Using prefabricated materials to build sustainable homes could catch on as a green building practice for affordable housing across Canada, thanks to a pilot project in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“The Plainsview Townhomes Project exceeded expectations for a pilot and is poised to generate significant environmental, social, and economic benefits,” said Jen Arntfield, sustainable affordable housing lead for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund GMF), which approved C$520,000 in grant funding for the project through the FCM’s Sustainable Affordable Housing (SAH) initiative.
The pilot—six net-zero energy (NZE) rental units within a 48-unit affordable housing development in Regina’s Rosewood Park neighbourhood—is among the first in Saskatchewan to achieve that sustainability target. Fitted with solar cells to generate energy, the units also demonstrate the value of modular construction methods. The housing panels were prefabricated at an offsite manufacturing facility and then assembling at the final location, enabling developers to complete the project quickly and efficiently.
Proponents say the approach reduces waste and adds value, since quality control is easier in shop than onsite. The homes are also designed so there’s less trucking of materials on and offsite.
Plainsview gives the Saskatchewan-based National Affordable Housing Corporation (NAHC) an opportunity to “investigate and prove” whether prefabricated building is a successful approach for net-zero housing, and will demonstrate its scalability across Canada, said Arntfield.
It is one of several projects that SAH grants have supported, giving housing providers the power to test out new or innovative approaches on a small scale. SAH-funded projects have demonstrated NZE housing solutions like high-performance building envelopes, high-efficiency modulating furnaces and air source heat pumps, improved domestic water heating and eco-drain recovery systems, smart thermostats, and LED lighting.
“There remains a critical need for housing that is affordable across the country,” said Arntfield. “Building this housing sustainably and efficiently will reduce costs and increase affordability, improve the comfort and health of residents, and protect the climate.”
The City of Regina also sees the promise of Plainsview. The project “provides a great example for how property development plays an essential role in helping Regina reach its goal of becoming a renewable, net-zero community by 2050,” a city spokesperson told The Energy Mix.
Sustainable affordable housing will have direct, tangible impacts in the community by lowering energy costs for residents, especially those who can least afford it, the spokesperson added.
“This results in residents having more disposable income, some of which will be spent within the community,” the spokesperson said. “The overall result is a cleaner environment and increased economic activity.”
Arntfield said the lessons from Plainsview will be applied, scaled, and shared with other housing developers looking to replicate the approach. SAH also has resources for those looking to undertake similar projects, including fact sheets, guides, and case studies. Developers can look at the Regional Energy Coach program, which provides “one-on-one coaching and support” for affordable housing providers to initiate and plan energy efficient retrofits and new builds.
Builders may also have opportunities access federal incentives, including targeted funding for increasing energy performance standards to advance the National Housing Strategy through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. In Regina, local non-profit housing providers can line up free energy audits from the Saskatchewan Environmental Society and can benefit from capacity building, grants, and energy coaching through the Community Housing Centre, the City of Regina spokesperson said.