How we used the LEEP process to design a Net Zero Ready multi-unit residential building

June 11, 2020

Collaboration is better when you have different disciplines at the table together, and the Big Block team saw this in action through a series of design charettes we undertook as part of National Affordable Housing Corporation's Willowview Heights Net Zero Ready project.

A charrette is an intense period of design and planning activity, and the NAHC Willowview project followed the Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) process — a Natural Resources Canada program that was designed to help builders find innovations for building high-performance homes.

The process fosters ideas in a way that wouldn’t happen if everyone was working separately.

And it’s especially critical with modular builds because it’s even more important that everything is planned from the start. With a modular build, much of the work needs to be done simultaneously. Sometimes the foundation is being laid at the same time that the modules are being assembled in the factory.

Good communication has to be in place between different disciplines from the start in order for everything to go smoothly when all the pieces come together. In the factory, connection points have to be pre-determined; you have to know how everything will work when the modules get to the site because by the time it gets there, it’s essentially a finished product.

Changing the status quo

A project like Willowview Heights has the potential to change the construction industry, and the design charettes we participated in taught us that the status quo doesn’t work and we’re going to have to do things differently if want to replicate this model going forward.

This project brought together the City of Saskatoon, SaskEnergy, and SaskPower, plus the design teams from Bluewater Energy, Sunridge Residential, Bright Buildings, and Grandeur Housing.

  • Sun Ridge Residential was our energy advisor
  • Bright Buildings was our mechanical consultant
  • Grandeur Housing was our modular manufacturer
  • Bluewater Energy was our solar consultant

One of the goals of this project was to have solar energy powering the homes, so SaskPower and SaskEnergy were at the table to give some suggestions. The team tackled solar generation guidelines, discussing the benefits and drawbacks of single versus multi-arrays, and we finished additional energy modelling for the fully modulating furnaces to be used in the building.

We’re collaborating with SaskEnergy on energy monitoring in the building that will inform future Net Zero and Net Zero Ready projects, and the design charette allowed us to connect with them on that front.

The process also helped us come up with a game plan for implementing energy monitoring equipment during the modular factory construction process, and we did a comprehensive review of space heating, ventilation, domestic water heating and drain water heat recovery, and the building envelope (insulation, windows, doors, and airtightness).

Making the design work for everyone

Bringing all of the different disciplines together from the beginning gives everyone an overview of the project. If all of the parties involved know the overall vision of what we’re trying to achieve, they can better help us reach it. 

Instead of saying, “I need you to design a heating system for this building,” we say, “We are trying to achieve a Net Zero standard in an affordable, repeatable way using modular construction while having a system that is reliable, robust, and easy to use for homeowners and building managers. How can we best achieve that?” 

Adding that context allows us to make the design work for the owner/builder affordable, the modular manufacturer repeatable, and the end-user reliable and easy to use.

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