The house that green tech built
SAIT’s Green Building Technologies (GBT) team is racing against the clock to achieve the gold standard in green building construction.
In partnership with an Alberta family and homebuilder Woodpecker European Timber Framing, GBT provided research and technology to support the construction of a Living Building just west of the town of Cochrane — a home that produces more energy than it uses and creates a positive impact on its people and environment.
Together, they hope the home will achieve the highest possible certification through the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the world’s most rigorous green building rating program and sustainable design framework.
They’re aiming to be fifth in the world to do it.
Homes that give more than they take
To achieve the LBC certification, the two-storey 2,238 square foot custom home called, “The Confluence” must adhere to seven areas of sustainability during construction. Amongst other requirements, the building must produce 105% of its own renewable energy, use water captured on site through a well and rainwater collection and steer clear of 815 “red-listed” toxic chemicals in any building or finishing materials.
For homeowners Joleen and Gerton Molenaar, the goal has always been to build the best possible home for their family and future generations.
"Having a family, becoming a parent and being responsible for their lives, is the reason we built a Living Building Challenge home — one that protects their health and the environment,” says Gerton Molenaar.
The home’s systems must also be monitored for twelve months following construction to prove sustainable performance, setting LBC apart from other green rating systems.
Luckily, SAIT has a plan for that.
Green tech for the future
GBT and the Centre for Innovative Information Technology Solutions — both divisions of SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) department — will pilot their newly-developed digital dashboard to monitor building performance.
The dashboard, hosted on a visualization tablet and created for industry partner Ideal Electric, will monitor and report on the home’s energy generation, interior and exterior water use, and estimate wastewater volumes through electrical monitoring of the well pump. The tablet will also capture other data, including air quality results — uploaded regularly to capture levels of radon, CO, CO 2, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds — as well as net energy usage (from utility bills).
The mechanical room is the brain for all of the systems, ensuring the innovative technologies are functioning efficiently and effectively. SAIT's newly-developed digital dashboard will monitor and report on building performance.
With data accessible remotely and refreshed every minute, this innovative technology will incorporate more comprehensive monitoring processes than previously developed dashboards. It will bring more awareness to home metrics and their correlation to home occupant behaviour.
“Energy and water use can be curbed when an owner is able to see its use in real time,” says Tracey Chala ( Architectural Technologies ’01), Principal Investigator on the project and EcoCanada’s 2020 EcoImpact Top Environmental Professional.
“The dashboard will also prove that material selection is critical in ensuring clean indoor air, and that rainwater and well water and renewable energy can sustain a family of five.”
The dashboard isn’t the only place you’ll find green tech in the house — it’s literally in the walls.
GBT provided consultation on the enhancement of high-performance energy-efficient wall panels. By providing a building science perspective and helping source local, Forest Stewardship Council-certified and non-toxic materials, the homebuilder was able to revise their original design to create pre-assembled robust wall panels that are well-suited to the climate, maintain comfortable interior temperatures and reduce heating and cooling costs.
High-performance energy-efficient wall panels will help keep "The Confluence" warm in -40°C winters.
Doing it differently
“The Confluence” is nothing like the fully certified LBC houses to come before it.
For one thing, the project is located in a remote village bound by the challenges of a northern climate compared to its suburban, southern counterparts. And where some of the other projects had a budget of between $3-5 million, this home will be completed for a fraction of that.
As part of their applied education, SAIT students left their own mark on this once-in-a-lifetime project, gaining career-building experience through practicum, capstone and volunteer opportunities. The GBT team — five of whom are SAIT graduates themselves — involved 19 SAIT students to support essential tasks including sourcing sustainably-certified wood, researching non-toxic cleaning products, designing the project website and creating architectural renderings.
For Keith Leung (Architectural Technologies ’19), who worked on the project during his second-year practicum, lessons learned from “The Confluence” have stuck with him through employment.
“The project was beyond anything I could have imagined in a traditional classroom setting,” says Leung. “It was certainly a highlight in my education, and a rewarding experience to have been a part of the team.”