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Builder aims for the top 20

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 9, 2012

A Fort Smith carpenter is nearing completion of a log house that he says will be among the most energy-efficient homes in Canada.

NNSL photo/graphic

Thorsten Raab is building an extremely energy-efficient log home in Fort Smith and hopes it will be ready for his family to move into by October. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

In fact, Thorsten Raab, owner of a business called Sawdust, is hoping the house - which will be heated with electricity - will be one of the top 20 homes in the country when it comes to energy efficiency.

"With this house, I'm going to have an example to show what you can do even with a beautiful house towards high efficiency," he said.

Raab said he is trying to get the energy rating close to 90, which would be super-efficient on a scale used by the federal government and one of the best energy ratings possible in the North without using solar energy.

The 45-year-old has been building the house since the summer of 2010 while occasionally working on other projects, and he hopes to move into the home with his family in October.

His hope is the house, especially its energy efficiency, will create more business.

"The plan was hopefully people get attracted to it and either people give me contracts or I sell this one and build another one and sell it, and so on and so on," he said.

However, it is unclear if that will actually happen, he said.

"One thing that I realized here is this place is going to be one of the most expensive houses in town and most people can't afford it. This will be worth $650,000."

Despite that possible price, it will have very low heating costs.

"We estimate that it will need $450 a year for heating," Raab said.

The house is so energy efficient because of the way it is built, he explained, noting, for example, there is insulation inserted in the logs, layers of insulation are in the walls, and no screws or nails go from the exterior to the interior to be so-called cold bridges.

"The air tightness will be very good on this house," Raab added. "In a normal house, air leakage is the biggest problem with heating."

One other notable thing about the house - which has a striking appearance even now when not completely finished - is many of the logs came from the lot on which it stands.

There is interest in the house in Fort Smith, Raab said. "A lot of people have asked if they can come and have a look."

There will probably be an open house sometime next year once the interior of the house is completely finished.

Raab is originally from Germany, but has lived in Fort Smith since 2007.

"The first time I came to Fort Smith was in '96 and I travelled as a tourist," he said, noting he was living in British Columbia at the time and came north to visit Wood Buffalo National Park.

He visited Fort Smith about 10 more times before moving to the community.

"It's a different lifestyle here," he said. "It's totally peaceful and freedom. It's quiet here. That's something I really like."

Raab came to Canada on a student exchange program in the mid-1990s and learned to build log homes while working for two years in British Columbia. He returned to Germany to work in home construction and visited Canada many times as a tourist, before moving here in 2006.

In Fort Smith, he has worked at a number of things - renovations, energy consulting, ventilation system design and installation, building outdoor tables and benches, and masonry and concrete work, along with working for a year with a construction company on a project in Yellowknife.

Raab said he likes the variety of working in construction. "It's always something different."

This year, he is also building a sand storage building for the Department of Transportation. However, over the past few years, much of his time has been devoted to building his house.

It is the first one he has designed and built in Fort Smith, Raab noted. "It's still like an art for me to build something like this."

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