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Cardinal House CLT home dubbed ‘house of the future’ for Indigenous communities

Don Procter
Cardinal House CLT home dubbed ‘house of the future’ for Indigenous communities

Cardinal House, a prefabricated, cross-laminated timber (CLT) residence erected recently on the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, is the first of what its architect hopes will be many such houses built to meet the needs of First Nations communities across Canada.

“We feel it is a house of the future,” Douglas Cardinal, of Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc., said recently about the 1,100-square-foot home.

The internationally-recognized architect, noted for designs such as the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., said while the simple house is one of the smallest commissions of his storied career, it is among the most important because it represents a new housing type for First Nations communities.

Many First Nations homes are poorly built, often leaking air and moisture that can lead to unhealthy mould.

“It feels almost like the whole construction industry is making a lot of money providing these terrible homes,” Cardinal said.

At Elsipogtog, between Moncton and Mirimachi, Cardinal House sets a different standard.

The house was largely premanufactured in Quebec by Element5. The CLT manufacturer designed CLIPS (cross-laminated insulated panels) — a four-inch solid CLT panel to act as a structural support and be the finished interior wall system, eliminating the need for conventional walls made of studs and drywall, Patrick Chouinard, founder and CEO, Element5, said.

For quick site-assembly — it took three days to erect — and to cut costs, the roof was prefabricated with traditional engineered roof trusses assembled in “cassettes” or boxes filled with cellulose insulation, Chouinard said.

The materials package — which includes exterior/interior walls, roof assembly and other interior materials such as the strapping for exterior cladding, cost less than $100 a square foot. Additional costs included the tab for prefabricated cedar plank cladding supplied by the general contractor, Quebec-based MCH, which also supplied the mechanical system, metal roofing and other details.

The panels and roof system were shipped from Element5’s factory in Ripon, Que., on a single truck.

The exterior side of the CLT panel is covered in an EPS foam and a vapour-control layer, Chouinard said.

He pointed out that drywall has been a source of mould in the oft-substandard housing built in northern Indigenous communities. “This design appears to be the solution that helps with the First Nations housing challenge.”

Completed in November, Cardinal House includes three bedrooms and a mezzanine floor. The low-maintenance design features a single sloping roof with a curve.

“It was a little extra effort for us to get the curved roof structure right,” Chouinard said.

Cardinal, who has been working on the project for 10 years, said developing a healthy house that will last at least three generations has been his objective.

Much of the housing built in The North today is substandard, lasting only a decade or two, he said.

Cardinal House is well-insulated and comes up only 20 per cent short of net zero, but future homes could meet that target, the architect said.

Demand for housing in Indigenous communities is large. With a population of 4,000, the Elsipogtog First Nation has a need for 500 new homes, Cardinal said. Across Canada, First Nations communities are in need of about 130,000 homes.

Cardinal said First Nations communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon have shown interest in his house design. “We’re looking forward to serving quite a few communities.”

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