Looking back at 2020: Willowview Heights from start to finish

December 27, 2020

This year has been a long and strange one due to the pandemic, but at Big Block, we were lucky enough to be able to continue our work consulting and building housing for purpose-driven companies.

Our big project in 2020 was Willowview Heights in the Willowgrove neighbourhood of Saskatoon, one of the province’s first Net Zero Ready multi-unit residential buildings.

The work with our clients National Affordable Housing Corporation and Innovative Residential began long before we broke ground in May. The NAHC’s goal is for every Canadian to have access to affordable housing that’s convenient and safe, and we were excited to help them get one step closer to that reality.

We also worked with other partners to follow the Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) process as part of the planning, bringing all of our partners together for an intense period of design and planning activity that would set the stage for this project.

Laying the foundation in May was an exciting first step to getting the actual homes built. The basement crawlspace was excavated and the footings were poured; sewer, water and storm lines were done; and we installed the ICF block that forms the foundation walls.

While we were laying the foundation, the work on the modules that would make the buildings were already being built at the Grandeur Housing factory in Winkler, Man.

The modular method adapted itself well to a Net Zero build, too. Modules built in a factory are efficient, with a small environmental footprint, and because so much pre-planning goes into a modular build, they were able to incorporate all the necessary Net Zero design elements.

The factory system is incredibly fast: It only takes 21 days from the time a module begins to be built to the day it leaves the factory — fully finished with paint, trim, flooring, cabinets and appliances.

Because we were laying the foundation and building the modules at the same time, it wasn’t long before we were getting ready for one of the most exciting events of the building process: Craning day.

Trucks roll in with modules throughout the day, and everyone on-site needs to keep up with the deliveries. Big Block’s Craning Foreman Colin Gibson says the process is extremely fast-paced, a “well-organized circus” that brings together all the different trades on site in a multitude of roles to make it all come together.

Once the modules are in place, though, far more work still needs to be done before anyone can move in. Patios and balconies need to be built, sidewalks need to be laid, garages need to be built, and the exterior finishes including siding needs to be installed.

The Net Zero units at Willowview Heights were some of the first in the province to get a stamp of approval from Saskatchewan New Home Warranty Program’s new quality assurance program for the building envelope. A solid building envelope is especially important for Net Zero / Net Zero Ready builds.

By October, our first tenants were moving into Willowview Heights, only five months after we broke ground! It’s truly amazing how quickly a project can come together when everyone is working together to make it happen.

By the end of December 2020, the project isn’t done yet, but there are happy tenants staying cozy in their new homes this winter, and knowing that we helped NAHC created safe, new housing for their tenants warms our hearts.

Work that still needs to be done includes work that still needs to be done includes Net Zero Ready commissioning and labeling, monthly building performance data monitoring, landscaping, a business case analysis from Net Zero Ready to Net Zero, and of course, a grand opening to celebrate everything we’ve accomplished!

We’ll be continuing to highlight our progress on this project, as well as other exciting projects happening in 2021. Make sure you’ve signed up for our newsletter, or that you’re following us on social media.

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