David Silburn


Video of the Researcher

Lab name





Full name

David Silburn


Designing passive and complient net-zero energy and water buildings

Type of researcher

Principal Investigator

Introduce yourself, your experience and your credentials

Leading an exciting new division at SAIT- we will develop new institutional energy standards, research opportunities and operational efficiencies in our cogen facility, create business case and partnership for deployed demand management clean technologies, smart building applications in addition to supporting continued adoption of sustainable building policy, engagement and facility development at SAIT.

Describe your research

The Green Building Technologies Lab and Demonstration Center was really built as an educational and research tool. The goal was to build a future building today. What we really tried to do is build a passive house compliant net zero energy, net zero water building, with a bunch of research infrastructure in it to draw industry partners to the college to work with us.

We are quite lucky in the sense that we conserve actually seventy percent more energy than the typical building with this building. It basically runs on the equivalent of three toasters. The first year we benchmarked based on an average natural gas system here in Alberta so that anyone that comes in with a new furnace or a new ventilation system or domestic hot water heater can test it in comparison to trended data over years of performance.

In addition we also have that mechanical system base where we can plug in systems in and out and test them side by side. That allows us to mimic either a cold environment or actually just run it all year long and then it can experience the Calgary winter.

In addition to the building operating well and relatively efficiently we’re using the rainwater system here in the building for air conditioning 38,000 litres of rainwater. We’re using that to actively chill the space and make it more comfortable for the researchers that work upstairs in the office.

On top of that there’s solar solar electricity or photovoltaic is actually generating enough energy to offset the total load of the building per year. Net Zero is really not about a net zero utility bill or saving money. It’s really about offsetting the amount of energy use over the course of the year. In the winter we draw more in the summer you produce more than what we need and by the end of the year there’s a balance.

It’s basically the same thing for water we capture all of the water of our rainwater roof system, we convey that into a rain water system, and then we can filter that and use it for irrigation to flush toilets, eventually for dishwashers, eventually for cold water laundry.

One of our jobs is to work on policy and advancing that technology into the market. The industry partners that typically come to us or suppliers and manufacturers looking to get their products in the market and here we can actually sub them in. Stick in a window, stick in a wall, we can test that wall and see thermally how well it does or structurally how well it does.

We have designers and professionals from engineering services and architects that come to us and they want to take their project to the next level. They might not have necessarily done some of these components. We actually do offer consultation services but the majority of what we do is really construction consultation. It’s taking them to “I have a great idea but I haven’t gotten it into market yet” and we work with clients in order to get them there.

That includes everything from good marketing from a good understanding of feasibility from the systems integration and trying it with different systems to see what performs well or sometimes just training getting trades to pick it up and use it and not charge more for it because they’re familiar they’ve been conditioning to use it a little better.

Explain its significance

The Green Building Technologies Lab and Demonstration center was actually built as a response to many of the projects we have done out in the field. To date we’ve built over 20 net zero energy buildings and at one point we really saw the need to start educating.

We went for really research innovation spectrum through to market adoption. We’re used to doing more training and education. This lab became a living lab where industry
can come in and actually do work either in the walls, down on the basement, cold climate lab, or out in that water ring water pond in the back and advanced their products while we educate students that come to SAIT.

We do a lot of work associated with cold climate housing performance so if you have a product and you’re looking on testing and within a wall system or a roof system we’ll do everything from the structural testing and the thermal performance of that unit to prototyping and fabricating and then best practices training people on how to best install that product.

We hope to take people from an idea sheet or a napkin sketch through a Tupperware prototype initially right through the actual prototypes and eventually into the market and our goal is to advance industry towards that green building technology initiative.


Institution name

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Type of institution