Narrator: Researchers at Natural Resources Canada's CanmetENERGY Research Centre work to accelerate the advancement of energy efficient building technologies.
They were recently presented with a unique design challenge to help improve the lives of Canadians living in the North: create an energy efficient, rapidly deployable housing unit that could be assembled without the use of fasteners or cranes.
The project required that the unit: Should be able to be built in under a week, without detailed instructions.
That it fit into a standard shipping container and be able to be disassembled and repackaged easily for shipment to a new location.
Finally, that it cost half of a typical dwelling in the North.
Mark Douglas: NRCan's primary role was to hold on to the vision long enough that all the details could be worked out.
We had this idea of the outcome; we wanted to see ourselves standing in a northern community watching the community put a home together in under a week. And that was the vision.
The key principle that drove the design in this project was the idea of cycle-time. So for example, if your home only takes a week to build in a remote community,
a) you don't have to import a crew, you don't need any trades, and if it's put together by the townfolk, well then you've saved all kinds of money.
We quickly came to work with Jeff Armstrong, the principal architect on the project.
Jeff had a lot of experience in the North; having recently built homes in Inuvik. So he knew of the challenges and he saw the value of our vision.
Jeff Armstrong: Foundation systems in the north are expensive and they can be problematic because we're building on permafrost all the time and the buildings move.
And so we were asked to explore another type of foundation system that could be erected very, very quickly and was adjustable so that if there was any differential settlement the building could be straightened out again.
With the vacuum insulation, we developed a technique with one of our suppliers for incorporating vacuum insulation in our panels in such a way that the vacuum insulation would be protected.
Mark: We wanted to be able to use vacuum insulation panels because of their superior performance and compact dimensions.
The problem is, that vacuum insulation is quite delicate. So we wanted to avoid handling it in the field.
In order to do this, we placed the vacuum insulation panel inside the wall assembly so that it is protected and cradled from the factory to the site.
This way we have a structural wall panel that has the benefits of the superior insulation which is equivalent to about 8 inches more of the foam and we still have the foam to protect the vacuum insulation.
Narrator: Vacuum insulated building panels have been used throughout the building envelope. This new technology significantly lowers heating costs and will contribute to making the building more lightweight and easier to transport.
The house arrives on site as a kit and is completely modular. This allows for easy assembly and replacement of panels, as well as making it scalable to meet shifting community demands for housing solutions.
There is no plumbing in the walls in order to take away the risk of pipes leaking in the extreme cold, eliminating the possibility of mold forming inside wall cavities.
Mark: We wanted to be able to use a radiant in floor heating system because it's the most comfortable and energy efficient way to heat the house.
We began with a sheet of foam that has a groove positioned to receive a heat transfer plate and the warm water tubing that circulates heat into the floor.
On top of that we place a heavy board product which is the walking surface and the homeowner can finish the interior in any way he chooses.
The idea is that the floor goes down very easily and can be recovered if the home needs to be moved at a later date.
"We like to think that we started with a blank sheet of paper, we followed the principle of rapid deployment, and that drew in the right technologies in a cost effective way.
And that's a completely new way of looking at technology integration.
We feel this product in its current form could be brought to market much sooner than we anticipated.”
Narrator: Natural Resources Canada continues to collaborate with industry to develop and evaluate technologies that improve the economics, durability and energy efficiency of housing solutions for the north.