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Joyce Johnson has been the Slocan Valley Housing Society Coordinator for over three years, where she manages a subsidized housing unit. 

Joyce loves supporting people to have secure, affordable housing, which she says is a critical and ongoing issue in our area. She adores living in the Slocan Valley, British Columbia. 

“I was born in the lower mainland and raised in Nakusp starting at age 6. I spent 10 years on the coast and then decided to come back to the slightly slower pace in the Kootenays. I’ve been in Slocan for nearly 20 years and Nelson for 10 before that.”

Joyce has noticed many changes in her decades living in the West Kootenays. 

“The weather is not as predictable as it used to be. We aren’t guaranteed snow or rain. Our weather patterns have changed. It’s become so unpredictable.” 

During the fires of the past few years, Joyce remembers how tenants had to stay inside to avoid breathing in the smoke. Forest fires are on her mind a lot. 

“It’s always a worry. It is the natural disaster we face in the Kootenays.”

A Passmore Lodge resident tells Joyce how comfortable her unit is now with the new heat pump in the summer. All photos taken by Anna Dulisse.

Due to these worries, it was an intuitive choice to energy retrofit the affordable housing building, a ten-unit building, Passmore Lodge, in Passmore, BC, to make it safer for seniors when it comes to weather extremes. Joyce explains the moment she knew she needed to make changes.

“We had a heat dome in 2021 and here in Passmore, where it’s fairly open, it was hard for tenants who didn’t have plug-in air conditioners. I was quite worried. We had previously done some mitigation installing bamboo blinds, etc, but the heat dome took it over the top and I felt strongly that we needed to do more to protect our tenants from the heat.”

Tenants also found odours coming through the vent system, impacting their enjoyment of their homes, leading Joyce to look at updating the ventilation system. This was at the height of Covid when gathering in a cool common room was impossible. 

“We started looking at the amount of energy used if everybody had an air conditioner installed in their unit—the window and portable ones take a lot of energy to run. I wanted to make sure the temperature was comfortable in the tenants’ units so that could be the refuge in really hot weather,” says Joyce.

She brought the idea to the board, who agreed an upgrade made sense. 

“The tenants here were pleased with the idea. Many didn’t have air conditioning, so being cool in their units was very exciting,” says Joyce. 

Local timber beams hover above the common indoor gathering area.

The first step was understanding how the building was doing regarding energy usage. An energy audit funded by Columbia Basin Trust’s Energy Retrofit Program and Fortis rebates taught them that improving the building’s insulation was essential.

“Bumping up the insulation helped to improve the energy efficiency of the building. We use less electricity for heating since we got that done, which is good,” says Joyce.

They also installed three heat recovery ventilators, a device that replaces stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air, in common areas. The other update was having heat pumps installed.

“I wanted to get something energy efficient into the units. Installing those instead of air conditioners made sense,” says Joyce. “When we have forest fires, and it is smoky, the heat pumps will help to filter out some of that. It recycles the air within the unit, filters and cools it.” 

Joyce oversaw every aspect of the upgrades with support from BC Non-profit Housing Association and secured grant funding for the energy resets from  Columbia Basin Trust and the Community Housing Transformation Centre.

Joyce’s motivation was also to reduce the lodge’s contribution to climate change. The Slocan Valley Housing Society is also working on several new affordable housing projects in the valley, which will also be built to be energy efficient. 

“That’s always important to me and to the society. Wherever we can save energy is a good thing. I feel pretty excited. I can hardly wait for the summer just to see how people experience heat pumps in their homes. The tenants are very pleased and look forward to using them this summer.”