Frustrations surrounding housing issues in Gull Bay are felt in First Nations Reserves across Canada. These include inefficient and impractical funding, residential  overcrowding, deterioration and substandard performance in existing homes, health and safety concerns, water insecurity, and reliance on diesel fuel. Existing housing conditions and overcrowding lead to problems with high indoor moisture levels that can deteriorate the structure, decrease envelope performance, and cause adverse health effects. The reduced occupancy, use of Structural Insulated Panels (S.I.P.) as the construction material, and implementation of a sophisticated heating and ventilation system protects from these moisture related issues.

The capstone project we will be working on is focused on prefabrication construction methods for sustainable housing solutions to be applied in the Indigenous community of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek – Gull Bay First Nation, in Gull Bay, Ontario. We are an interdisciplinary project team of undergraduate Engineering students in the streams of Architectural Conservation, Civil, Environmental, and Renewable Energy Engineering , who are carrying forward a previous years project of a housing design which had a strong focus on S.I.P panels.

We are eager to understand the possibilities and potential next steps with the goal of realizing the construction of the final design. We are keen to better understand the community’s needs through ethical, proper consultation and inclusive design methods.

The Background

Across Canada, the current housing conditions on First Nations Reserves has been coined as bleak, more than half of existing housing infrastructure on reservations need repair, renovation, and host double the occupants compared to the national average. In Gull Bay First Nation, there are 97 homes with 30 homes needing repair or maintenance and 45 needing major repairs. These homes experience pathological issues such as overcrowding, mould, sleep impacts, material aging, substandard and un-insurable construction.

Upon review of the community wide survey conducted in Gull Bay, it appears that the most essential elements of design area cost-effective home prioritizing occupant comfort and accessibility to clean water. In addition, the incorporation of the recently installed solar micro-grid for energy use within the home is a high priority for the residents of Gull Bay to utilize.

Water being a precious resource, a human right, is currently inaccessible in Gull Bay, where residents do not have the ability to use water safely. With a boil water advisory in place, additional design need to be implemented within home to reduce wasteful water use. The water use reduction methods in this home will be designed to ensure minimal impact on clean water supply.

Nationally, diesel fuel is continuously being phased out in Northern Reserves to favour of reliable and renewable sources of energy. Gull Bay is the first Indigenous Community in Canada to completely implement a solar-powered microgrid to offset diesel dependence. This optimized home will be designed to integrate smoothly into the existing microgrid system with a high efficiency to save electricity, solar thermal for a primary heat source, and solar panels to produce electricity.

The Rollout

The interests of Boreal Builders revolve around optimizing on the sustainable development goals with a centralized focus on these six goals: good health and well being; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation, and infrastructure;  and sustainable cities and communities. Our solutions are aimed to be regenerative and affordable to ensure the community can achieve their goals of fossil fuel free and community sovereignty. The unique multidisciplinary approach of our team allows us to comprehensively integrate the various mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems into the design of the buildings, leading to an optimized performance. We aim to utilize technology that will streamline the building process from the manufacturers, to the builders, to the residents to guarantee the needs of the client are met in a realistic and affordable way.

Gull Bay’s recent commissioning of a 360-kw solar photovoltaic microgrid serves as an invaluable resource and provides an opportunity to increase the buildings resiliency by connecting the house to the microgrid. In an attempt to design a regenerative dwelling other distributed services are being considered. Water filtration systems, heating systems and food systems will be explored as opportunities to shift the house towards being a ‘prosumer’ and away from being strictly a consumer of services. Specific systems will be analyzed in more depth to inform the optimal configuration for building services. Options such as solar thermal heating, heat pumps, photovoltaics, battery storage, water treatment and storage, and emergency services are potential options that will be analyzed as building drawings are developed and implemented.

The Impact

This project is intended to resolve some of the significant challenges with housing in remote Indigenous communities. The previously developed housing alternative will be optimized by our team with an improved design we are creating will fully address the communities’ challenges in relation to housing. These include: residential overcrowding; deterioration and substandard performance in existing homes; health and safety concerns; water insecurity; and reliance on diesel fuel.

Consultation with the Kiashke Zagging Anishinaabek – Gull Bay First Nation will serve to inform the design of a regenerative dwelling compatible with the community microgrid. Throughout the design, the structure will be optimized for manufacturing, with tolerances, prefabrication, construct-ability, and materiality carefully considered.

Our team will continue consistent communication with the Gull Bay community, our main contact being the Mashkawiziiwin Energy Projects Coordinator. We are conducting regularly scheduled meetings with our project supervisor,an  industry mentor and various professional advisors in the field of Indigenous relations and academia.

It is important to note that the community of Gull Bay is the most informed and educated on what their community and residents need in the context of this housing project. As such, this project will use their existing agency as the core ethos of the design and its implementation.

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