Family pairs with SAIT to build certifiably environmental house west of Cochrane

It’s a home that is both aspirational in its energy efficiency, and at the same time achievable.

That’s how Tracey Chala, principal investigator with SAIT Green Building Technologies, describes the 2,238-square-foot home just west of Cochrane, Alta. 

The owners have teamed up with the polytechnic institute’s program to push for the most environmentally friendly house possible — and hope to achieve full certification with a rigorous global green building rating system called the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

Only three homes in the world have achieved this certification before, and the home — dubbed The Confluence — will now undergo a 12-month evaluation period. In the end, the team hopes the project will break new ground for environmental building practices.

  • WATCH | Take a tour of the home in the video above

“This house, all of the water comes from the property. Either from the sky or from the ground. All of the energy comes from the property in the form of solar panels on the roof,” Chala said.

“All of the materials that we used to build this house come from within 500 kilometres. All of the waste that would have been created during construction, it didn’t go to the dump. We were able to divert it in other ways. And we’re able to grow a lot of our own food on the property.”

The Confluence was constructed with largely salvaged materials, including fir floors from a warehouse in downtown Vancouver and a recycled glass countertop. (Pavel Hájek)

The homeowner has been working on the project for 10 years and has no regrets about reaching out for help from the environmentally focused SAIT program, which also partners with Woodpecker European Timber Framing.

“Building a house like this is kind of difficult, so we really needed expertise in sustainable home building,” said homeowner Gerton Molenaar. “And SAIT has experience in net-zero homes and that’s really worked out well.”

The project should break new ground for environmental building practices in Alberta.

Solar panels provide power to the environmentally friendly home, which also produces more energy than it uses and captures water on site. (Pavel Hájek)

Chala pointed out that the family was working on a budget and trying to achieve something that others could replicate.

“We’re working with a regular family here. They’re not millionaires by any means,” Chala said. “And we wanted to make sure that the things that we were doing would help to transition the residential construction industry in the area or maybe in Canada toward little wins I guess, in the green building industry.”

Chala said SAIT got involved with the project in 2015, and the team worked on the design of the home, and stayed on in a consulting role to help them through the rigorous certification process.

“What appealed to me was how comprehensive it is. It looks at net-zero water. It looks at net-positive energy. It looks at selection of materials, but also it looks at things like indoor air quality,” Molenaar said of the SAIT program.

In the end, the home comes with some serious bragging rights.

“The entire kitchen is repurposed,” Molenaar said. “All the vanities were saved from the landfill. All the countertops, toilets, and also our wood floor is repurposed. And that’s actually an interesting story. The fir floor comes actually from beams from a warehouse in downtown Vancouver from the 1940s.”

SAIT’s Green Building Technologies program is all about promoting environmentally friendly tech in Canada, with an eye to changing the way things are done. 

“The other homes that have achieved full certification, they’re in the States, and they don’t have maybe the same rainfall, the same snowfall, the same temperature ranges from –5 C to 35 C. So we had to contend with all of that stuff,” Chala said.

“And we don’t expect everyone to go in and build this, but by showing that all of these things can be done, I think we’re making baby steps and making progress in sort of catalyzing the industry toward some big change.”

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