Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (Alberta)

Catalyzing the building industry to be greener

Hayley posing in front of Premiere Lake in British Columbia.

Science Horizons intern Hayley Puppato at Premiere Lake, British Columbia. Photo credit: Kayla Harris.

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Principal Investigator Tracey Chala calls former intern Hayley Puppato “an absolute rock star.” Puppato was hired by the Calgary post-secondary institute in 2019 to work for its Green Building Technologies research area and is now a full-time Project Coordinator.

Chala says that Puppato, a graduate of the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program from Royal Roads University, Colwood, BC, brings energy and drive to her projects. “I realized pretty quickly into the internship just how incredible her skill set was and what assets she brought to the team,” she says.

Puppato has been working towards the Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification of a 2,200 square foot home in the Summer Village of Waiparous in the foothills of southern Alberta. It’s no easy task.

“We are trying to catalyze the industry toward greener buildings,” says Chala, who oversees the project. “The fact that we built this incredible one-off house doesn’t make a huge difference environmentally, but by showing what can be done we hope it will have a ripple effect.”

Administered by the International Living Future Institute in Seattle, the LBC rating system is rigorous. The goal of the challenge is to create family homes that are healthy, efficient and ecologically sustainable. Full certification requires fulfillment of 20 imperatives, such as vetting the toxicity of ingredients of all of the products used and ensuring local sourcing. The contractor of the Alberta house is Woodpecker European Timber Framing, an environmentally conscious builder based in Canmore, Alberta.

Home to a family of five, the modest three-level house is designed to produce more renewable energy than it uses and meets its own water requirements without access to a municipal water system. It is now being monitored to ensure that its air quality, energy and water use meet the Living Building Challenge standards.

If the house receives the full certification, it will be the first such certified single-family home in Canada and the fifth in the world, according to Puppato. She predicts that the experience will stand out for her as a career milestone.

When she was a child, her parents enrolled her in the Alberta Junior Forest Wardens, a family-orientated ecology and leadership organization. “The program and my parents helped shape my values – especially for the environment, ecosystems and an appreciation of nature,” she says.

She had considered a career in environmental consulting but her work with green buildings has expanded her horizons. “Being on a project that’s so innovative has been incredibly eye-opening,” she says, pointing out that materials used in buildings have an impact on the environment and the entire supply chain, including factory workers, shippers, contractors and home occupants.

The more than 800 materials used in the home’s construction had to be researched to make sure they did not include toxic ingredients. Puppato says this was a gruelling process because manufacturers can be reluctant to share this information for proprietary reasons. The home also includes many salvaged products such as the wood flooring recovered from an old Vancouver warehouse.

Puppato’s internship was supported by a Clean Foundation’s Science Horizons Internship funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Science Horizons funding allows organizations to hire new people without taking on much risk. “It’s a no-brainer to take advantage of the opportunity to bring in someone with minimal experience and fresh out of school to give them a shot,” Chala says, adding that hiring young people energizes the team and brings new perspectives.

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