15 Feb Blanket of Warmth Project Exceptional Engineering Award APEGS 2021
On Star Blanket Cree Nation more than 60% of the homes have thermal comfort and air quality issues. Upon a chance meeting, Wendel Starblanket brought to the attention of MacPherson Engineering his concern for poor air quality and the cold, damp basement in his home. He was concerned about the impact on his and his wife’s health. He was also concerned with cost of using electric space heaters to warm the basement and the current method of dehumidifying using a hanging bag of desiccant that drips into a pail.
To address the issues in his home, MacPherson Engineering Inc made a strategic decision to form an informal partnership with Star Blanket Cree Nation, APEGS, the University of Regina Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, MacPherson Engineering, ASHRAE, Anaquod Plumbing and Heating, Uponor, Creative Services, Fries Tallman and United Nation Saskatchewan Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. The goal was to make improvements that were effective, affordable, ecofriendly, incorporate Indigenous Knowledge and create positive social values.
The ‘Blanket of Warmth’ project conceptualized was to supplement the existing HVAC system with a hybrid radiant heating system that could take advantage of the thermal mass of the basement concrete floor and walls in a similar manner to how the tipi used rocks around a fire to store and release radiant heat. The result of our project was that the basements of two Star Blanket Cree Nation homes were transformed from being cold and damp to be warm, comfortable and in compliance with ASHRAE Standard 55 – Thermal Environmental Conditions For Human Occupancy.
The ‘Blanket of Warmth’ project broadened Indigenous Knowledge of the Tipi and used five of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: Goal #17 Partnership, Goal #12 Responsible Consumption and Production, Goal #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Goal #3 Good Health and Well Being and Goal #4 Quality Education.
Historically, the tipi was one of the first built structures in North America to use the concept of radiant heat. The rocks were collected to encircle the fire in the middle of the tipi which worked to activate the thermal mass of the rocks by absorbing then slowly releasing radiant heat. It was a system of responsible consumption and production.
Our project began with a Pipe Ceremony to ask the Elders and Ancestors for guidance in connecting the physical and spiritual worlds. Wendell organized the Pipe Ceremony that included Chief Michael Starr and Elders Lindsay Starr and Ethel Starblanket. We did not realize it at the time but this ceremony was the beginning of our understanding of compassionate professionalism.
Our concept to rethink and spotlight the HVAC design was presented to the University of Regina. It was Dr. Henni’s suggestion that this had the makings of a Capstone final year student project where two existing Starblanket Cree Nation homes could be compared; one with the hybrid heating system installed and one with a conventional HVAC system.
It was the Capstone Project engineering students; Kennedy Dollard, Anton Movchan and Jeremy Shiplack that compared thermal comfort and air quality in the two homes and also from a safety perspective, identified the prevalence of fires caused by portable electric heaters and the risks to the occupant’s wellbeing they posed. The students brought fresh eyes to a problem that had been labelled as a ‘wicked’ problem that was preventing Wendel and his family from meeting United Nation Goal #3 – Good Health and Well Being.
The project demonstrated that by using five of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and incorporating compassionate professionalism and social sustainability we were able to achieve the following:
- Two homes that are warm and comfortable and comply with ASHRAE Standard 55.
- Improved air quality by minimizing condensation on the basement walls & floor.
- Save the occupant $780 per year on their power bills by not requiring electric heat.
- Added 900 sq.ft. of livable space by making the basement warm and comfortable.
- Implemented solutions that are cost effective with a payback period of 9.6 years.
- Renewed First Nations homes that were 50 years old.
- Use the thermal mass of the construction to provide 12.9 hours of built-in energy depletion to build adaptation and resilience into the home during future power outages.
- Removed the need for electric space heaters that according to the National Fire Protection Association 79% of deadly home heating fires are due to electric space heaters.
APEGS Edge article July/August 2019 by Dr. Esam Hussein called “Compassionate Professionalism and Social Sustainability” closes with Dr. Hussein stating ‘I have posed here more questions than answers, in hope of generating a debate with the profession. What better place to start this conversation than in Saskatchewan the birthplace of Medicare and the cooperative movement’. The ‘Blanket of Warmth’ project embodies compassionate professionalism and social sustainability, and Saskatchewan is truly the best place to start this movement.