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Housing project first of its kind
Mike Chouinard
Chilliwack Times
The homes mix tradition with new technology.
CREDIT: Mike Chouinard / Chilliwack Times

A housing project on Seabird Island could serve as a good model to the rest of the world on how people can live in comfort while only leaving a small footprint on the earth.

On Friday, First Nations, federal government, corporate partners and others officially opened the new Seabird Island First Nation Sustainable Community Demonstration Project, the first on-reserve development of its kind in the world.

"This is such an innovative type of project," Chief Wayne Bobb said. "Its meaning is so significant."

The project is made up of seven homes expected to have a lifespan of two to three times that of the average house. They are designed to be flexible so the interior can be changed as the residents' needs change. They use methods such as earth tubes and radiant floor heating as well as alternate energy from sources such as wind turbines to cut energy consumption requirements by about 75 per cent. These homes are also affordable, costing about $75 per square foot.

The houses are also built with a new type of drywall that is mould resistant.

Another important aspect of the structures is that they face south in order to take advantage of the sun's energy. Each has a solarium that draws in air and sends it down to heat the floor, meaning a typical forced-air furnace becomes unnecessary.

Describing this innovative use of space and energy, Seabird Island Coun. Clem Seymour said, "This is where our culture and our tradition meet technology."

Rob Sieniuc, from Broadway Architects, one of the project partners, said the development would help everyone learn how they could build their communities better, something that is becoming increasingly important as land becomes more precious. He also credited the cooperation of many people, especially the locals, as key to its success.

"This here has been a remarkable journey, one that would not have happened without community support," Sieniuc said.

Several other partners also participated in the ceremony, including representatives from Canex Building Supplies, B.C. Hydro and Renewable Energy Systems.

Federal public works minister Stephen Owen was among the guests and spoke on behalf of the federal government. He described the project as one that is an important stepping stone in improving quality of life, especially for First Nations peoples living in rural areas where they might have few energy options.

"This demonstration project has deep meaning and importance," he said. "This is truly a demonstration project for the world."

Owen referred to an upcoming World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006 as good opportunity for the country to let the rest of the world know about this project.

One of the seven homes is set aside for demonstrations and tours are available. Anyone wishing to take visit should contact the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation at 604-731-5733.

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