Water Tables and Floodplains

Our surveyor, Goddard Land Survey, has completed their work to locate the building at the back of the property.  And now we are left to consider the elevation of the building to the nearby Mill Creek.

The two numbers that are important are:

1. Lake level 343.6m

2. the floodplain level of Mill Creek is 347.4m.

Our survey indicated that our elevation at ground will be 347.91m.


Water Storage Systems

Lots of discussion this week around Water Storage systems.  We explored a number of options for storage but ultimately ended up deciding on installing Polyethylene tanks into basement.

Options considered were Made in BC, and NSF Food Grade


Pro: Good volume per sqf of floor, Moderately Priced, Easy to clean,

Con: Must be tethered to foundation so it doesn’t lift building (in flood)

Concrete tanks (built in place)

Pro: Highest volume per sqf, best integration into building

Con: Expensive, difficult to build proper lid, would require proper engineering, waterproof concrete additives expensive, High water table added a lot of engineering, material and labour costs,

Concrete Tanks (pre-formed)

Pro: Simple to install

Con: Expensive

Bladder Tanks

Pro: Inexpensive, Flexible, no need for tethering (due to high water table), inexpensive shipping

Con: harder to clean, Least volume per sqf

Polyethylene tank


Permits Issued

Our goal is to install the equivalent of 12” diameter duct into a trench around the perimeter of the building.  This trench will simply act as a method of cooling the fresh air supply in the summer or warming it up in the winter.  We will be using 100” of polyethylene Big “O” similar to the material used in perimeter drains.

Passive House

Passive house wall exampleMeeting with colleges of ours to discuss the process of making this project a passive house.  There are a lot of really interesting approaches to building a super efficient building envelop.   Systems like:

  • Double stud walls
  • Rigid insulation over standard stud wall
  • Double stud walls + vapour barrier + interior plumbing electrical wall

All of these systems result in a wall that is at least 1’ thick.

(Reminds me of the Log Houses my Uncle built in the 1980s with the deep window ledges and reading nooks looking out side.)

The system we are leaning towards is the double stud wall system.  Simple, less expensive but harder to air seal. We will implement an Airtight drywall approach to sealing this building (using drywall and paint to create the vapour barrier).

Generous Consideration

A huge opportunity has opened its self up.  The city has agreed to postpone a portion of the Development cost that would upgrade the water main supply from 13mm to 19mm.  Typically projects like this are required to upgrade the water service because of additional fixtures. What we will attempt to prove is that the rainwater collection systems we have planned, combined with the single occupant of the house will mean minimal increase in water usage for the new building.  This opportunity does NOT mean that we have avoided paying the development charges.  What it means is that they have allowed us to delay the expense of the water supply upgrade until renovations/additions are carried out on the existing house.  We should also point out that this opportunity is a one off and we expect that this generous exception will not happen again.

So the rain water system is looking promising once more.  We are considering a redesign of the storage tanks right now and may opt for builtin concrete tank, instead of food grade plastic tanks.  But the system as planned will be collecting rain water into a 9m3 tank (2500 gallons).  This will be cleaned and filtered to near potable standards (including but not limited to 5 micron filter + UV + Black Carbon filter) before it is distributed to the Laundry, toilet (should we need it), and outside irrigation system.  There is some debate about using this light grey water is appropriate in the dish washer.

The City will require their water to feed the kitchen sink, bathroom sink. Laundry sink and shower.

Looking forward to seeing how this project will develop.


Finding the right Supply

A productive visit with staff at Cascadia offices in both Portland and Seattle early January.  A long discussion about material supply chains and the Materials petal.  The major push is to ensure that we are using FSC lumber up here.  This is interesting because to date projects in BC, Canada have not used 100% FSC. Exceptions have been made for “Pine Beetle Kill that would have been Clear cut anyway.”  At the SFU childcare Centre  Kourosh Mahvash came up with a fascinating solution that basically involved purchasing a forest and processing the beetle kill wood with the help of a local mill.

Returning to Kelowna we connected with the Manager for Forest and Environment at Tolko, one of the local mills.  Turns out we connected to the person that had procured Pine Beetle Kill Wood for the building in Penticton.  Further discussion around sustainability and certification outlined for us the complexities of wood supply in BC and Canada.   This aspect of the LBC has many facets and angles to be considered.

At this point our strategy is to connect to Local wood, cut by Local people, milled at plants 120 km from Kelowna.  Long discussion and consideration was given to using all FSC lumber.  It is not making sense both ethically and financially to drive across the boarder to the US to purchase lumber and plywood.  Let us hope that the LBC review board sees it the way we do.


Lessons from SFU

This past week we submitted Drawings to the city for Building Permits and are awaiting their return.

We had very insightful conversations with Mahvash Kourosh and Dale Mikkelsen who were key in developing the Simon Fraser University Child Care Centre   These conversations provided some great leads for water system and material sourcing.  Some highlights:

– Water petal is once again looking much more promising after talking to the suppliers of the SFU system.  We look forward to reaching a decision about the water systems in the next few days

– Materials Petal is still being a bit elusive.  We are confident that meeting the red list requirement will be pretty straight forward (probably the optimist in us coming forth).  But the challenge for this project may lie in the FSC lumber requirement.  In Canada FSC lumber is not readily available.  Don’t miss understand, there is a lot of FSC cut blocks in BC but the lumber from those cut blocks is shipped directly to the US.  For us to procure FSC lumber we actually need to purchase the wood in “lifts” (that is a huge pile of lumber) and have it trucked back up to us from the Portland or Seattle.  Not a very good carbon foot print. We are working towards using the same strategy as SFU did with their lumber procurement by purchasing wood directly from mills that were processing “Pine beetle killed lumber that was destined to be clearcut anyway in order to stem the spread of the infestation.”

Met with our clients again today and we had some very lively discussion around the various petals of the Living Building Challenge.  They are both very excited to be part of the process.

Lastly, The Vancouver Foundation has graciously offered to extend the deadline for their assisted living grant funding to the end of January.  This will give us time to receive our Building Permits and get our material packages ordered.

Look forward to an exciting week.


Reality Check

Well just got off the phone with a lady from the Living Building Challenge and we are not feeling quite as optimistic as we once were.  Some huge challenges that we need to address are:

  • All black water (poo and pee) must be processed on site.  That is problem because in Kelowna it is usually not allowed to process black water onsite in residential neighbourhoods.
  • Requirement for FSC certified wood is also going to be an expensive option here in BC.  We may need to do things differently.
  • Providing enough electricity.  This is not difficult it just means more solar panels on the roof.  Thankfully global demand has been reducing the costs of this energy source year after year.


Looking closely at Materials

Last week we attended a conference in Bellingham and met a lot of interesting people building interesting things.  Of note was a fascinating discussion about the Red List presented by one of the architects from the group that designed the Bullit Center in Seattle.  The processes established to complete the material “vetting” was impressive.  One person was dedicated to the cause full time for a number of months in order to complete the tasks.  On our Carriage house we intend to keep the material selection to a minimum and thus dramatically reduce the time and energy required to complete the “vetting” process.

Of other notes from the conference was a fantastic presentation from the owner of Small Works, a Vancouver based Laneway Housing builder.  His ideas around small, efficient, prefabricated, Dwellings was inspiring.  We look forward to working with them.


Living Building Challenge Registered

We have registered our first LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE project, a small 640 sqf carriage house in Kelowna.  The project will be a landmark project for small, affordable dwellings.  Our efforts are focused on designing the space and systems to meet all of the Living Building Challenge criteria.

The legislative challenges will be handling the leachate from our proposed composting toilet (considered black water) and designing a rain water treatment system that exceeds the requirements for potable water.

In long discussions with the planning department in Kelowna BC some striking legistlative difference were illuminated between Canada and the US building code systems.  In the US there are a number of state and national building codes that municipalities can CHOOSE from and adopt into their own building code.  We can only imagine that this system would make more work for local municipalities to administer.  However, it would give them the flexibility to adapt to local environments and community initiatives.  In Canada, and BC specifically, Building code is the responsibility of the province. and every municipality must meet the building code.  Municipalities do not have the ability to change or alter the code in anyway.  One of the simple examples is the “western” style board walk in Winthrop, Washington.  Their wooden board walk, in keeping with the “western” style of the town.  BUT it would not meet building code in BC and therefore would be nearly impossible to get approved by any municipality.

The only work around for project teams designing with new ideas is to apply for an “Alternative Solution.”  These are difficult to get approved and are considered by the Provincial Building Code to be a “one off.” As a result all of the approved “Alternatives Solutions” are not publicized, or used to set precedence for future building code, but instead put away in a filing cabinet somewhere.

We are optimistic that about our chances to meet the water petal.  Stay tuned.