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Former Students and Their Beautiful Home

As a teacher, there is nothing more satisfying than to know that what you have taught has been absorbed, understood and sometimes even improved upon by a student.

Kate and Bernat with their amazing hybrid straw bale house

Jen and I were recently driving to Nova Scotia, and paid a surprise visit to Kate Alvo and Bernat Ferragut who were in our sustainable building program in 2009. They have designed and are close to finishing construction on their home in Port Neuf, Quebec.

They have exemplified the kind of careful planning, thoughtful research and quality building work that all add up to an excellent sustainable building project.

It was wonderful to be able to tour the home a bit ahead of its final completion, as we were still able to see the “guts” of the build. From a beautiful and functional design to the fine details of air sealing to excellent materials selection, this is exactly the kind of home that can make a real difference to our impact on the planet.

Kate and Bernat have, since 2009, run a business called Le Chantier du Bonheur, performing ecological renovations throughout Quebec.

Among the many great ideas and technologies incorporated into their home, the one I was most excited to see was the pellet boiler heating system and the deluxe hot water tank that accompanies it.

The pellet boiler on the left and the triple input hot water tank on the right should make for a very efficient and affordable heating system.

I have long been interested in pellet boiler technology, but have yet to install a system into a building. I see pellets as an excellent fuel source when made with regional waste biomass (as is widely available throughout much of Canada). The pellets burn more cleanly and efficiently than wood stoves or furnaces, and the boiler system allows easy hook up to hydronic heating systems and domestic hot water end uses. A large hopper allows enough pellets to be loaded to ensure long run time capability, so heating with biomass no longer means having to be at home all day to feed the stove.

The water tank has a triple input, allowing water in the same tank to be heated by solar, the pellet boiler and a backup electric resistance heater. The large capacity of the tank takes full advantage of solar input and the pellet boiler, and the inexpensive (to install) electric resistance heater means that the house never goes without heat, even if the boiler runs out of pellets.

The pellet boiler is from Pellmax and the tank from Aqualux. The two units were very affordable, and I’m very glad to be able to find out how they work without always being the first adopter of a new technology!

We wish Kate and Bernat all the best as they finish their home! You can follow their entire project history on their blog.

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