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When Fire is Close to Home

Erich Klein of Baptist Housing, a faith-based non-profit housing organization, loves working with seniors. 

“My love for working with seniors is rooted in the meaningful connections, the wisdom they share, the gratitude expressed, the opportunity to make a difference, and the resilience they exhibit. I consider it a privilege to be a part of their lives and contribute to their well-being,” says Erich.

But this past summer, when seniors had to be evacuated from their residences due to wildfires in Kelowna, British Columbia, the Baptist Housing team faced incredible challenges.

“It was intense to evacuate residents. We moved residents into our two other locations in Kelowna. They were living in temporary accommodations, many in common areas where privacy was limited and it was challenging to provide care,” says Erich. 

Living through this time was tough for the Baptist housing team, but it also strengthened Erich’s belief that we need to take action together.

“My Christian faith teaches values such as stewardship, compassion, and a sense of responsibility for the well-being of our planet and its people,” Erich explains. “I’m worried about the wildfires, we’re really seeing the impacts we’re going to be dealing with in the years to come. Making a change is not something that is just a good deed, it’s a requirement. Everyone has to do it.” 

Erich Klein oversees the operations of numerous residences for seniors across BC. (All photos courtesy of Baptist Housing)

A Full Overhaul

When Erich isn’t part of evacuation emergencies at Baptist Housing, his daily responsibilities as Director of Sustainability and Maintenance are to get the facilities running as efficiently as possible. He does this not only in Kelowna but also in 20 other places around BC, including in White Rock.

“The temperature differences we’re dealing with, the additional cooling that’s required for each building, the rising energy costs, it makes the operation for a nonprofit very difficult,” Erich says. 

Erich recently oversaw an energy retrofit—modifying a building to be as energy efficient as possible—at Evergreen Manor, a 110-unit affordable housing complex in White Rock, BC. The site was in dire need of upgrades.

“We looked at how to decrease our operational costs and reduce our impact on the environment. We all need to take a close look at what’s happening around us,” says Erich. 

During the energy efficiency upgrade, they improved the mechanical systems and also installed solar panels.

“Evergreen Manor was the first building where we installed a solar energy system. Even during cloudy days, the system is operational and adjusts its capacity to the weather. After three months, we quickly realized the big savings we were able to achieve with a small system,” says Erich.  

Erich also worked to oversee reducing methane gas usage by adding electric heat pumps in common areas for heating and cooling. 

Erich says the retrofit process went smoothly and quickly. With support from the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and utility companies, it took six months from planning to implementation.

And Baptist Housing is reaping the benefits of the changes. 

“We’ve definitely seen a significant reduction in our heating bills. For Evergreen Manor, we are saving $13,000 annually, and we reduced our consumption by 17%,” Erich says.

Even during cloudy days, the small solar system at the 110-unit senior’s housing building in White Rock, BC, is operational and money-saving.

The Big Picture

Erich thinks that new buildings should be built with efficient technologies. However, he’s concerned about the current system’s limited support for the upgrades needed for older buildings. 

Erich is also concerned that industry contractors will raise their rates when something like the Canada Greener Homes Grant comes in, which financially supports homeowners in making their houses more efficient. He hopes the BC Government can help. 

“I would like to see the province of BC stepping up. [Retrofitting] isn’t expensive if the cost is set and somewhat controlled.”

Erich hopes organizations like his will be able to keep up.

“We don’t have the capital infrastructure to tap into to aggressively change our buildings. We have to do it step by step with incentives that come out. Support is certainly going to be needed.” 

For now, Erich is continuing to work on upgrading the Baptist Housing buildings with energy efficiency as a top priority. 

“We want to show that we have the capability of changing. Hopefully, others in the industry will follow suit and look at their systems as well.”

Happy residents of the Baptist Housing building in White Rock.