Affordable housing project aims to use passive house design

NANAIMO – Proponents want to reduce heating costs for tenants.

The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre says a proposed affordable housing complex on Bowen Road will adhere to energy efficiency standards.

The project evolved from one for people suffering from mental illness and homelessness to one for urban aboriginal students and families. It will use passive house principles, which will make it more economical, according to Chris Beaton, aboriginal centre executive director.

“You build your building so it’s oriented to the sun and during the winter, you’re allowing in the heat of the sun to warm the interior of the building,” said Beaton. “You put in robust insulation … then you vapour barrier it so no cold air is coming in and you’re not losing heat during the winter.”

The idea for using passive house design came up during conversations last summer about reducing operating costs for the operator, the aboriginal centre, and tenants. It is an alternative to the better known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, said Beaton.

“When you’re looking at affordable housing, we’ve heard from other tenants … that part of their real challenge is the monthly heating costs. If we can reduce energy costs by up to 90 per cent, which is proving successful in a lot of passive house buildings, we’re saving our tenants a ton of money on a monthly basis,” Beaton said.

The Regional District of Nanaimo is expected to vote on whether to commit $15,000 to the project at its regular meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 26).

The City of Nanaimo has committed the land and will waive property taxes and development cost charges, Beaton said.

“The total capital budget, including land, construction, everything, design, is $5.95 million and that’s preliminary,” said Beaton. “We don’t have construction drawings at this point, so we haven’t gone out to tender … we’re still fairly early in the process.”

Beaton said final commitment from B.C. Housing for capital money the Crown corporation committed in 2008, in a memorandum of understanding, is also needed. Approximately $4.85 million is being requested.

Rajvir Rao, B.C. Housing spokeswoman, said it is aware of the project and is reviewing it to determine how it applies to the housing it builds and renovates.

Beaton said he is hoping a construction tender will go out by April, with work beginning in the summer. He hopes the facility will be open by early 2017.

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