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New Technology adapting Northern homes to the North

Where in the North can a family of seven cover all its household utilities of $270 a month? Repulse Bay of course. Really. That's where the NWT Housing Corporation built an energy-efficient home in November 1996. The two story 1,336 square-foot home is owned by Moses and Louise Suisangnark.

Utility costs average $270.50 a month and range from just under $100 a month in July to about $460 in March. Average fuel consumption is 317 litres of fuel oil a month.

"The major difference is the walls" said Bill Fandrick of Synergy Solutions a Northern consulting company that specializes in energy-efficient housing.

Fandrick was involved in the design of the RePulse Bay home when he was with the NWT Housing Corporation.

The walls, as well as floor and roof are wooden with foam cores. The foam is expanded polystyrene. The foam is 90 per cent air and environmentally friendly. The panels are about 28 centimeters thick.

The technology may be new to the North, but it's been around for decades. The first SIP houses were built in Michigan in the 1950s.

"I spend five days at the (RePulse Bay) house during winter, there were 80-kilometre winds, it's a truly comfortable house." Fandrick said.

Cost of efficiency

Asked about the bottom line, Fandrick said this house cost $11,800 more to build than a conventional "stick-built" home, but the new home was built with a few features like a premium boiler, heat recovery ventilation system and screwjacks. Screwjacks are permanent devices placed under a house and used to keep the building level. Subtract the cost of these features and the SIP house cost $2,560 more than a stick-built house.

Cost of the panels for the two-story, four-bedroom home was $31,850. The final price for the home was $116,566 compared to $104,768 for the conventional home.

Aside from the comparable cost, this style of house can be built beyond the conventional construction season and construction can continue during windy conditions. Another plus, it is practical to sealift the panels, according to a report prepared by Fandrick in December 1996.

"This is a success story. The innovations in this house are saving 50 to 60 per cent of the operating costs."

Another feature of the home - a single appliance provides not only in-floor heating but also the domestic hot water supply. Fuel oil used to heat the home as well as the hot water is also used to preheat air drawn through the heat recovery ventilation system.

Fandrick said he hopes to compile utility data on a similar "stick-built" house in RePulse Bay to compare with the SIP house.

Asked why there is not more of this style of house in the North, Fandrick said what is required is a paradigm shift. Fandrick spoke at the first-ever Circumpolar Housing Forum, held in Yellowknife last week.

Ultimately, savings realized through more efficient homes could be put into building new homes to meet the growing demand in the North he said, and there's no question there's a demand for homes. The 1996 NWT Housing Corp. survey concluded there is a shortage of 4,350 homes, compared to 3,500 in 1992. The housing corporation through its Plan 2000 is attempting to address the shortage. The goal of the plan, which includes building new homes and improving existing homes, is to help 2,000 families by the year 2000.

Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation, Goo Arlooktoo said the project helped 650 families in its first year and a similar number last year.

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