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A better way to build: College grad constructs net-zero family home
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A better way to build: College grad constructs net-zero family home

In search of an innovative building solution, David Sawatzky discovered much more than a new perspective when he enrolled in Okanagan College’s Sustainable Construction Management Technology diploma (SCMT): he adopted sustainability as a way of life. 

“I had worked in the building industry for years and was dissatisfied,” says 38-year-old Sawatzky. “I knew there had to be a better way to build.

Sawatzky David“The SCMT program was exactly what I was looking for,” explains the recent graduate who was part of the program’s first graduating class last month. “It was unique in Canada, a first of its kind. Right away I knew it could give me the leg-up on the industry competition.”

Inspired by the skills and theories learned in the classroom, he set out to build his own net-zero energy house.

“My wife and I wanted to go beyond the need of a house, it had to be sustainable,” explains the father of three. “We had to be pragmatic but also visionaries. We said let’s make it a size we need, but not more, we don’t want excess nor wasted space.”

The family moved into the custom 1,700 square foot house in Lumby earlier this month. It boasts the most sustainable and industry innovative features including: LED lighting throughout, a super insulated concrete form foundation (as opposed to the conventional uninsulated concrete), Energy Star compliant fixtures and appliances, low flow plumbing fixtures, and a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and mini-split ductless heat pump. The latter two are essential for heating and cooling in energy efficient ways using existing airflow, especially for the seasonal temperature range experienced in the Okanagan. 

“The icing on the cake though is the solar panels on the roof,” says Sawatzky of the 7.4 kW photovoltaic array (28 panels that generate 265 watts each). “We needed a new car, but we preferred the house to be energy zero, so in they went.”

The ultimate goal is to be energy net-positive, meaning the house would create energy that the Sawatzkys would sell back to the power grid, but they will have to wait a year to measure their success.

“If it all works out, hydro will actually write me a cheque every year,” adding that the only utility bill they will have is a small water bill. “It pays to be green.”

Sawatzky is confident his College education will also help him succeed as an entrepreneur in his new sustainable construction business.

“I learned that it’s not just the solution that matters – the process to the solution is equally important,” he says. “We need to build in eco-conscious ways and find a balanced triple bottom line approach: people, planet and profit.”

This type of thinking is one way the SCMT program proves it’s in-line with Okanagan College’s recognition as a leader in post-secondary sustainability. 

“It enriches the students’ experience to study in buildings that represent the exact sustainable features we teach in the classroom,” says Dr. Amy Vaillancourt, Chair of the SCMT program at Okanagan College. “The College is committed to building green, as exemplified in buildings on multiple campuses, and continues to approach future construction with this in mind.”

The Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation at the Penticton campus (where the SCMT program is taught) achieved LEED Platinum status, was built with the intention to meet petals of the Living Building Challenge, was named the greenest post-secondary building in Canada in 2016 by Corporate Knights Magazine, and has the largest solar panel array on a non-utility building in Western Canada. 

At its Kelowna campus, the Centre for Learning is certified LEED Gold and the recently completed trades building is targeting LEED Platinum. Meanwhile a new trades building under construction at the Vernon campus aims to achieve LEED Gold standard.

The College is now accepting applications for the next student intake in the two-year SCMT diploma program. Classes start in the fall of 2017. For more information, visit okanagan.bc.ca/SCMT