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How ‘passive homes’ are setting new green building standards, $2,000 cat door included

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Sometimes being energy conscious can mean geeking out on gigawatts, or studying the latest heat exchanger technology. But in this case, it involved splurging on a $2,000 cat door.

The super-insulated, radio-frequency-controlled designer cat passageway is one of many energy saving features in a super energy efficient house being built in West Vancouver.

« I was in Austria at a passive house conference, and it was amazing seeing all these building products being built, » said home owner James Dean. « One was a cat door where you needed a certain insulation level, [it] needs to be airtight, and they have an actuator that opens the door for your cat. »

Dean and his wife Janet Allan shared a laugh over the pricey pet portal on a recent tour of the house.

Their nearly completed structure is what’s known as a « passive house, » a category designed to far exceed building codes when it comes to energy efficiency.

The pet door is just one sign of how far they were willing to go to achieve their goal.

Solar panels cover the roof of the West Vancouver home. (Submitted)

They are hoping their family of four can have basically a zero emission lifestyle when it comes to their home and local transportation.

Solar panels, batteries, a fleet of bicycles and an electric car in the garage complete the picture. 

Costing about $3 million to build, it’s not far out of line in pricey West Vancouver. James said he kept close watch on the extras and said it only cost about 4 per cent more than it would have to build a similar home that meets existing building codes.

« We’re going to be what’s called net zero energy, so we’ll generate more electricity over the year and sell it back to BC Hydro than we use, » said Dean.

Passive house construction challenges

The almost finished home is perched on a hill looking over the large freighters anchored in B.C’s Burrard Inlet.

It features European-made eleven foot high triple glazed windows, a high tech ventilation system, and of course, the electric cat door.

In some ways that door highlights one of the problems facing passive house proponents.

Because few are built, costs are higher for many components. For instance, the huge triple glazed windows had to be brought in from Europe because no one could supply them locally.

Some of the other touches are low tech, such as emphasis on the 40-centimetre-thick walls packed with insulation and the work to have every seam sealed.

« Putting in a more insulated and airtight envelope you really simplify the heating ventilation and air conditioning system so you reduce the amount of heating and cooling you need by 90 per cent, » said Dean.

Not essential, but this high tech $2,000 cat door keeps the passive house air tight. (Petwalk)

No one keeps track of how many passive houses there are across the country.

The Victoria-based organization Passive House Canada said there are at least 100 buildings that it knows of that meet the standard, including residential and commercial structures.

The group said that both Vancouver and Victoria have about one million square feet of floor space in passive buildings.

Zero emission doesn’t mean super expensive

Dean’s early pitch to build a passive home wasn’t initially embraced by his wife, Janet Allan. She thought photos of passive houses looked dark and uninviting.

« They’re very blocky with small windows, and I said our family’s not going to live in a house like that. He said it doesn’t have to be that way, let’s build a beautiful home. »

The result is bright and open. Floor to ceiling windows on one wall look out over the ocean.

Dean said going zero emission doesn’t mean being super expensive, especially over the long haul.

« We’ll basically pay nothing in heating and cooling for the house so we’ll get that back over a number of years. »

As pressure mounts to cut carbon emissions all levels of government are pushing ahead with higher energy standards. The goal is less fossil fuel fired heating across Canada.

Matt Horne is the climate policy manager for the City of Vancouver.

« The city has what’s called a zero emissions building plan, and that’s a roadmap out to 2030, so between 2025 and 2030, depending on the building type, all new construction would be zero emissions, » Horne said.

The new Canadian standard being proposed is not as strict as passive house, and is known as « net zero ready. »

Horne said in Vancouver, emissions from homes and businesses add up to about 55 per cent of the total produced, so they’re a focus for those writing building codes across the country.

Few builders are certified for passive home construction. (BCIT/Youtube)

Costs falling for efficient homes

That worries David Foster, a spokesperson for the Canadian Home Builders Association. He said higher upfront costs might never be recovered through lower energy bills.

« We need to make sure the industry is ready, the building science is solid, the economics are there for home buyers so they can afford to get into these houses. »

He points to past mistakes such as the west coast’s leaky condo crisis, where thousands of units rotted due to a mix of bad design and poor building quality as an example of the need for caution before bringing in widespread changes.

Foster said currently the cost of transforming a 2,000 square foot single family home constructed from the current building code to the proposed standard of « net zero ready » is about $30,000. Net zero ready is a step below the passive house in terms of efficiency.

Foster said costs to attain the net zero ready standard have fallen 50 per cent in the last ten years.

The Canadian Home Builders association says costs to construct ‘net zero ready’ homes have fallen 50 per cent in the past decade. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

Passive home pioneers

At the West Vancouver passive house, Shawn Barr, with Naikoon Contracting, the company building the home, said few builders are certified for this type of construction.

He said far more attention to detail is needed by all the trades involved.

« If you don’t have the trades, the guys you’re working with, if they’re not on board and all trying to strive to the same thing, it’s not going to be possible. Everybody’s got to care when you’re building a passive house. »

The hope is builders in the upper end of the market will learn techniques that filter down to cheaper properties as building codes increasingly stress the need to reduce emissions.

Home owner Dean said it’s partly about being a pioneer and showing others how to make better use of energy.

« Being the first it’s always takes a bit longer, costs more money, but as more people start to do it i think the costs come down and it’s going to be much more affordable. »

For Allan, it’s about creating a bright and livable home their kids can be proud of.

« Our boys are really excited about it and are growing up in an environment where they’re conscious of being energy efficient. »

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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