Submitted by Zirnhelt Timber Frames –

We recently had the privilege of working with Esk’etemc First Nation to design and build the Letwilc ten Semec, or “Healing My Spirit” Lodge. The lodge is part of the larger provincial effort to address addictions and an extension of the leadership Esk’etemc First Nation has demonstrated in this area for many decades. This project expresses many of the core values of our company.

Esk’etemc First Nation, Alkali Lake Health & Wellness Centre, which received a Net Zero Energy Ready label from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA). Photo submitted by Sam Zirnhelt

This was the first building in a northern climate and the first in an Indigenous community to receive a Net Zero Energy Ready (NZER) label administered by the Canadian Home Builders Association. In short, NZER means if solar panels are installed on the south-facing roof, the building will generate as much energy as it consumes.

We started our company with a vision of developing sustainable or “green” building systems. Over the last 20 years the available body of building science knowledge has expanded rapidly as have other key elements of producing better buildings including design software, tools, trades skills, and materials (e.g. air and vapour membranes, insulation, doors and windows, mechanical systems, and lighting).

Building green means different things to different people and the standards and targets are evolving quickly. For some having a home built from natural products is paramount. For others energy efficiency is the most critical criteria.

At Zirnhelt Timber Frames (ZTF) our criteria for green or sustainable building include:

      1. 1. energy efficiency – reducing our carbon footprint and operating costs
      1. 2. durability – the buildings must last for many generations
      1. 3. occupant health – often more natural materials are favoured to achieve this element
      1. 4. affordability – there’s no point in designing a “perfect” building if people can’t afford to build them.
Cathedral ceiling in main entry of building. Photo submitted by Sam Zirnhelt

And, once the above are met, buildings should also be beautiful and culturally appropriate, fit with the local environment, and add value to the community they join. In reality, there is some degree of trade-off between the level of energy efficiency and use of natural materials with affordability. The challenge we enjoy is to hit the right mix or “sweet spot” for each situation and move each project as far as is practical along the sustainability continuum.

By 2032 it is expected that the BC Building Code will require all new builds to be net zero energy ready. When designing and building homes and public or commercial buildings we should start meeting this standard now.

To maximize value to the communities we work with we need to collaborate from the design phase through to completion. Our goal is to incorporate as much local employment and capacity building as possible in each project. Ideally, we work with communities on a range of projects (e.g. daycares, elder and youth centres, administration buildings, housing, and other economic development priorities). This helps design training and schedule projects for consistent employment. In some cases, we also include sawmill training, something we’ve been doing for 25 years.

We thank the leadership and community of Esk’etemc for the assistance and forward thinking vision they provided which was pivotal to the success of this project.

For more info please contact Sam Zirnhelt at (250)296-3499 or email To learn more about the project, see:


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