Saskatchewan sustainable design specialist advocates for furnace-free buildings

michele friesen
Michele Friesen

Special to Canadian Design and Construction Report

Michelle Freisen, a Saskatoon-based sustainable design specialist wants the province to return to its roots. Its furnace-free roots, that is.

“Those who think that buildings using very little energy in our climate is impractical might be surprised to hear that the Province of Saskatchewan proved them wrong in Regina more than 40 years ago,” says the green building advocate and project coordinator who works with builders and city officials to design healthy and environmentally-friendly buildings.

“Saskatchewan is uniquely positioned to start scaling up ultra-energy-efficient homes because it literally invented many of the strategies and technologies that make them possible,” adds Corey Diamond, executive director of Efficiency Canada, a national think tank that is working to accelerate the energy-efficient economy.

“Thousands of exceptionally comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient buildings around the world can trace their DNA directly back to a pioneering government-sponsored project in Regina,” Diamond added.

In 1977, the Saskatchewan Research Council assembled a team of building-science experts to design and build a “solar house.” The resulting Saskatchewan Conservation House pioneered many of the elements and principles — including airtightness, passive heating and cooling, and heat-recovery ventilation — that would later form the foundation of the global Passive House movement.

Buildings built to the Passive House standard are so energy efficient that they do not need a furnace; a small supplemental heating system typically kicks in on the very coldest days of the year.

Saskatchewan built on this legacy when it became the first province to adopt the 2017 National Energy Code for Buildings, which delivered substantial efficiency improvements over its predecessors.

Saskatchewan has an enormous opportunity to learn from its history by adopting regulations to ramp up building performance, Diamond said. Canada’s federal government would like all provinces and territories to adopt a net-zero energy-ready model building code by 2030, and Efficiency Canada is currently finalizing a national energy efficiency scorecard.

Friesen is one of many Saskatchewan professionals ready to support increased ambition. “If we use all of our collective resources and capacities, we can work together as industry partners with governments and utilities to achieve dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and indoor environment quality in Saskatchewan,” she said.

Efficiency Canada recently recognized Friesen as a national leader under its ongoing Our Human Energy campaign.

Story contributed by Efficiency Canada


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