>> BY PETER WORDEN
Greg Hoffart has a dirty mind—dirty as in D.I.R.T.T, or “Do It Right The First Time.”
It’s the sort of ‘measure-twice, cut- once’ mentality you want when talking about the long view of how we build in the future.
In an issue devoted to building in Revy, you can’t not mention Hoffart, owner of Tree Construction, which, at least locally, sits at the vanguard of innovative and energy efficient living.
“We’re still stuck in the ‘80s,” he said. “It’s quintessentially Revelstoke in that way. We’re cowboys, just get’er done.”
Construction in Revelstoke and Canada in general hasn’t changed that quickly. You’ve probably seen some of Tree’s projects around town—ultra modern futurist designs with rooflines that take in the maximum level of sunlight or passively absorb solar heat. With newer technology like CLT—cross-laminated timber currently shipped from Germany—triple glaze windows from Switzerland and wood fibre insulation, Greg says: “It’s an amazing time to be part of the industry be- cause of the innovation. You no longer have to build with just 2×4’s.”
A ‘passive house’ is measured in certain metrics and already in places like Brussels, it’s code. Here, Greg says, it’s super new and innovative. In the last 30 years we’ve grown used to cheap energy and that’s tempered our drive to force new technology. Also, space isn’t—or hasn’t been—an issue in North America. And it’s a hard sale to forgo less expensive (but less efficient and not as long-lasting) materials during a build. Greg says many people remain apprehensive of the expense and fail to factor in the longevity and carbon footprint of better building materials.
Do we admit there’s a housing crisis? What- ever you want to call it, in the midst of so few homes to buy and rent, Tree Construction, in conjunction with Revelstoke’s Mountain CoLab, spearheaded a survey to see what people want and can afford. Everything was on the table from laneway houses to tiny homes. In all, 75 people completed surveys last sum- mer, showing lots of interest in solving local housing problems. It all led to an innovation night where 100-or-so people came out with ideas—everything from cohousing and tiny homes and laneway housing as well as numerous other forms of “light” housing like yurts and geodesic domes not permanently affixed to a location.
ABOVE Greg and JM talk with MP Wayne Stetski at the Mountain Colab about housing. BELOW JM says he is optimistic that at the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is going to un- leash $1 billion to go towards incubators. “That’s why we need to be driving really hard right now. One, because we have a housing crisis and two, because there’s going to be federal money… There’s this vibe that Trudeau’s not just a good looking dude but he’s really smart and putting the faith and control in Canadians’ hands. We as a community have to have a collective plan to get our MP and city councilors to work with us. Because, individually, person after person is going to be met with ‘no.’”
“You want to change a bylaw? How many readings and studies and years does that take? People don’t change until it’s so bad, so uncomfortable, that they’re forced to.”
“Realistically what we need to do is create on an experimental basis,” says Jean-Marc Laflamme, runner of the Mountain CoLab and self-avowed “chief instigator” for innovative housing in Revelstoke. He holds up his phone. “How we communicate has changed. How we get information has changed. How we build and get around, everything has changed.” What JM is referring to is developing a private industry-based building incubator called SLICK: the Sustainable Living Innovation Centre in the Kootenays. Instead of Joe General Contractor innovating by building someone’s house, SLICK would allocate an area of town for alternative housing and look at other places for how they resolve issues.
“We’re tapped into experts in the US and Europe,” he said. “We have lots of land … we can accommodate alternative housing. But we need the community to buy into it first.”
The next stage is nailing a professional strategy, which JM anticipates happening this Fall with another innovation night around it. Then, hopefully, work with council for approval. “Even if we don’t get to build this incubator … if we get our ducks in a row, we should be able to facilitate it with all the businesses. We have some freaking great experts in this community.”
Is there any hope for us? Only, it seems, if forced to and if legislators keep up with the times.
“We’re glacially slow,” says Greg. “Everyone knows that. You want to change a bylaw? How many readings and studies and years does that take …People don’t change until it’s so bad, so uncomfortable, that they’re forced to.”
Right now, there’s so much pressure on City planning’s shoestring staff. “They can’t keep up with the building climate here. It’s not the planning department’s fault; it’s the system’s fault,” he says, explaining how in the future the City will run into more and more prob- lems with its compartmentalized zoning sys- tem. “You end up with this paint-by-num- bers colour-coded city when it needs to be more diversified.
So then, is Revelstoke relegated to a future of ordinary small-town bureaucracy? “No. It inspires the crazy,” says Greg, listing off extreme industries and extreme sports and adventurers.”I would consider myself one of the crazies.”