Our Off-Grid Capable Housing Subdivision

Our Off-Grid Capable Housing Subdivision

In 2019, we began putting together the final designs for our first housing subdivision development.  The first house, shown below was inspired by simple, but robust Nordic designs that I had been researching for a period of time.

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An overview of the development from the north side looking south

The subdivision overview:

Our subdivision which was conditionally approved on May 5th, 2022 and our subdivision is considered unique in many ways.  The subdivision is a 26 lot (individual homes) under a Bareland condo format in Sandy Hook, MB.  Over the course of two years, our team has engineered a housing development which is capable of:

  1. Operating off-grid in an emergency situation (with our incoming hydro, we tend to go down multiple times per year for extended time frames), sewer & water systems independent of the RM of Gimli.  We are also incorporating some solar to allow for solar energy produced to be dumped back into the grid during normal operations (solar assist), and during off-grid operation, it can be used to supplement each home.  Our homes are wired for back-up generator panels, and during a grid-down time, we use the generators to fire up the AC inverter on the solar panels to supplement.  The generators also provide the energy required to operate all systems normally.
  2. In terms of efficiency – our homes and infrastructure incorporate 4 separate components:
    • Solar assist
    • A better building envelope under the perform option for building.  Our first home has demonstrated that it requires only 10 kW to maintain 64 F over the coldest winter months. We have increased the efficiency of the envelope itself, and added additional insulation to all aspects of the build.  We are using about 40% less energy overall on a 1200 sq ft home.  We will utilize both natural gas, and electricity.  During the initial design with MB Hydro, we specifically discussed the overall grid strength of the area, and what we could do as a builder to reduce that load on MB Hydro infrastructure.
    • We are a low-flow subdivision in terms of water usage, and effluent produced.  We are using 45% less water than the average Canadian household, and that corresponds to the effluent produced.  We are a zero discharge to Lake Winnipeg.  All effluent produced onsite is treated onsite. We are the only one of this design in Manitoba and likely Canada as a whole.  As a result, we have had to go back to Environment Approvals Branch to seek a separate license for this design.
    • Our infrastructure as designed is a low energy, low maintenance for both the condo corporation and the RM of Gimli as a whole.  All of our infrastructure is privately owned and maintained.   
  3. Over the course of the spring, our land was subject to extreme overland flooding as a result of an overall poor drainage plan in the area.  The entire Interlake region struggles with drainage.  Our Indigenous engineering team took this a step up, and came up with a drainage plan that discharges only on a timed release, repurposed waters on the property itself for community gardens and infrastructure, utilizes bioswales on site for slowing, and cleaning waters, and fully protects our incoming homeowners both onsite, and the neighboring properties.  We are a NO-IMPACT in terms of drainage to Highway 519 and the Provincial infrastructure. 
  4. Our community is designed as a gated, age in place community that provides much needed affordable housing for seniors trying to downsize, or disabled persons that need a comprehensive design to meet their physical needs.  This is done entirely in a manner that continues to promote the retention of a rural, natural landscape, and maintains wildlife habitat.
  5. After the initial subdivision approval was granted, Climate and Parks indicated that an old cattle dugout on site (which was designed to become a future retention pond) was listed as a Class 3 wetland (and only assessed via aerial photo) and that we would need to complete either a compensation or perform option.  As this area was already contained within our engineered drainage plan, our team came up with an additional proposal – we maintain the size of the original (only assessed via aerial photo), add 2000 lin ft of bioswale, and a second retention area – and upgrade the area as a permanent naturalized pond for increased habitat.  Overall, we are IMPROVING the state of the existing topographical area, and providing a long-term habitat for wildlife, and sustainability.

Overall, the approach to this subdivision has been how do I incorporate sustainability, reduced energy use and impact to environment, encourage wildlife habitat, provide housing for a neglected demographic (seniors, age in place, veterans and disabled persons).  As an organization, we have not taken shortcuts, if anything we taken steps to reduce the impact to the Province of Manitoba (recent flooding as an example) at our own cost. We have bridged the gap between climate and sustainable development in a manner that exceeds all current requirements.

Additionally, as a builder, I had to come up with a housing development that did not rely on municipal infrastructure. Everything had to be independent. For my first try, I think we have done a pretty good job coming up with a plan that could be implemented in many other locations.

This is the overview of what the south side of the development will look like with the main pond areas
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