Assets Manager Richard Hall outside one of the new homes during construction last summer

Designing and building homes that stay dry on Nuxalk territory now a model for other communities

Water is the basis for life. When found in the wrong places, however, it can seriously undermine quality of life.

Water is the basis for life. When found in the wrong places, however, it can seriously undermine quality of life. Residents of Nuxalk Nation, in British Columbia, have come to understand this reality. After learning how design flaws in the housing stock had allowed mould to flourish in homes, tradespeople and residents alike now understand better how to prevent moisture that could lead to mould.

Richard Hall, Asset Manager for Nuxalk Nation, led the effort after the community began seeing how mould was impacting the health and well-being of people.

“The presence of mould and off-gassing scents was active whenever the room atmosphere changed. Mould was found in isolated areas in bedrooms and basements, as well as in the attic and ceiling, and particularly in bathrooms,” says Hall. “The adverse effects were evident and problematic for babies, youth and seniors. Most did not want to live in their homes or to return home after outings.”

The age and design of the homes was a fundamental problem. “We are in a rainforest, and the homes and materials have to be suitable to this climate,” says Hall. “Discovering the cause of the problem required investigation. We needed to analyze the conditions in and around the home. There could have been flaws in structural or interior design, but other factors included overcrowding or personal habits. Often, it was a combination of factors.”

The homes are being repaired and the design flaw corrected with the support of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The community also made use of the CMHC training program, Let’s Clear the Air, a one-day workshop that delivers hands-on training in identifying indoor air quality problems. The training raised awareness of moisture in the home for the 15 carpenters and carpenter helpers who attended the workshop. It also provided them with information on appropriate construction and design practices. The long-term solution, however, will depend as much on education as remediation.

“One of the challenges is changing the perception of those who have had to deal with contamination and rehabilitation and giving them feedback on how important it is to be accountable and responsible for the outcome,” says Hall.

The community’s education program even included engaging children on how they can help prevent mould, with tips such as not covering windows. The band is now in the process of building new housing using CMHC’s On-Reserve Non-Profit Housing Program (Section 95). The program assists First Nations in creating affordable rental housing on-reserve. Six new homes are planned.

For the new homes, Nuxalk chose a design that is suitable for this very wet area of British Columbia’s coast. Design features include slab insulation and a waterproof membrane, an exterior rainscreen and 0.9 m (3 ft.)overhangs. Other features include ENERGY STAR appliances and light fixtures, solar-powered exterior lighting, heat recovery units, an underfloor radiant heat system and programmable thermostats.

When Richard was putting the project together, he looked at bringing the cost down in some areas so that he could incorporate more advanced and energy-efficient features in other areas.

“He completely tailored the homes to meet the specific needs of the Nation given their location and climate,” says Esther Conibear, CMHC Consultant, First Nation Housing(British Columbia).

The Nuxalk Nation’s progress in remediating andpreventing mould is providing valuable lessons for other First Nations, and Richard Hall’s advice is often sought out by local communities.

“Contractors now have a better understanding of the basic building science principles of indoor air quality and why it is important to select proper materials for the job,” says Hall. “There is value in using materials that may cost more but better suit the climate.”