While it seems the price of just about everything is increasing, an environmentally-friendly new trend could help reduce your home’s energy costs.
Called net-zero-energy homes (NZE), these dwellings generate as much energy as they consume each year, according to Eco-Solar Home Tour Society of Alberta. The Edmonton-based organization is a volunteer-run, non-profit dedicated to informing the public about energy efficiency and NZE homes.
“My home, for example, each year, generates enough electricity to offset my lighting, heating and my electric car,” said Eco-Solar Home Tour president Andrew Mills. “It’s something you can achieve in Alberta. We have fabulous solar resources – lots of sun. If you choose to go that way, you can do it.”
NZE homes are all-electric, including the source of heat. These homes use a solar array to generate enough electricity to offset the home’s energy usage for the year. Though NZE homes require more electricity from the grid in the winter, they sell more back to the grid in the summer and – on average – the electricity sold balances the electricity purchased.
Airdrie resident Adrian Bollard, along with his wife Sherry, said he has long been an environmental and green-energy advocate, so it only made sense their Chinook Winds home reflects these values.
“I’m passionate about the the environment and home construction, so net-zero, high-efficiency homes are right up my street,” Bollard said, adding his background is in property management and development.
The couple worked with Excel Homes, which provided its green energy template, and then incorporated some extras toward their ultimate goal of a NZE home.
While Bollard said the home is not yet NZE, they are close.
“We started out with an annual energy requirement of almost 100 gigajoule (Gj). The solar alone reduced that by 48 Gj,” he said. “I suspect we are around 10 Gj right now. To get to zero, we’ll need to double insulate some walls, either interior feature walls or apply a second layer externally.”
According to Natural Resources Canada, basements can account for about 20 per cent of a home’s total heat loss, due to the large, un-insulated surface area both above and below grade level. While many basements have little or no insulation, the Bollards installed insulation under the home’s slab.
In addition to under the slab, the couple had extra insulation added to the attic, which increased the space’s R-value from R50 to R60. (How well the home is insulated is measured in R-values – the greater the R-value, the greater the resistance to heat loss).
“Excel also provided the rough-ins for a solar array, which we insisted on being our first big purchase for our home,” the Bollards said in an Eco-Solar press release. “We have 33 panels (10.5 KW DC) installed by Skyfire, which provides the electricity needed to power both our home and our electric vehicle.”
Adrian and Sherry have also opted to cut their reliance on gas when it comes to their vehicle. The purchase of an electric vehicle saves the couple about $700 a month on fuel, according to Mills.
The Bollards also included a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) in the home. Natural Resources Canada states the device helps make the space healthier, cleaner and more comfortable by continuously replacing stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air. The HRV captures heat from the stale air leaving your house in the winter and uses it to preheat the incoming fresh air. Similarly, an HRV can reverse this process during the summer by removing some of the heat from the incoming air and transferring it to the outgoing air.
The Airdronians' home also features R20 insulation in the walls, electric heaters on each floor, LED lighting, Energy Star appliances and triple-glaze windows with honeycomb double cellular blinds that double the insulation value of the windows.
In addition, the couple utilizes a rain barrel along with a battery-electric mower and trimmer.
To reduce their water usage and associated costs, the Bollards installed low-flow toilets and shower heads.
The couple said the energy-efficient elements “have saved us thousands in fuel costs.”
While the element that has made the biggest impact is the home’s solar production of 13,000 kilowatthours per year, Bollard said ensuring the home was properly sealed was also essential.
The Bollards continue to improve their home’s energy efficiency, spending weekends sealing gaps throughout the building envelope. More recently, the Airdonians installed an air-source heat pump and electric furnace, making their home’s heating all-electric.
“You could walk right in and not notice anything different from our neighbours. But dig deeper, and you’ll see we dry our clothes in the afternoon when there’s ample solar production. Our windows are covered with near air tight honeycomb blinds and thermal curtains, which really beefs up the insulation factor of the windows from R3 to R8,” he said. “Most of the upgrades outside the furnace room are barely notable.”
With their sights set on updating the home’s solar array, the Bollards are closer than ever to achieving their goal of a NZE home.
“It won’t be long before we stop laughingly referring to our home as ‘near zero’ as we inch that much closer in our conversion to a true net-zero home,” Bollard said. “I can’t wait.”
The couple is so committed to their goal they opened their home on June 11 to the public as part of Eco-Solar Home Tour’s annual open-house tours. Other tours were offered in Balzac and Calgary that day.
Bollard said he hoped the tour of his home can motivate others.
“If I can double or quadruple my impact by inspiring others, then that would be just magic,” Bollard said. “I’m a numbers person, so when I can demonstrate how economical energy efficiency, solar and electric vehicles are, then everyone’s interest gets peaked – especially with the current inflation on the cost of traditional energy sources.”
While it is possible to visit new energy-efficient showhomes, Eco-Solar Home Tours argues their open-house tours give the public the opportunity to speak directly with the homeowners of energy-efficient and NZE homes.
“Whether you believe in climate change or not, energy is an important part of what we do. Our homes are a significant part of the energy we consume,” Mills said. “We live in a cold climate, so having your home generate its own energy to the point where it actually offsets all the energy it uses in a year is great.”
He added solar clubs “can actually get to the point where you have no electric bill.” According to Green Alberta Energy, solar clubs are non-government programs created to help increase the earning potential of micro-generators for customers who both import and export electricity to the grid.
“You can get rid of the gas, heat your home electrically and still put up enough solar and a range of finances in a way so that you have a power bill at the end of the year that is zero or less,” Mills said. “You pay in the winter and it pays [you] back in the summer, but at the end of the year, you end up with a balance of essentially nothing. That, in this era where energy costs are skyrocketing, is really important.”
For more information on the Eco-Solar Home Tour Society of Alberta, visit ecosolar.ca
–With files from Scott Strasser/Airdrie City View