Habitat for Humanity LEED home being delivered to new owners © NFSB

OUR HOUSE: a community home building endeavour

Handing over the keys to the new owners of a LEED home built by students and donated to Habitat for Humanity

Ecohome Feb. 7, 2018, 9:25 a.m.
Paola Duchaine

Our House is the story of a small town united around the construction of an exemplary home. After being awarded with the ‘Prix d'excellence’ at the end of 2017 by the Public Administrator of Quebec (the first time an English school board has won this award), Our House recently received final certification of LEED® Platinum.

From the beginning to the end of this undertaking, hundreds of people donated their time and energy: an enthusiastic coordinator, committed teachers, apprentice carpenters and their school board, a sustainable-housing training organization, a philanthropic builder, generous sponsors, anonymous donors, site volunteers, and last but not least - a local rockstar. 

Below is the final video in a 21-part series that followed the project from its first design meeting to completion, where the keys were handed to the new owners. 

Alice Loney and the New Frontiers School Board

It all began in 2010 when Alice Loney, then Coordinator of the Carpentry Program at the Châteauguay Valley Vocational Training Center, sought out experts to provide the school’s teachers with training in sustainable housing and LEED® certification. Emmanuel Cosgrove, Director of Ecohabitation and Mike Reynolds, Director of Ecohome, welcomed the opportunity to be involved.

The group of carpentry teachers immediately embraced this focus on better-performing and sustainable home construction; three of the program's teachers have since earned LEED AP (Accredited Professional) credentials. This was the beginning of what would become a long-term partnership between the School Board and Ecohome / Ecohabitation.

Prix d'excellence Quebec NFSB school board
Teachers and administrators from the New Frontiers School Board receiving the 'Prix d'excellence', the first time an English school board in Quebec has ever one this award.

Habitat for Humanity

Educators in the New Frontiers School Board have always fostered strong relations with their community. John Hodges, a professor in the schools’ Carpentry Program, has been a long-time volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, an organization that for decades has created a path towards homeownership for low-income families. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity is part of a network of 69 regional affiliates that together coordinate more than 50,000 volunteer home-builders each year.

A better use of students’ efforts

Rather than having their students apply the skills they were learning to build sheds that would later be disassembled, the school wanted their students’ work to be lasting. It was in that sentiment that the idea was born to instead construct a prefabricated house at the school that was not only compliant with Building Code, but would greatly surpass it. The house would then be delivered to a nearby vacant lot, and with the help of Habitat for Humanity it would become the new home of a family in need of affordable housing.

A community mobilized to raise money

Our fundraiser concert
© Peter Dahms

The town of Ormstown came together to form a committee called Habitat in the Valley to help fund this initiative, with the main event being a concert featuring well-known Quebec musicians, the carpentry teachers themselves (almost all of which are musicians) and headlined by the town’s international star, Nanette Workman. 

Further events included a municipal fair, crowdfunding campaigns, even the sale of ice cream by local youngsters. These combined efforts raised thousands of dollars for the Our House project.

Manufacturers supplying materials

It takes more than students and hammers to build a house; it takes materials. And the construction industry was happy to participate. Manufacturers such as ROCKWOOL (formerly Roxul), Delta, Convectair and Bain Magique graciously offered materials and products, and others such as Groupe Crête, Fenplast and Legalett offered substantial discounts on roof trusses, doors and windows, even the insulated slab on which the house would sit.

© John Hodges

A collaborative effort

With logistics sorted, funds raised and materials gathered, it was time to design what would soon be a very unique and extraordinary house. The final product was the result of an integrated design process: teachers from the Châteauguay Valley Vocational Training Center and other local school boards, accompanied by engineer Michel Beaulieu and Ecohome representatives, collectively designed a home that would meet the very tough requirements that had been laid before them.

Since Quebec labour laws prevent students from being on a construction site, the house needed to be a modular design built in the school’s shop. And if you’re building one, well hey, why not build two? Add to that the target of LEED Platinum and you have set yourself a very high bar.  

The plan was to carry out construction between August 2016 and January 2017; 90% of which would be done in the school by students, but the work also needed to fulfill standard curriculum modules.

The electrical, plumbing and cabinet construction work was done by students in other local school boards that offered such training. Local professionals (Dr Mess, JL Priest and the Legion d'Ormstown) did onsite electrical and plumbing work.

The entire project was documented in a 22-part video series, as well as on the blog of Professor John Hodges. Here is a sample of photos taken throughout the process. Congratulations to all involved; this project has made a huge impact on the community, and inspired other schools and communities to follow suit.  

For the future: more affordable and sustainable housing!

Alice Loney, Coordinator of the Carpentry and Carpentry Program, and John Hodges, Professor of Carpentry, are very proud of the success of the Our House project. "It was a big challenge," says John Hodges, "We started the project a little naive, without fully realizing the magnitude of what we were getting ourselves into! "

But the spirit of cooperation of the entire school board team has borne fruit: "Everyone went above and beyond for this cause. The bond between the professors and the administration has become even closer, and the students have had incredible motivation, "said Alice Loney. “taking part in the Our House project has been a truly enriching experience for the students and everyone else involved.”

 

If you are involved with a design or building school and would like to undertake a similar initiative, contact us for information and guidance at info@ecohome.net.

Here is a small sample of images taken from Professor John Hodges's blog, as he documented the project from start to finish.

© John Hodges

 

© John Hodges

 

Legalett slab leed home habitat for humanity
© Ken Williams for Legalett

 

© John Hodges

 

© John Hodges

 

© John Hodges

 

 

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