Affordable, Energy-Efficient Housing for a Northern, Industry Community
In one of Canada’s most expensive housing markets, Stony Mountain Plaza offers rental housing at 20 per cent less than the market rate. Developed by Wood Buffalo Housing & Development Corporation (WBHDC), the new housing features innovative modular construction and a geothermal heating system that helped address some of the challenges of building in a northern community.
Wood Buffalo’s 2011 population of 103,000 is expected to triple by 2030. Such growth is due to the oil industry, which is attracting workers in unprecedented numbers to this northeastern corner of Alberta. But while jobs are plentiful, affordable housing is in short supply.
“The oil industry will fly workers in and out of Wood Buffalo from all over the world because there’s a shortage of available housing in the region,” said Bryan Lutes, president of WBHDC. “We think it’s important to build affordable housing here, so that we can create a community rather than have this fly- in, fly-out scenario.”
Housing is expensive in this northern community because of the remote location, as well as the short construction season. In addition to steep housing prices, homeowners and tenants also face higher heating costs because of the colder temperatures and longer winters. In the case of Stony Mountain Plaza, the project cost $32 million. The Alberta government provided $18.75 million plus land to the project, while CMHC provided mortgage loan insurance.
The modular units were built in Lethbridge, Alberta, and then trucked to Fort McMurray where they were assembled. Although the material costs were about the same as regular stick-built units, the modular construction saved costs by shortening the construction time by nine months.
To reduce the building’s carbon footprint as well as long-term operating costs, a geothermal heating system was installed. This system draws heat from the surrounding ground and is supplemented by solar and natural gas backup. Stony Mountain Plaza is the largest multi-family development in Canada to have such a heating system. It is expected that heating costs will be reduced by 75 per cent with this system.