over the years. The dating site thing, I prefer a hike in the woods than a walk on the beach and a nice whiskey to a glass of wine.

I live on a farm in a Passive House that my father and I built ourselves. As for my passion, I think I inherited it more than anything. Like my father was in the door and window business. He dealt with multiple levels from manufacturing to installation. And I've always enjoyed creating something whether that's art working with wood, metal, or whatever.

Even like landscaping and stuff like that, working with tools. Over time I learned a lot about buildings and the problems that can be caused when things aren't done right. And I really enjoy being part of the solution. 

Kelly: Yeah that's a great sentiment part of the solution. So you're the type then that has to have a project on the go or kind of something to keep you busy hands-on and something you can see the results from.

Mike: Yeah. For the most part. I went to school to do stuff that was more design and management-related. And, while I was doing that, I was paying for it and paying living expenses and things by working. And I like being able to point to that thing that was built.

Kelly: I can resonate with that 100%. Which is great. 

Okay, so moving on then, everybody has some sort of hero's journey to get to where they are. What were some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome to get to where you are today? 

Mike: One of the big challenges that I faced was my father and I worked together for a number of years we decided to open our own company.

Starting your own business is never easy. And when we finally reached that point where we had seen a reasonable level of success, but it was still not self-sufficient as a company. It was time for my father to retire. So I had to make a decision am I willing to take a risk on this or do I want to try and do something different that doesn't involve that risk? And so we had to shut down this thing that we've been working on for several years. And that was a very hard thing to do. It's like putting your pet to sleep, right? It's just that part of my life, all this effort, all this time it, in a way it felt like it was just thrown away. But I think in the long run, it was probably good, I had too many years of working seven days a week and now I do actually have the ability to have a weekend and things like that.

Which, when you've got small kids, you're like, oh yeah, actually being able to recognize them when I see them is maybe a good thing. 

Kelly: That is a very good thing. Having that downtime is really important. 

Andrew: I might step in with a question here. What did you take away from that experience of having to, shut down this company you put so much effort into with your father and how do I have to use that going forward?

Mike: I would say that in retrospect there are always things that you can learn and one of the things that I picked up over time was that the adaptability that we had, I think was very good.

We changed focus as we needed to, but every time you change focus, it's expensive. And that was one of the things that were problematic for the company. But at no point did I stop and analyze why we had to keep adapting. And so there were some of the fundamental concepts that were part of our original business plan, that when market conditions shift, we probably should have recognized that and said, you know what? Let's just stop and create a new plan based on the changing market conditions instead of just reacting to things on an ongoing basis. So that was a definite mistake I think that we made. Plan things ahead of time and don't just react.

Kelly: That's great advice. 

So for those listeners who don't know, Innotech Windows and Doors, maybe you can help us understand who you are and what gives Innotech a distinct character compared to your competitors. 

Mike: We're a high-performance window and door manufacturer specializing in dual action or tilt turn windows located in Langley since 2001.

What kind of makes us a little bit distinct compared to maybe some other window and door manufacturers is a combination of our deep experience and our passion for performance. And a view of the long term. Like we're a small company of hardworking, family-oriented people. And when we make decisions and try to do things it's it's not what's going to work for the next six months. It's what's going to work for the next 10, 20, 30 years. That resonates with me. I don't like the short-term stuff. 

Kelly: That's great. So this leads into our next question then, how did you come to cross paths with Passive House and how has it impacted you on a personal level? 

Mike: I did learn about it from Innotech. So it was something they had been coming across and thought it might be worth looking into. I started taking courses, delving into the world of Passive, and as I was learning about Passive construction, and the community around it, it hit home for me. It's another level of that solution, not just with building security but comfort and even at the existential level, right? Like it's a big piece of the puzzle trying to reduce pollution and working to fight climate change. I started building my own Passive House, and dug in even deeper. And now I'm that guy that, that can't help but talk about Passive to everybody and they probably hate it. Haha.

Kelly: You've got the bug.

So I guess this kind of helps us address maybe your CPHC. So your Certified Passive House Trades designation. We had noticed that…we did a bit sleuthing on your LinkedIn profile just to understand your work experience and how you've come to work working at Innotech and saw that you were a window and door guy from the onset of your career. And we're curious about the influence that made you pursue that designation. But from the answer to your previous question, it seems as though Innotech really opened your eyes to all things Passive House, and you haven't turned away since.

Mike: Yeah. Like early in my career I was dealing with leaky condo restoration. And there was a lot of. , very unfortunate learning there when it comes to building science and all of the things that can go wrong. And a lot of that really boils down to the fenestration and the level of knowledge of the people involved.

 That definitely instilled in me a need to keep learning about things and I certainly thought that anyone involved in the construction of Passive homes even including the supply and maybe, particularly for people that are suppliers and manufacturers should have a deep knowledge of how to build them. So that was like my first step into really trying to understand what makes Passive different than just a house? 

Kelly: I guess fundamentally than the experience you've learned from your exposure to Passive House, do you only work on Passive House projects or do you deal with other kinds of high-performance builds that may not achieve Passive House?

Mike: It runs the gamut for sure. 

Kelly: Would you try to apply these best practices and this experience that you've learned over the years especially when you're going back to those days of condo renovations or fixing leaky buildings? I suppose if you had it your way, all builds would be Passive House?

Mike: That would be an easy thing if you could wave the wand. At the very least even when I see details from projects that are maybe in the Midwest and they're like we're not really concerned about water.

It's like water exists everywhere on earth. Maybe if you were in the Gobi Desert or something, then you could say that. But everywhere in North America, you need to be concerned about water at some level. And when I see details, okay we got hit real hard in Vancouver with this, 25, 30 years ago.

So please make use of some of the knowledge that we've gained. Check out guys like Joe Lstiburek or the Building Science Corp. Or any of these companies that have real building science knowledge and can provide some details for you that will mean that you can walk away from that job and know that 40 years later you're not going to have a leaky building. 

Kelly: Yeah. That's very important. The longevity, especially with water ingress is something that I find people often overlook and are not overly concerned about. Which is really terrifying actually, cause water is such a horrible thing to have in your structure. 

Mike: And the same thing with moisture. That's one of the things that I think is really beautiful with Passive is a lot of the concepts that make Passive work very well also apply to things like your moisture and like stuff that applies to your comfort also affects the security of the wall assembly.

And so if you're gonna start putting on exterior insulation to try to reduce the potential for moisture in your wall assembly, why not just put enough on the outside and go Passive? 

Kelly: Sometimes it's a hard one to chew on though I find. Some people would rather put the money in fancy kitchens or appliances or something and they don't really consider the impact that has on you as an occupant.

Can be an uphill battle sometimes. 

So I guess the next question I have here for you is, could you share the reasoning on why Innotech chose to integrate Passive House into your product offerings? 

Mike: Yeah that one's a great question. To be honest, it was really like the next logical step for Innotech. We've been manufacturing windows that are near Passive performance right from the start. And had been used in multiple certified projects. So it's actually funny, like after spending years and years working to sell a window that, that almost everybody turns down because it's way too good for what they need.

All of a sudden you get people saying yeah, that's really good, but do you have something better? 

Kelly: That's exciting. Was moving towards Passive House part of an overarching mission for the company as a whole to get more into high-performance buildings and all of the whole gambit that comes along with it?

Mike: I don't actually know off the top of my head the mission statement for the company, but I know that one of the main focuses of the company has always been about the performance of the products that they build. The founder got into window manufacturing because of the poor quality of the windows that were available on the market at the time when he was building his own home. And so it's always been this drive to produce something that's actually going to make homes more comfortable, more livable, more secure make fenestration better. The point that we were manufacturing at was the top tier in North America for so long.

Once Passive House started making its way into the North American market then that provided a new top tier to work towards that just didn't exist before. So then, eventually it made sense that we have to be in that new top tier.

Kelly: So how was the approval obtained to proceed with Passive House certification? Maybe you can walk us through a bit of that process. If you've got much that can shut on. 

Mike: The internal decision to build a Passive House window wasn't that hard. This is the next evolution.

This is your next-generation product. But the certification was obtained with a bunch of assistance. So we purchase profiles from a manufacturer in Germany. That profile manufacturer went ahead and built a window and profile system that was certified. So we used that system to certify our own window, which saved us a lot in terms of time and cost. I think it did anyway. 

Kelly: So a bit of backstory then. Do you still use that, that profile than for the windows that you fabricate now then? Correct. 

Mike: No. We have moved beyond that profile system.

Kelly: So you've taken all of that development under your own umbrella now than at Innotech, the profile and all of the whole kind of configuration and manufacturing process?

Mike: The manufacturing process always was what we do. They just build the profile. So they did build a window but they don't build windows.

Kelly: So I guess when you originally went for Passive House certification on your components and it was something that you wanted to proceed with to be relevant in that top-tier market in North America did you have any projects lined up or was this just something that you were like, build the product and then the people will come?

Mike: Yeah, "In the field of dreams" right? Yeah. Pretty much, we actually had no projects lined up at all. We had a couple of people ask about it and we did, of course, see that that was on the horizon. That was part of my game really was to take that ball and, find the market for it.

Kelly: So I guess then if you were tasked with taking this product to the market and saying look, we've got a Passive House product. Give me some projects. Would that then make you the internal Passive House champion? Or was there somebody else behind the scenes that collaborated with or assisted with the process?

Mike: I am the internal champion, but it started out with our brilliant marketing lead, Jessica, who recognized the potential for Passive House in the market. And so she pushed really hard to get the ball rolling initially. And so I was the guy that got the handoff.

And so it's like for me to push on the technical side of things and then of course try to open up that market, we didn't yet have. 

Kelly: So I guess after certifying your first product products, so I guess possibly right around the time you joined Innotech or slightly before there were already Passive Housey certified components and the route that Innotech had taken previously was to go with the Passive House Institute for Certification. The more recent products you've had certified, you've decided to work with Peel Passive House to certify these products. Maybe can you speak a little bit to why you chose this path to go with us as part of that effort. 

Mike: Yeah I would say that, let's call it the abridged certification process that we originally went through it, it left us with some knowledge gaps.

So our concentration was on the manufacturing side. Finding the best possible combination of hardware components, determining our constraints, testing and improving the structure, air, water, durability, and all of that stuff. Any questions that we had about the thermal values of the product were all covered by people other than us.

So we understood the basics but had a hard time providing deeper answers like thermal performance and lack the requisite knowledge to make the continuing improvements that are a big deal for us. I really like to push the envelope, there's always room to improve.

You can have something that's great, but it's never perfect. It's also important to provide a complete package if at all possible. To know what all of the needs are and how you can meet them and windows and doors aren't just individual products. They're a system, they have to be designed and engineered. And the system has to have a bunch of different components that meet a bunch of different needs. So I needed an expert to tell me what those needs are. So it was great. Peel was able to teach us a lot, improve our product, and meet the certifications. To me, it was a hundred percent the right way to go. 

Kelly: What impact has having the Passive certified products had on the company? 

Mike: It's been huge. It's great. It's always a process. Everybody learns at a different pace. And everybody has a different focus in the company.

People that are in different departments will have a different ideas of what will make the product better, will make the company better, that sort of thing. But I think on the whole, over time they're seeing the benefits of the Passive House system. They're seeing how much better the Passive House window is especially once they're starting to see some Passive House projects and seeing, feeling and experiencing that difference.

It's neat to see that evolving mindset that the product we made was good, but it wasn't the best that it could possibly be. And now we're pushing towards that. 

Kelly: So have you been able has having your product certified made you able to bid on more projects as a window supplier?

And are you winning more Passive House projects with your improved line of products? 

Mike: Yeah it definitely has opened up a significant number of opportunities. Locally here, BC Housing is doing a fantastic job of working to a higher standard. The city of Vancouver is doing an amazing job of providing benefits.

They've got huge FSR bonuses for building to Passive House. So there are a lot of developers that are going that route to get the extra square footage. A lot of the social housing projects are going in that direction and without a certified product, we really would have no ability to work on any of those projects. In terms of winning projects, certainly yes, we are doing a lot more projects. So we are winning more. I don't really look at ratios, like win percentages and that sort of thing. I just focus on projects and providing the solution and, hopefully, people agree with what I propose to them.

And I think when it comes to commercial stuff, win ratios tend to be fairly low. And I get too competitive. It would just feel like somebody's giving me a negative response like, oh, you only won 30%. Or, whatever the number is. *laughs* I don't look at that. 

Kelly: So maybe the next question then probably might be off your radar. The ratio between Passive House products and other Innotech products. Is there a wide disparity there now between what people are asking for from your product line? 

Mike: The Passives product is still the smaller component of volume. But it is increasing rapidly. And I can see it becoming, I'd say, 50-50 between our legacy line and the Passive House line within the next year or two.

I can definitely see that happening and, overall unit volume is up considerably. Sales volume, whatever you want to call it. It's like we are building more windows than we ever have before. We're building more of the legacy windows, and then we're also building a whole pile of Passive House-certified windows on top.

Kelly: That's exciting. Could you attribute any of the uptick in sales in relation to the brand awareness that you've received from your Passive House certification? Or is it just maybe other marketing streams that would be allocated to that?

Mike: There's definitely been an impact. It's not the kind of thing I would be able to quantify. I'm not the marketing person. But there's definitely a sense. There's an awful lot of people, particularly for me, I'll get architects or more Passive House designers calling me to talk about the products because they either saw it through Passive House projects that they're familiar with or they saw it on the components database and whether the project they do is Passive or near Passive or, a high step code level something like that. They said because they know we have a certified product, then they are aware that we have this obviously high level of thermal performance. If we have something that's, call it a step-down, it's still going to be significantly above the base code level. So there is definitely awareness attributed to or associated with the Passive House certification.

Kelly: That's awesome to hear. 

Now maybe you might be able to speak to this question. Would you be able to speak to any other benefits that you've realized from certification that were unforeseen?

Mike: I would say the learning that we had through the process. Learning about all of the little details and just how critical different things are and how unimportant certain things were that we had sort of estimated. "oh, this is probably the weak point." No, that part's fine.

This other thing, that's what you need to focus on. "Oh, interesting." And some of that was a surprise to us because it's a little bit different than all of the, call it traditional window, weak points. Thermal and structure, you could almost say that they exist on opposite ends of the pendulum.

Something that has the highest structure, has the worst thermal and vice versa. So things that we were always focused on improving to make a window better in the past, usually had a very heavy bent towards structural. And then all of a sudden when we're identifying weak points it's very different areas as a result.

Kelly: Yeah, that's an interesting loop back to when you're comparing how different your product would improve. Coming from a builder or fabricator, you're always looking to be like, how can this window structurally stay together? But from the Passive House stream, it is most certainly what is the thermal performance. That's generally one of the main things we care about. So that alone must have been a bit of an eye-opener for your design and your fabrication process.

Mike: That's the part that gets really tricky and that was our first major delve into the development of the product when we first released it.

We did not have a good way to reinforce it. So we could determine a fantastic structure for the white product. Every material has its pros and cons, and one of the limitations of PVC is the rate of linear expansion that you'll get. Once you start building very large products.

You can get some linear expansion that'll cause problems. The white product is very reflective to heat, but if you throw colours on it, then you start to get additional heat buildup that you're gonna to have issues with hardware, with being able to operate it cleanly with your seals staying intact for air and water.

That was something we would not compromise on. So we only had a white product, but the vast majority of projects we work on require an exterior colour. We had to come up with a way to reinforce it. That, we can add in that structure without the huge thermal problems caused by a big steel reinforcement like we ordinarily use.

And so we did manage to come up with something. Our profile manufacturer managed to come up with something. But there was a lot of, kind of, poking from us to make that happen. And we're really happy with the way everything worked out in the end. But it was a lot of work to try to get towards that.

It's trying to find that balance. Where can we add structure where it's not going to compromise the thermal? What can we use for structure that's not going to be a compromise to structure? 

Kelly: It's a delicate process, I'm sure. 

Mike: Exactly. Lots of back and forth. 

Kelly: So what advice would you give to other manufacturers who might be thinking about getting their components certified to Passive House standards?

Mike: Get help from an expert? I can't stress enough the value that it's provided. To be honest, there is a requisite level of knowledge just to understand the questions that you have to ask to be able to work through the process effectively. Like it's one thing to be able to certify a product but to make the product the best that you can make it. I would say those are two radically different concepts. Certification makes it very good, but just good enough to pass certification may not be the best that you could possibly do if you put your mind to it.

Kelly: That's great advice. What would be something surprising that you learned about the Passive House industry? Anything related to your journey with component certification that you could share with those who listen to this? 

Mike: The first thing that was surprising was that Passive House doesn't actually mean house, it means building.

Kelly: That always catches everybody. 

Mike: The real learning, the fact that we learned from doing the certification. That was the big surprise. That was the big takeaway. That was a great thing. After working through the certification process with the folks at Peel we now have an internal technical department that does thermal modelling and stuff. So we can continuously improve the product wherever possible and develop new products and new systems ourselves. And I can confidently say that would've probably taken at least five years to try to develop that knowledge. Just like, "Okay, let's just buy the software and see what we can figure out."

Kelly: Yeah, that's always an uphill battle, but definitely having those subject matter experts on hand is really beneficial to the learning process cause oftentimes when you're starting out, you don't know what you don't know. And having somebody to help and guide you through that process is really integral to, as you say, building the best product that you can.

Mike: And I think it's also, it's a really important thing getting that knowledge upfront because I've definitely heard some horror stories from designers and architects that we're working with about things where it's time to certify and, oh, where's the paperwork on this?

Where's the value on that? Where's the number on this? And it's, oh, we didn't know any of that is needed. Oh, no. Yes, we need it. Then you're trying to work through a bunch of stuff that we were able to get ahead of the game on a lot of it. 

Kelly: I often hear those horror stories of projects not being able to certify after they're built.

And I'm just thinking to myself, what went wrong? There's gotta be a way to fix that and to remedy and so that we don't have these problems existing on other projects because Passive House needs to work in order for a lot of things to make sense in the future with climate change.

So it is gonna be a bit of an uphill battle in some regards. We'll get there eventually. It's my dream. For all buildings to be Passive House, which would be exciting. 

Maybe you can speak a little bit about, any projects you're working on right now.

Have you got any Passive House projects that you're excited about or upcoming that maybe you want to speak to and share with us? 

Mike: Sure. There are lots actually. We've got about a dozen projects in progress at the moment, or they're either in progress or on the way.

And there are some really great social housing projects. Some of them are taller buildings. Some of them are these very expansive projects. We just finished a student housing. It might be student of staff. I'm not sure. But anyway, the housing project at UBC. There's this interesting rental building called The Peak, that's finishing up soon. We've done some tours and things like that. That one, to be honest, it was really exciting to me because it was the introduction for our improved system, the one we worked on with the folks at Peel.

So it's got, the exterior colour, it's got the new reinforcement system, it's got a lot of different products. So it has our certified windows. The newly certified Passive House terrace door. And it's also got a new storefront system that we came up with. So it's got aluminum-clad exterior, and then all of those storefront door options that are typically near impossible to put onto the European-style doors.

So we actually have this barrier-free solution with electronic openers and closers and panic bars and stuff like that. 

Kelly: Yeah, the hardware is often the hardest thing we hear. When you're importing doors from Europe, it's like the North American hardware just doesn't fit and door hardware consultants just lose their mind when we tell them it's gonna be a Passive House house and the doors are a lot thicker. 

Mike: I get the sense that oftentimes Europeans take a pragmatic approach to things in a lot of cases. The German people tend to be very pragmatic in that way, at least my family members that are German are. If you were to say I'd like to have this type of hardware, that doesn't work with this system. So you either have this system or you have that hardware. That's just the way it goes. 

In North America, we'll say I want it to be fire rated. I want it to be barrier-free. I want it to have a panic bar. I want it to have automatic opening and closing. I want it to be Passive House rated. I want it to have all. But you're supposed to have glass and, but you can't do glass if it's fire rated.

And we can't have the air tightness if it's a zero barrier threshold. And, so there are all these different things that fight with each other and it's better just figure it out. And it's not that easy to figure out. 

Kelly: No, it's not. It's always a challenge. Every project it's the same deal. What are we using for manufacturer and what does the door need? Because we have to start thinking about that now. It's always a challenge. 

Mike: We got one, the door itself is not Passive House certified, but it's in the ballpark. It's worked for several projects.

And the storefront windows are Passive House certified. On the whole, I think you're, you end up being way ahead. Compared to if you had to bite the bullet and say, okay, let's just make the traditional aluminium storefront. 

Kelly: Yeah. Conventional is not ideal. It's great that you've got a better product than what would otherwise be used. So that's exciting to hear. 

So what's coming next for Innotech? Is there anything new and exciting and improved or anything that you wanted to share? 

Yeah. The most exciting thing for us, I'm gonna be a hundred percent honest.

Mike: Nobody's given me the thumbs up on, on saying it, but whatever. I know that it's coming. The cold climate certification on our operable window is on the way. So we will have the first Passive House Certified cold-climate operable window manufactured in North America, and the first cold-climate-certified operable PVC window manufactured in the world.

Kelly: That's exciting. 

Mike: Yeah. I thought that was super exciting. Big thumbs up from the guys at Passive House International. They were actually shocked that we were able to pull that performance out of a PVC frame. 

Yeah. It can be tricky. 

Andrew: Yeah. I think our climate really drives this kind of innovation. So there is actually an opportunity in the market because the Europeans, I guess just haven't focused on that. I guess you can go to Sweden or whatnot and get colder climate. But yeah the climatic challenges we face. Require something different from us. So, it presents an opportunity. 

Mike: It does. We're going to keep working on bringing out new products, and figuring out ways to add structure so that we can do larger products, larger spans, higher wind load potential without having big thermal impacts, and things like that.

I think that's maybe not like the big news. Like it might not be this huge splash, but I think that's probably the part that's going to have the biggest effect for people. When you're trying to make your building model work. All the little tiny bits and pieces. You're not getting hit with these, last-minute changes.

We had to add steel here, there, wherever you say. You figure out where you would normally be accounted for a bunch of steel. This is actually still going to be a certification level. Thermal value.

Kelly: That's awesome. 

So I've got a couple more questions for you to round out our list of questions for the day.

As a components manufacturer and before getting into Passive House, what did you see that wasn't working and that needed to be changed? I know you've spoken a fair bit about building the best product you can to ensure that you get the performance and the thermal properties. But was there anything else that maybe you hadn't touched on that you did see that need, the gap that needed to be fixed?

Mike: We actually we're still fully behind our existing legacy line. It's a great product. It still does work in cool temperate Passive House projects depending on the model, obviously. We certainly did see that, that has a limited lifespan and trying to make a building work to a net zero level is definitely more difficult.

So being able to more easily achieve your thermal targets. And then this frame is also more universal to it. So the base, the actual frame of the window, it's the same frame for the window, for the door. There will be a whole bunch of different products where it's the same base frame system and no shifting between different product lines.

It's a more universal setup for the future. 

Kelly: That's great. I'm sure it makes fabricating and manufacturing a lot easier. If you're not constantly swapping things out to get different profiles. 

And I guess to round out our questions for the day what's one question you'd wish we asked you and how would you have answered it?

Mike: A good question you could have asked me is oh, here's a thing that I think gets overlooked a whole bunch when it comes to the windows and doors. And I think you'll probably agree is when it comes to the installations. The frame that we have is a fairly sizable frame and actually, it's that way for a couple of different reasons.

One of them is, it obviously easier to get more structure when you have more material, so that allows us to eliminate some of the steel or whatever reinforcement. But it also allows for a heavier over-insulated detail to better isolate that installation cavity.

On a multi-family project, since that typically will be the largest thermal bridge in the entire building either being able to drastically reduce it or eliminate it in terms of thermal bridging could have a very significant impact on your building model. So I think that's a really strong benefit to our frame.

If it's properly accounted for by the designer. 

Kelly: That's a great question that you've asked and answered. Thank you for that. 

Mike: Took me a minute.

Kelly: That's all good. It took us more than a minute to generate this list of questions. You're well within your rights there for taking some time to process that one.

Okay. So earlier on in our questions, Mike you indicated that you built a Passive House with your father. And both of you first and second generation, window and door kind of gurus and guys. What was that process like? And did you have anything that you learned from your father in that process?

Or did he have anything that he learned from you in that process? And what was it like?

Mike: Ooh, that there's a lot there. It was a really interesting process. And it was a little bit last minute. We had actually not only completed the design of the home, but we actually had the permit issued before I had learned enough about Passive that I decided, okay, there's no other way to go. I have to build Passive. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't. We were all ready, forming up the footings and it's " okay, we have to start making some changes."

Like we have to, "Okay, let's get some insulation." And it was a completely new thing for both of us but newer for my dad than I, because I'd at least taken a bunch of the education and one of my dad's great strengths is he's pretty good at letting other people take the lead and saying, okay, "you know what, you know more about this than I, so you know you show me the way on this and, tell me what to do."

That's probably the only reason we were able to work together for so long is he, he has that patience. To put up with me. 

Kelly: Patience is very important. 

Mike: It is. But building the house, to be honest, it wasn't that different from building a regular house. If you've worked in construction and if you've built particularly something a little bit better performance level. Working in Vancouver, they had their enhanced energy code. Building R 22 walls at net R 22 Walls. You're familiar with exterior installation, you're familiar with HRV installations, like all this stuff. It's not really anything new.

You're just doing a little bit more and then paying way more attention to your airtight details. And the wall assembly, the science of your assemblies. Most of it went pretty well. My dad obviously being retired, was able to put a lot more time into it. So a lot of the actual, swinging the hammer work was I'd say probably two-thirds.

My, my father rather than me. I concentrated more on some of the grunt work and the finishing, the millwork and all that kind of stuff. And then working my butt off to try and find that expertise. And it was an ongoing learning process and even with things that we thought we had figured out, sometimes we had to pull things apart and redo it. When I learned something that made more sense or, I got the right advice, that corrected something I maybe was taking the wrong approach or I would just get stumped. And I think that's probably true of almost anybody. The first Passive House house that they build there. You might find yourself at a little dead end in the maze and you need to pull back and try a different route.

But, eventually, you'll work yourself into the centre as long as you just pay attention to the details. 

Kelly: That's great. It sounds like it was a very fun adventure to undertake. Especially being from somebody that likes to have their hands-on activities and to have that kind of like project stream. To focus on it, it seems like a really great learning kind of curve or experience.

Mike: It was an awesome learning experience and also super rewarding. Like every time you do something, it's " oh, okay, we're gonna do our mid-construction blower door test. And then, it blew a 0.25. And you're like, yes! This is the first time I've ever built a house and I killed it. 

Andrew: So there's no excuse for other builders then who's been building for 30 years, right? 

Kelly: Yeah. That's all I'm hearing too. 

Mike: Yeah. It's definitely a help. Basically, my dad, you could say he was an air boss. Nobody officially marked him as the air boss, but he was the guy that was on site and he was, " I know that we need this uninterrupted air barrier." And so he'd be crawling around up there in the attic, check-in and it's " oh, I think I can see there might have been a little bit of a nick in here from something I'll just tape it." And I think rather than just belt and suspenders we've got three layers of air seal on all the light around the light boxes and stuff like that. He paid probably more attention than he had to. But at no point did he feel that was wasted energy. He knew that was going to be money in his pocket at the end of the day um, over the long term.

Kelly: So thank you for sharing that journey and that experience with us. I always find it interesting to see and to listen to people's first experience building Passive Houses because it's such a varying kind of experience for people. Some people really love it and they learn, they take away a lot from the process.

And some people just never want to do it again. . So it can be hit or miss, I find, depending on the experience for the project. So it was really great that you were able to spend that time with your father and build a project. So it was really exciting to hear that.

Mike: Yeah, I would totally do it again, and I would do it differently if we did it again, there'd be a bunch of things we'd change. The mechanical room would be bigger. We'd design into it. We'd have a Chase for the HRV system. We'd probably put a lot of things more in the actual center of the home rather than in a convenient spot for the design.

Kelly: Yep. Corner in the basement somewhere, right?

Mike: Yeah, pretty much. Traditionally it's like you wanna line things up. Where can we put the stuff so that your water pipes line up the best and you can have the shortest number of runs from your hot water tank and is also convenient in terms of design to tuck it away?

I'd rather have a closet in the middle of my living room so that I don't have to run those tubes as far for the HRV system if I'd figure out some way to get in the dead centre of the house. , 

Kelly: Yeah, there are always lessons learned or things that you would do differently the second time.

 Not necessarily builders remorse or something, but it's just to have that improved efficiency and to take what you've done and the experience you've gained and to use it in a more kind of productive and efficient manner is always great. 

Mike: Exactly, efficiency, effectiveness ease of construction, and it would probably be significantly less expensive too.

We did a great job keeping the budget down but we could have kept it down even further. 

Kelly: Awesome. So I think that rounds out the bulk of our questions that we've got. Mike, how can people reach you if they have any questions? 

Mike: Yeah. The best place to go is our website.

We've got tons of materials on there, projects and technical materials. That's www.innotech-windows.com 

Kelly: Awesome. So thank you Mike for taking the time to sit with us today and for sharing your experience with Passive House for our listeners.

For those of you who are listening to us, you can reach us online at peelpassivehouse.ca for more information on the services that we provide. This podcast was produced by Andy Ly, Andrew Peel, and Kelly Fisher. And a special thank you to our guest, Mike Cairns, for his time to sit down with us. So thank you, Mike.

We appreciate your time and your candid answers. It's been really great.

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