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Dennis Bevington opens up 'net-zero' Fort Smith office

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What if your office could supply its own electricity, heat, and water?

The Boreal Sun Building in Fort Smith does just this.

“The building is designed to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said Dennis Bevington, who designed and constructed the "net-zero" building with help from his Stand Alone Energy business partner Jack Van Camp and his son, Nicholas, of engineering company REV North.

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The public will be able to tour the four office spaces available and take in an art gallery during the grand opening on Saturday, May 11, from 1pm till 4pm.

Bevington said he’s been advocating for environmentally conscious architecture for decades – but the response and pace of change have been “frustrating.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go ahead and do this building,” said the former NWT MP, “Just to say, ‘Look, this is how you can do it.’

“This is the first time that I’ve brought everything together and in one building.

“I think what we really need in the North is a concentrated effort to come up with practical solutions that we can install in buildings.

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“We really can't continue to build buildings that don't respond to the natural environment, that don't utilize the things that are available to them to improve the efficiency of the buildings and to reduce their CO2 emissions,” he said.

How it works

The office produces all of its own electricity through solar photovoltaics (the solar panels), which can then be converted into heat. 

Bevington uses a heat pump and other resistance heating to produce the heat the building needs.

“Integral to self-sufficiency is storage, so we have a very large battery bank in the building and we can store energy over a period of days on that," he said.

“But we also have … a 4,000-gallon insulated heat storage tank under the building,” he explained, which takes heat from the solar panels and solar thermal collectors.

The tank is supplied with rainwater, which is then used for any non-potable requirements, like in the washrooms.

Backup heat comes from a wood boiler system, and any excess heat is used in other buildings Bevington has on the property.

In the summer, he said, he’ll plug in an electric vehicle to use up some of the electricity load, as the building is not attached to the grid.

One winter down

Bevington said the office has already been operational through one winter season.

“It went pretty well. I think we've made even more improvements," he reflected.

“We needed to find even more ways of storing heat. Now we’ve got that concept going, that should help a lot.”

Bevington said the hardest months were November and December, when there was very little sunshine.