Okanagan College and UBCO collaboration powers up Wilden Living Lab Phase 2
It’s a research partnership that’s about more than bricks and mortar.
Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan — together with Wilden’s Blenk Development Corp., AuthenTech Homes and FortisBC — have broken ground on Phase 2 of the Wilden Living Lab research project.
Phase one started in 2016 when two homes were built side-by-side in Wilden. One was built to current building codes including a natural gas furnace, standard plumbing fixtures and appliances, double pane windows and standard insulation levels. The second, called the Home of Tomorrow, had additional features including a geothermal heat pump, water-saving toilets and faucets, triple-pane windows, photovoltaic solar panels, net metering, LED lighting and higher than required insulation levels in the walls and ceilings.
The comparative results over a three-year research period show that the Home of Tomorrow used 67 per cent less energy than the other home. The home also had 99.6 per cent less carbon emissions than its more standard neighbour.
But now, says community partner Karin Eger-Blenk, director, co-chair and marketing manager for Wilden and board chair for Blenk Development Corp, it’s time to initiate Phase 2 to look further into the future of green homes.
“We’re so proud to be able to continue this great collaboration that can be a model for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient development for years to come,” says Eger-Blenk.
That initial study, led by UBCO’s Dr. Shahria Alam, was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Alam has been lead researcher on the Wilden Living Lab since its inception.
“Phase 2 will be really exciting. If we achieve our goal, we’ll be able to share findings that will help other households achieve net-zero status using the optimal combination of materials, systems and construction practices,” says Alam, a professor in UBCO’s School of Engineering, “As our region, the country and the world look to tackle climate change, building more efficient, sustainable and affordable residential housing will go a long way to helping us all do our part.”
Scott Tyerman, owner of Authentech Homes, agrees.
“The goal from the beginning of Phase 1 was to challenge ourselves to build the most energy efficient home of tomorrow that we could, to compare how new and emerging technologies could translate into greater efficiency and ultimately energy and cost savings for home owners,” says Tyerman. “Our goal with Phase 2 is similar but we hope to push the building envelope and efficiency even further.”
Partners will collaborate on the design, construction and research of an Energy Step Code 5 sustainable home — that’s the highest level in BC’s Optional Energy Step Code. The home will target net-zero energy usage through solar panels, renewable natural gas and other ultra-high efficiency technology and building materials.
“FortisBC is really proud to be a partner in this project because it brings energy efficiency to life,” says Carol Suhan, PowerSense manager for FortisBC. “We get to see in real-time how using existing technology and equipment, and with careful planning at the forefront, you can build efficient homes. For future homeowners it means minimal energy bills and the opportunity to be more carbon neutral. This project is an opportunity to showcase to both contractors and consumers how this can be done.”
Carpentry students from Okanagan College helped build the two homes in Phase 1 and are now at work on the Phase 2 home. This provides experiential learning opportunities for the next generation of builders, says Dr. Andrew Hay, provost and vice-president academic for Okanagan College
“The Wilden Living Lab has created fantastic learning opportunities for our students,” he adds. “It’s hands-on learning in a real-world environment. For the students to be involved in seeing how these new energy-saving technologies are installed, and to play a role in that, sets them up for a future that will benefit all of us.”
The project is part of a larger collaboration in green building between Okanagan College and UBCO through the joint Green Construction Research Training Centre that was established in 2019. The goal is to provide new research options and create hands-on practical training opportunities for students — to be a hub where innovation in green construction is fostered.
“The Green Construction Research Training Centre brings together expertise of UBC’s research faculty with the skills of our friends at Okanagan College,” says Phil Barker, vice-principal of research and innovation at UBC Okanagan. “The Wilden Living Lab project is a nice example of how leading-edge research can be combined with on-the-ground skills training and industrial partners to produce practical benefits for our region.”
The project has received a $112,500 grant from Mitacs, the national, not-for-profit research and training organization dedicated to advancing collaborations between industry, academia and government in Canada.
The group broke ground on the project in April and construction is now underway.