Tag Archives: energy efficiency

Zero House Sneak Peak

Zero House Project sets ambitious goals

Can we build homes with a zero carbon footprint, that use net zero energy and contain zero toxins?

The Sustainable New Construction class of 2017 is undertaking to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” And they will be doing it in a completely modular, prefabricated form, at a realistic market cost.

Zero House is a demonstration project being undertaken by Endeavour Centre and Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science. The plan originated as SolarBLOCK by ECOstudio, a multi-unit design for urban infill sites. Zero House is a scaled version of a single module of the larger plan – one piece of a potentially larger development.

Zero House is designed to consume no more electricity than it produces in a year, and will use no fossil fuels. The building will sequester more carbon in its plant-based materials (which include wood, straw, mycelium, and recycled paper) than were emitted during material production, positioning it as an important solution to climate change. No materials inside Zero House will contain any questionable chemical content and the building will have an active ventilation system to provide the highest indoor air quality for occupants.

The project will be built in Peterborough in modular components, and then dismantled and rebuilt at the EDITdx Expo for Design, Innovation and Technology in Toronto this fall, where show goers will be able to visit the home, meet the designers and builders and experience Zero House for themselves.

Zero House

The class of 2017 gathers to start Zero House by making mycelium insulation samples.

The project is being sponsored by many progressive material and system manufacturers, and we will introduce them as their components are placed in the building.

We will keep an ongoing journal of the construction of this project, so keep watching here for updates and to follow our progress!

Sustainable Building Essentials from Endeavour and New Society Publishers

The Endeavour Centre is partnering with New Society Publishers to bring natural building enthusiasts a new series of books intended to cover the full spectrum of materials, systems and approaches to natural building.

Sustainable Building Essentials books

Called the Sustainable Building Essentials series, the books cover the full range of natural and green building techniques with a focus on sustainable materials and methods and code compliance. Firmly rooted in sound building science and drawing on decades of experience, these large-format, highly-illustrated manuals deliver comprehensive, practical guidance from leading experts using a well-organized step-by-step approach. Whether your interest is foundations, walls, insulation, mechanical systems or final finishes, these unique books present the essential information on each topic.

The first three titles in the series are now available for pre-order from the publisher, with a 20% discount:

Essential Hempcrete Construction

Essential Building Science

Essential Prefab Strawbale Construction

Upcoming titles in the series include:

  • Essential Straw/Clay Construction
  • Essential Green Home Design
  • Essential Rainwater Harvesting
  • Essential Natural Plasters
  • Essential Cordwood Construction
  • Essential Composting Toilet Systems
  • Essential Green Roofs
  • and many more…

We hope that this series helps continue Endeavour’s mission to bring affordable, accessible and accurate sustainable building information to a wide audience!

Green & Healthy Home Renovation series

Greening Your Kitchen & Bathroom
– Tuesday, November 1

Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
– Tuesday, November 8

Choosing Healthy Paints, Finishes & Flooring
– Tuesday, November 15

All presentations 6 pm to 9 pm
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Instructor: Chris Magwood

Are you looking to renovate your home in a greener, healthier way? There is so much conflicting information out there it can be hard to know what to do.

Don’t get your information from a salesman!
This series of evening presentations gives you a chance to learn about a wide range of options from an unbiased source – long-time sustainable builder Chris Magwood. As the author of the book Making Better Buildings, Chris has made a name for himself for giving good, well-researched and honest advice to home owners about how to make the right green choices to meet their own unique goals.

 

See and experience a wide range of options
Not only will you learn about how to assess and choose green building options, the Endeavour Centre classroom is a living laboratory of green building and you will be able to see and experience samples of materials, systems and products.

Affordable and practical green solutions
Most people think that renovating in a green and healthy way will cost them a lot more money, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Green Renovation Series offers practical advice and a real focus on affordability to help you meet your goals on your budget.

Get answers to your questions
Each presentation will include a generous amount of question-and-answer time, allowing you to get specific advice on your own projects. A hand-out will be included to help you source all the materials and systems discussed during the workshop.

Put 20 years of green building knowledge to work for you
Finding out how to make choices that are healthy for you and your family and for the planet is a lot less difficult than you might think. Each of these 3-hour presentations is lively, engaging and informative. Come to any one of the presentations for just $25, or come to all three for just $60.

Entry requirements
Open to all

Fee
Each presentation – $25
Attend all three for just $60

Net Zero Energy Certification Course

June 18-19, 2016
9 am – 5 pm, both days
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Instructor: Ross Elliott

Workshop Description:

Don’t miss this highly-rated, information-packed workshop, loaded with everything you need to know about the Net Zero Energy/Net Zero Ready home building and the CHBA Net Zero Energy pilot. Net Zero Energy Homes are the pinnacle of energy efficiency, and third-party verified to be ultra efficient.

Benefit from your position as one of the first Net Zero-trained home builders as part of the pilot program.

Train with one of the country’s leading building scientists, Homesol’s Ross Elliott, in conjunction with the #1 certifier of energy efficient homes in Canada, EnerQuality

Many of our builder participants are already building high performance homes.

This information-packed workshop will provide you with:

  • Unparalleled building science technical preparation for building Net Zero and Net Zero Ready homes based on the incoming CHBA Net Zero protocol
  • The ability to efficiently design and plan for the incoming Net Zero certification requirements
  • Practical understanding of how to build homes to Net Zero standards, using cost-effective technologies which are already available
  • Tips to successfully market and sell a Net Zero home by one of Canada’s most-seasoned experts
  • Entry to a community of builders who will be receiving ongoing, practical information on the development of the program, including support from EnerQuality’s administrative and Quality Assurance team
  • Certificate recognition of your training and expertise
  • Net Zero R-2000 training Manual for use during the workshop and the future reference
  • Recognition as an R-2000 trained builder and/or maintain your access status

Date/Location

Saturday-Sunday, June 18-19 2016

Endeavour Centre, 910 High St Unit 14, Peterborough, ON K9J 5RJ

Cost:

$899 + HST

HBA Members $799 + HST

The CHBA Builder’s Manual (2013) is a required text. You may purchase this through EnerQuality, or bring your own.

Please note that HBA membership is required to have homes certified under Net Zero. The Net Zero program is in development and updates and revisions to the program may be made. 

Course Content

  • Building Science Principles
  • Air Barrier Systems
  • Renewables
  • Windows
  • Foundations
  • Advanced Construction
  • Air-Sealing Techniques
  • Mechanical Systems
  • Marketing
  • R-2000 Quality Assurance Process Overview
  • CHBA NZE Labelling Program Requirements & Process Review
  • New and Better Building Techniques
  • Best Practices
  • Lessons Learned
  • Consumer Benefits
  • Networking
  • More!

This workshop satisfies OAA and OBOA Continuing Education Credits, R-2000* Builder Training and CHBA NZE Pilot Builder Training.

Instructor

Ross Elliott 2015

Ross Elliott

Ross Elliott, President and CEO of Homesol Building Solutions Inc., inspires owners, builders, designers and policymakers to create some of North America’s most energy efficient homes. He is a Certified Passive House Consultant (both iPHI and PHIUS) with over 30 years expertise in sustainable building & design. Ross and his team have completed almost 20,000 building energy evaluations, from ENERGY STAR® for New Homes, R-2000, and Home Energy Check-up Reports, to LEED, Passive House and Zero Energy+ homes. Named, for the second time in 2011, Ontario’s Energy Evaluator of the Year, and awarded EnerQuality Hall of Fame in 2014, Ross is also a LEED-Accredited Professional (Building Design & Construction), a Certified Energy Evaluator for ENERGY STAR® & R-2000 and is a qualified Air Systems & Radiant Hydronic Design Technician. He holds a BCIN Designer designation with the Ontario Ministry of Housing, and is experienced with natural building materials such as strawbale.

Active in his industry, Ross is a Director and Founding Member of Passive Buildings Canada and the Global Passive Buildings Council, a Faculty Member of the Canada Green Building Council and is a past Director of EnerQuality Corporation. He is also a Director of the Ontario Natural Building Coalition. He has provided research and training for major organizations including CMHC, Ontario First Nations Technical Services and Natural Resources Canada. Ross is completing his Masters in Ecological Design, and is currently working with dozens of sustainable building projects including a Zero Energy Passive House, a soap bubble insulated & shaded greenhouse, and his own rural home near Ottawa, recently certified as LEED Gold, R-2000, ENERGY STAR®, EnerGuide 90 and GreenHouse. He first trained as an energy auditor in 1979, worked as a Licensed Journeyman Carpenter for 10 years and operated his own construction business, specializing in Earth Friendly Homes, for seven years before starting Homesol in 1999.

Registration

Interested participants can register online.

If you have any further questions please contact our office at 416-447-0077 or via email at Jessika@EnerQuality.ca.

Cancellation Policy

EnerQuality endeavours to be as flexible as possible with our cancellation policy.  In the event you are unable to personally attend a workshop, you may, with prior notice, substitute another representative from your company. A refund (less $50 administration fee) will be issued for cancellations made up to 45 days in advance of the workshop. Contractual obligations and agreements with third parties may require for the policy to be amended or revised from time to time. EnerQuality reserves the right to reschedule, relocate, or cancel events. Should this be required, we will provide prior notice to all registrants.

 

 

The (Carbon) Elephant in the Room

There is an elephant in the room when it comes to our buildings, and it’s a carbon elephant… Every time we make or renovate a building, there is a carbon footprint as a result of the harvesting and manufacturing of the materials as well as the transportation involved. If we think this carbon footprint is negligible, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room!

Embodied carbon versus operational carbon
For many years, green building advocates maintained that the embodied carbon of building materials was not as important as reducing the operational energy use and carbon footprint. By this reasoning, it was justifiable to use materials with a high carbon footprint because they would eventually “pay back” that carbon “investment” with reduced energy use over time.

It’s not a trade-off
However, it is possible to make buildings with low-carbon building materials that match the energy efficiency performance of buildings that use high-carbon solutions. It’s a win-win solution… but it takes some adjustments to our way of thinking about buildings.

The carbon elephant
A comparison of the carbon footprint of a few different types of building shows that there can be a huge difference based on just a few material selections.

 

Carbon emissions of various construction types (from Making Better Buildings)

 

This chart shows the same 1,000 square foot house (based on the model house in the book Making Better Buildings). The two conventional approaches differ only on the choice of exterior cladding, one brick and the other vinyl siding. They have a carbon footprint many times larger than a best practice home made from low-carbon materials. But surprisingly, the straw bale home using lime-cement plaster actually has a carbon footprint slightly higher than a conventional home with vinyl siding. The same bale home plastered with clay has a dramatically lower carbon footprint.

Carbon sequestration
The carbon footprint numbers shown in the chart assign a carbon footprint to the cellulose materials (wood, straw, cellulose insulation), but don’t take into account the carbon sequestration effect of bundling a lot of carbon-based material into a building for a long period of time. There are conflicting notions of how to account for this, but at the very least there seems to be agreement that the sequestration completely offsets the carbon footprint. There is some reasonable argument to be made that these materials can actually have the effect of negating some of the building’s carbon footprint… that is, create a negative amount on the building’s leger. Things look different when this is taken into account!

Carbon emission footprint with sequestration of cellulose material at 25% of material weight

Carbon emission footprint with sequestration of cellulose material at 25% of material weight

By eliminating the carbon footprint for cellulosic materials and giving a sequestration factor of 25% of the total material weight, the carbon footprint can actually be put into the negative. However, those striving for carbon neutrality must remember that sequestration relies on the growth of new bio-mass to absorb CO2… we need to plant trees to replace those we’ve used in order to ensure these figures.

Carbon footprint as demonstrated by the number of carbon elephants emitted

Carbon footprint as demonstrated by the number of carbon elephants emitted

Different approaches not equal
The world needs carbon reductions immediately. Ensuring high carbon output today with the hope of a long-term reduction is a questionable strategy; it’s better to bank on getting our carbon footprint reduced now, especially if we can do so without sacrificing future reductions in the form of energy efficiency. When we start building very efficient buildings, the carbon footprint of the materials can start to equal many years of operating energy.

Carbon footprint by embodied carbon, 1 year and 10 year operational carbon for three climate zones

Carbon footprint of a foam-home, a high performance low carbon home and an older home, by embodied carbon, 1 year and 10 year operational carbon for three climate zones

This graph shows the embodied carbon of a high performance building using foam insulation, a best-practice low-carbon building and a largely un-insulated low-carbon building in different climate zones. Note that with best practice, there can be almost 10 years of operating energy before the building has the carbon footprint of a foam-based high performance house. And that’s without taking any sequestration into account! Obviously, we want to avoid the huge footprint of poorly insulated buildings, but ideally we want to do so in a low-carbon way. If we can build a low carbon home and use it for 7-8 years before we have the carbon footprint of a foam home, this is the option we should pursue!

No small effect
There were over 220,000 new homes built in Canada in 2014. Using conventional materials, these homes account for over 3 million metric tonnes of CO2 output. Using best low-carbon building practices can eliminate that altogether, and could even contribute 0.5 million tonnes of sequestration… more than 3.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 reduction!

Canada’s commitments under the Copenhagen Accord call for us to reduce about 127 megatons of CO2 given 2013 output figures. A move to building carbon-conscious homes could get us almost 3 percent of that target, in one industry, with little need for re-tooling or re-training of trades AND using materials that are harvested and produced in Canada. As a bonus, such homes are not necessarily any more expensive or difficult to build.

Kind of puts a positive spin on things, no?

For Sale: House that Makes an Income!

As followers of this blog will know, we at Endeavour have spent a lot of time on our Canada’s Greenest Home project. Our goal was to make the greenest home possible on an urban infill lot in Peterborough, and then to sell it on the open market to show that there is an appetite for “deep green” amongst home buyers.

The final phase of the project is now underway, with the house going on the market this week. Here is the Listing for 136-1/2 James Street.

The most interesting part of selling this home is how to put forward the unique value proposition we are attempting to make. Most home buyers look within a set price range for their new home, and do this with an implicit understanding that they will be assuming utility costs (heat, electricity, water) that are within a similar range to all other homes. This house radically alters that outlook: There are no utility costs and the home provides an income.

Energy production vs Use

Energy production vs Use

This means that the higher up front cost of buying a super-insulated and completely non-toxic home has a very compelling overall financial picture. The solar income from the house averages about $3300 annually. The annual utility costs are around $1800 or $150/month (inclusive of heat, electricity and water, plus services charges and delivery fees). This means that for the remaining 18 years of the Micro-FIT contract, there is a $1500 annual income from the home after all utility costs have been covered!

Considering that an average home of a similar size in Peterborough will have total utilities bills in the $250-600/month range (from census data, 2011), this means that there will be an annual savings of $3,000-8,700 for this homeowner. Putting that extra money against the mortgage for the home can result in the mortgage being paid off 5-6 years earlier. And all that while enjoying a healthy and efficient home. View website to sell your San Bernardino home today!

Mortgage calculator

Mortgage calculator

But can this case be made effectively in the current real estate in wisconsin market? There is no way to show this information in a quick and easy-to-digest form… the listing for the house shows the asking price, and a curious buyer would have to read the listing and inquire about more details in order to learn the whole story.

We hope that there are buyers out there who will be interested enough to find out the details. Visit this website, for people who also hope that this helps to set a precedent for builders who want to make healthy houses that earn money and real estate agents who want to sell this kind of home!

If you’d like to help us set this precedent, please share this listing with your networks.

Teachers’ Union Office Building slideshow

In 2014, Endeavour’s Sustainable New Construction program built a new office building for the Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers’ Local in Lindsay, Ontario. The goal was to combine Passive House energy efficiency with low-impact, local and non-toxic materials.

The photo gallery below shows the entire build from start to finish. Click on a photo to view the slide show in full size:

A PassiveHouse Heating System

Passive House is a building certification program that focuses on dramatically improving the energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings. Overseen in this country by the Canadian Passive House Institute (CanPHI), the standard originated in Germany in the late 1980s and buildings that comply with the standard will have energy use reduced by 80-90% from current Canadian code requirements. Specifically, Passive House buildings must have an annual heating and cooling demand of not more than 15 kilowatt hours per square meter of building (15 kWh/m²) per year, and total primary energy (calculated as source energy, not metered energy at the building) must not exceed 120 kWh/m² per year. In addition, an air tight building enclosure is a requirement, with leakage no greater than 0.6 times the house volume per hour as tested with a blower door (0.6 ACH/hour at 50Pa).

The www.fencingdirect.com is our first building designed to meet the Passive House standard, though we have used the Passive House software as our energy modelling software for the past three years. Although we were not intending to have the building certified, we wanted to meet the standard and achieve the energy reductions using our low-energy, low-impact range of building materials. We worked with Rob Blakeney of Local Impact Design to model the building and advise us on insulation levels, passive solar aspects and to design the heating system.

While the term “passive house” is an attractive one, it is quite misleading as the buildings do not feature passive (ie, non-mechanical) systems. In fact, Passive House buildings typically require a mechanical ventilation system to run 24 hours a day. The leap to Passive House standards means that conventional heating systems can often be left out of the design, and instead buildings can be heated with small amounts of heat input into the ventilation air distribution system or other low-input systems.

At the teachers’s union building, a 1 kilowatt heater is used in each of the three main ventilation air supply ducts to provide heat to the three offices. In general, this is the main source of heat for the building. A ductless mini-split air source heat pump is in place in the large meeting room and can provide additional heat capacity when required (though its inclusion in the system had more to do with meeting peak cooling demands in the summer). Through this year’s very cold February weather, the system had no problem keeping the building warm and comfortable… pretty impressive given that the heat source is the equivalent of running two toasters!

We were keen to build to Passive House standards because the most typical means to reach this level of performance has been to use a lot of foam insulation to achieve the necessary R-values and air tightness. We wanted to bring our low-impact, locally-sourced material palette to the challenge, using straw bales, cellulose, clay plaster and simple air tightness detailing to the highest levels of performance. In this way, we can lower both the energy use of the building, and also the embodied energy. Walking into the building when it is -25C outside and feeling the wash of warm, fresh air and knowing that the heat source is minuscule has been very satisfying!

Final “Report Card” for Canada’s Greenest Home

In 2012, we had a vision of creating a spec-home on an urban infill lot in central Peterborough, a home that would aspire to the very highest standards of sustainable building while also achieving a modern aesthetic that would appeal to a wide range of potential homeowners. We also wanted to build the home in a way that could be easily reproduced by any conventional contractor.

One of our key goals was to ensure that we weren’t just promising improved environmental performance, but that we were achieving measurable results. Having occupied the home for just over a year, we have now had a chance to monitor its performance and calculate a variety of metrics, comparing these to the more conventional homes that share the marketplace. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results, as summarized in the graphic above.

Performance statistics for Canada's Greenest Home

While the performance of the house marks a vast improvement over current practices, perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that this level of performance was not difficult to achieve. Any builder can hit this standard of performance, and do so within the cost range that is currently acceptable in the market. While this project made some more costly investments in PV, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, a home built to the same level of performance without these “add-ons” would be entirely cost-competitive. And other than the solar income, most of the metrics above would not change if we didn’t invest in these technologies.

Literally anybody can do this type of building, and do it affordably. We intentionally chose to buy off-the-shelf or easily accessible materials and products, from Durisol foundation blocks to prefabricated straw bale wall panels to ready-made clay and lime paints. Everything in this home is available to builders, and every builder already has the skills to create something like this.

This feels like good news when we’re faced with an onslaught of doom-and-gloom news about the environment. Not that this home will save the planet, but when it comes to easily achieved results that have dramatic reductions in impact, the reproduction of homes like this could be a remarkable step in the right direction. Government forecasts show that the US expects about 1,000,000 new home starts per month in 2015, and Canada expects about 190,000. If all of those homes reduced their energy use by the same amount as this project, that would be 89,250,000 gigajoules of energy savings, 189,210,000 liters of water saved, and 156,017,330 gigajoules of saved embodied energy. Those are meaningful numbers (the equivalent of the output of many nuclear generating stations!), and they are immediately achievable.

When we called this project “Canada’s Greenest Home” we were not trying to set an example that would set an untouchable record for green performance. Instead, we were trying to set a standard that would be inspirational in its final performance and entirely reproducible, so that every new home could easily be this green. We feel we’ve achieved this goal. The rest is now up to home owners, home builders and governments to take this example and adopt and improve it.

Rocket Mass Heater workshop

June 11-12, 2016

December 3-4, 2016
9.30 am to 5 pm, both days
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Note: This workshop is being offered twice in 2016. Be sure to register for the correct date.

Instructor: Andrew Brunning

Workshop Description:

Learn how to make your own high efficiency wood heating device for your own home!

A Rocket Mass Heater (RMH) is a super-efficient wood-fired heating system composed of two parts: Part One is a rocket stove, consisting of a feed tube, burn tunnel and heat riser; Part Two is the mass chimney, through which hot exhaust gases from the rocket stove are ducted into a thermal heat storage made of masonry materials like cob, stone, urbanite or brick.  All of the heat that goes up the chimney with a conventional wood stove is saved and stored in a Rocket Mass Heater.  The heated up Mass can radiate heat for up to 48hrs or longer after the fire is out. A RMH can also incorporate a cooking surface and an oven, and can be finished to become a beautiful centrepiece in a home.

 

Unlike open tube rocket stoves, a RMH can have a sealed combustion chamber and allow users to stoke a firebox with a long burn time. This make a RMH much more appropriate for heating homes and other spaces where open combustion is not desirable.

In this workshop, you will learn about the design parameters for making a RMH, and will assist in the full construction of a functional heater, from creating an insulated base to laying out the chimney, from assembling the fire brick core to putting on a decorative finish.

The workshop will pay particular attention to appropriate design, sourcing of materials and the use of recycled and natural building materials in the creation of a RMH.

Instructor Andrew Brunning is the proprietor of rocketmassheater.ca.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Fee
Early Bird -$295
Regular – $350
Fees include healthy lunch (vegan and vegetarian options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Canada’s Greenest Home Lowers Embodied Energy by 50%

In an Endeavour post about a year ago, I examined the concept of embodied energy in buildings. You can see that post here. To quote the summary of that article:

“Choosing high EE materials is willfully neglectful, and in my experience the choice is often due to sheer laziness or an unwillingness to alter choices simply because that’s what has always been done. A builder doesn’t need to dabble on the fringes of the natural building world to drastically reduce EE. Many mainstream choices offer vastly lower EE than others. It’s just a matter of putting the effort into knowing what the EE impacts will be.”

While building our Canada’s Greenest Home project, we made conscious decisions to choose low embodied energy materials, but only recently have we taken the time to do a full embodied energy analysis on the shell of the house. While doing this, we also did the same analysis for a conventional home built to the same dimensions and specifications.

The results of this study (using the Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) 2.0 and the book Making Better Buildings) showed that our home used 138,052 megajoules (MJ) of energy embodied in its construction materials, while a similar conventional build would have used 277,544 MJ. That means that our home used just less than 50% of the embodied energy of a conventional home!

Embodied energy of building materialsWhat does this mean? Let’s look at the difference in terms of energy use in the house. In a recent post, we discovered that after one year in the home, our annual energy consumption was 31.92 gigajoules (GJ). The embodied energy difference of 139,492 MJ (converted to gigajoules is 139.5 GJ) is enough to completely heat and power our home for 4.37 years. This means that even if the conventional home had the same level of energy performance, it would always carry a 4+ year deficit compared to our home.

In reality, the comparison is even more dramatic. The majority (68%) of the energy being used in Canada’s Greenest Home is renewably generated on site. The remainder is renewably generated via a Bullfrog Power contract. Whereas the energy embodied in the materials is almost certainly not renewably generated, and comes with carbon emissions and environmental impacts far higher than our home energy use.

The point I made in my embodied energy article is: Why not pay attention to this? The choices we made are easy ones to make, and there are equally easy choices within conventional options that also dramatically lower embodied energy. If it’s possible to cut overall energy use by the construction materials sector by 50%, why aren’t we making that choice? Seen as a choice made by one builder, it’s a small impact, but extended over the entire sector, it is a vast and radical change.

 

Canada’s Greenest Home uses 71% less energy!

We set out with some pretty lofty goals for our Canada’s Greenest Home project. The idea was to use only the healthiest, most ecologically friendly building materials and use them to create a home with outstanding energy performance. And we wanted to do it in a way that would be cost-comparative and easily achievable for other contractors. We finally have the data to show our results on the energy performance side.

From modelling to the real world

Much is made during the design process of “green” homes of energy modelling figures and estimates of consumption and/or savings based on the design. However, in few cases do we ever get to see an accurate portrayal of the actual consumption figures as compared to the models.

Obtaining real-world performance data was one of the key reasons we wanted to spend at least a year living in Canada’s Greenest Home. And now that we have been living here for a year, the results are in!

Energy produced compared to energy used at Canada's Greenest Home

Energy produced compared to energy used at Canada’s Greenest Home

Canada’s Greenest Home components

To recap, the home has a 5kw PV array, that is grid-tied using Ontario’s MicroFIT program. This means that there are two electricity meters on the house, one recording power going out to the grid via MicroFIT, and one recording power coming into the home. These figures allow us to see a clear picture of our consumption versus our production. There is no other fuel source in the home, as our heating system is powered electrically, via a Mitsubishi Zuba air source heat pump.

The results!

Our total annual consumption (including heat, refrigeration, cooking and all other plug loads) was 8,867 kilowatt hours, and our total production was 6,075 kilowatt hours. So we were 2,792 kw/h short of being net zero energy. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that the winter of 2013/2014 was quite a bit colder than average, and ice covered our panels for much of January and February (the output numbers are typically higher than December, but are quite a bit lower). In a different year, we would be quite a bit closer to net zero.

Financially, the picture is quite rosy. At our MicroFIT rate of 54.9 cents per kilowatt hour, our earnings from the PV system were $2,028.07 higher than our utility costs. Not many homes earn money for the owners, rather than costing them! That surplus goes a long way to putting a dent in the mortgage costs.

Comparing to other homes in Ontario

Comparing our energy usage to averages for Ontario (using the most recent StatsCan figures) is also illuminating. The average home of this size (2,000-2,500 square feet) built since 1996 uses 107 gigajoules of total energy (GJ is used to be able to compare measurements between different fuel sources like natural gas, oil, and electricity). Converting our kilowatt hours to gigajoules shows that we used 31.92 GJ, or just under 30% of the comparable average home! By square meters, we used 0.15 GJ per meter squared of floor area.

Passive House modelling slightly off

Interestingly, the energy modelling done in the Passive House software (PHPP) showed that our heating demand should have been 11,529 kw/h for the year, but our total usage including all non-heating loads was 8,867 kw/h, a substantial difference. As a guess, I would say that it is low R-value figures given for straw bale walls that accounts for this difference. Tested R-values and real world performance are always different beasts, but seem to be even more so for straw bale wall systems.

Doing better isn’t hard

We are very proud of these results. Considering that the costs for the shell of the home were very comparable to “conventional” construction (the majority of our additional costs were for mechanical systems like rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, as well as the PV), it bodes well to show that with small, achievable, and affordable changes in construction, vast improvements in performance can be achieved.

In our case, these improvements were made using locally-sourced, low-impact and mostly renewable resources, showing that eco-friendliness has many facets, and that being good for the planet when choosing materials can also mean being good for the planet in long-term impacts.

Anybody can build a home like this, with very low environmental impacts and great performance. The question is, why don’t more people do it?

Rocket mass heaters with Andrew Brunning

I have lived almost my entire life in homes that have been heated with wood in one way or another. From a giant wood furnace in the basement of an old Ontario farmhouse to an elegant little pellet stove in a city home in Peterborough, I have enjoyed the process of burning wood to keep warm.

Rocket stove revolution

With this kind of background, it’s no wonder that I have followed closely the development of “rocket stoves” over the past decade. From their beginnings as a means to provide efficient cooking heat from minimal fuel in developing countries, the promise of rocket stoves has been intriguing for any wood burning enthusiast. However, the open “J-tube” style of most rocket stoves meant that the feed tube for the fire was open inside the home with all the attendant dangers. In addition, the wood used in J-tube stoves is small dimension, which is perfect for cooking where fuel is scarce but as a home heating device means constant attention and stoking is required. For these reasons, I have been hesitant to recommend rocket stoves as a home heating system, except for the strong-hearted devotees of the idea.

Rocket mass heaters – suitable for indoors!

However, the development of “rocket mass heaters” brings the rocket stove idea to the point where it is a feasible home heating device. This style of rocket stove blends the safety and efficiency of the masonry heater with the do-it-yourself approach of the rocket stove. I was privileged to be able to take a workshop on building rocket mass heaters with Andrew Brunning of Rocket Mass Heaters.

The design of the rocket mass heater, or batch box rocket stove, was developed by Peter van den Berg, and its genesis is explained in this article in Permies. The heater combines the simple construction and burn characteristics of a rocket stove with a full masonry burn box, as with a masonry heater or typical wood stove, which can have a closed door with or without glazing. One fill of the burn box equals several hours of burn time and many more hours of heat from the mass built around the stove.

How to build a rocket mass heater

The workshop with Andrew allowed the participants to help build the rocket mass heater, as well as the large mass bench that would be the recipient of the heat generated. The photo gallery below gives a good overview of the process:

Rocket mass heater workshop coming to Endeavour in 2015

I look forward to building one of these rocket mass heaters for myself. And Endeavour looks forward to bringing Andrew to the school in 2015 for a hands-on workshop!

New system for straw bale walls

Over 20 years of building with straw bales, I have constantly experimented with new ways to integrate bale walls into buildings that are simple, cost-effective and energy/resource efficient. From load bearing to prefab panels to a variety of framing systems, I thought I’d tried them all.

But we were introduced to a new idea by the excellent builders at New Frameworks Natural Building, and we liked the idea so much we decided to try it ourselves.

Their “StrawCell” approach involves building a conventional stud frame wall for the building which acts as the exterior frame and main load bearing element. One immediate advantage is that this system fits into the regular code structure and should not require special engineering or design considerations, which can really ease the permitting process and help to lower costs. The straw bale wall is then built to the inside of the frame wall, with the bales pressed against the framing. The stud wall cavities are then insulated with dense packed cellulose, and sheathed with a permeable board material. Any kind of siding/rainscreen can be created as the final finish on the exterior.

On the interior the bales are very easy to install. The only framing that interrupts the straw is for window and door openings – very similar to the easy installation for load-bearing designs. At the top of the wall there is no beam or framing to notch around, just a plywood plate on the underside of the roof. We tied each bale through to the framing, so the wall was very straight and solid right away.

While the amount of lumber used in this system was initially a red flag for me, an actual calculation showed that we were using no more lumber than any of the other bale wall systems that use a frame of some sort. A conventional frame wall is actually a very effective and efficient way to use lumber, and only some load bearing systems actually use less lumber than this frame wall approach.

One major difference between this system and other straw bale approaches is the lack of exterior plaster. This can be seen as both a plus or a minus. We have been shying away from exterior plaster finishes for clients, especially commercial clients like the teachers’ union. While we love plaster, it is both a high maintenance finish and one that is susceptible to moisture issues unless well detailed, well protected and well maintained. While we definitely have not sworn off using exterior plaster, we are certainly glad to use siding when the client and/or conditions make it appropriate. On the plus side, this system reduces the amount of plastering material and labour required by half (actually, more than half since the interior plastering is always easier). Interior plastering can happen at any time of year, while exterior requires the right weather conditions.

The addition of the cellulose in the exterior wall brings this wall system into the super-insulated category, capable of reaching PassiveHouse standards even in our cold climate (something a single, two-string bale wall cannot do). The cost of the cellulose and siding together are quite similar to the cost of the material and labour for exterior plastering.

All in all, we like this system so far. We’ll continue to report as we finish preparing the walls for plastering and complete the remainder of the system.

Finding LED lightbulbs that work

Since my first days of living off grid with a tiny PV system in the late 1990s, I have been somewhat obsessed with finding lighting that combines low electrical draw with a nice quality of light. In the off grid home, we moved from dim, incandescent 12-volt car lights to brighter 12-volt halogens to the first generation of 12-volt compact fluorescents (CFLs). None of these combined low electrical consumption with a good light quality. The addition of an inverter in that home opened up the potential for newer generation CFL bulbs, which over time developed a better quality of light, but never really satisfied me. The inclusion of mercury in the CFLs always made me uncomfortable, as did the flickering quality of the light.

LED lighting that works

The LED bulbs that really work!

When the first LED bulbs started to become available a decade ago, I was all over them. I bought bulbs at outrageous prices that gave ridiculously poor light, and have continued to buy examples of each new generation of LED bulb for the past ten years.

Having decided to outfit Canada’s Greenest Home with LED lighting in every fixture, I have taken the opportunity to buy just about every brand and type of LED bulb that are available through major retailers. It is exciting to find that there are, finally, LED bulbs that combine low wattage with excellent light quality!

The sampling we’ve done has been for general purpose overhead fixtures and lamps, and also spots for over the cooktop.

Here are the ones we really like:

Philips 11 watt, 830 lumen, 2700K, dimmable

This bulb has a nice warm light. The shape of the bulb seems like it would cast a fairly narrow spot of light, but it actually does a good job of spreading light in 360 degrees. We use this one as overhead lights in the kitchen and in a couple of the hallways. A really good general bulb.

Cree 9.5 watt, 800 lumen, 2700K

This round bulb has the best general light distribution of those we tried, with a shape most resembling the traditional incandescent bulb. The light is definitely at the warm end of the spectrum, but slightly less warm than the Philips. This is also a really good general use bulb. The glass is coated in a rubbery material that makes it easy to handle and twist the bulb, and should protect it well against breakage.

Sylvania 8 watt, 470 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package, dimmable

This bulb is less bright than most of the others, with a lumen output of only 470. We found it to be a very warm and pleasant light. We currently have some exposed bulbs in the house, awaiting actual fixtures, and this bulb casts a good, wide light without being too bright and glaring. The light from this bulb feels “calmer” than any other, good for background lighting.

Philips 10.5 watt, 800 lumen, 3000K

If you’re under the impression that LED bulbs can’t cast a good, bright light, this bulb will alter that perception. It is surprisingly bright, with a light that is close to daylight spectrum without feeling “cold”. In any fixture where you desire an intense, 360-degree light, this one is perfect. It also the least expensive bulb, with prices under $10 at several retailers.

Feit 2 watt, 160 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package

We put these bulbs in a few sconce fixtures in stairways and hallways where we wanted a low but useful amount of light in a neutral spectrum range. These little bulbs work very well in this scenario, drawing only a small amount of current while producing a surprising amount of light.

Philips 7 watt, 280 lumen, 2700K spot

We haven’t sampled as many spots as regular bulbs, but of those we’ve tried this one combines a good quantity and quality of light and does not have as narrow a focus as many of the other brands. A pair of them shine down on the stove from the hood vent.

This is far from a scientific and complete sampling of LED bulbs, and I’ll continue to be a bulb addict and buy new models as they come out. However, this range and selection of models would allow anybody to outfit a home with LEDs and feel confident that their money is being spent on quality bulbs with good light output. Prices for these bulbs range from $9-15 dollars. In Ontario right now, there are government rebates of $5 on a wide range of LED bulbs, including most of those listed here. It’s a great time to invest in energy saving bulbs that are long-lasting and do not contain mercury!

Using an Induction Range

Induction cooktop at Canada's Greenest Home

The induction stove simmers a pot of turkey soup, still sporting its EnerGuide sticker!

When it came to choosing a cooking appliance for Canada’s Greenest Home, we were faced with a conflict in approach. Most homes that aim for net zero energy consumption will choose to use natural gas ranges and ovens, and take the cooking loads away from the electrical load calculations. However, the Living Building Challenge dictates that no combustion-style devices may be used to get the Energy Petal in their certification, requiring us to use an electric device of some kind.

We’d heard about induction ranges for a while, but had never had a chance to use one or even meet anybody who had used one. But it was clear that from an energy consumption point of view, induction ranges (especially in combination with convection ovens) have significantly lower electrical draws than conventional ranges.

how-induction-cooking-worksThe lower electrical consumption comes from the way heat is generated. Rather than using electrical resistance heating, in which a metal element is heated and that element transfers heat to the cookware, induction ranges generate a magnetic field under the cookware, and if the cookware is ferrous (ie, a magnet will stick to it) the strong magnetic field causes the atoms in the cookware to get excited and generate heat. Therefore, an even amount of heat is distributed across the bottom of the cookware, and no heat is generated anywhere other than the cookware.

Energy saving induction cooktop

The EnerGuide sticker shows the appliance uses substantially less energy than resistance cooktops.

Canada’s EnerGuide rating system shows that most freestanding, 30-inch ranges use between 470-515 kilowatt hours per year of average use. In comparison, the Frigidaire induction range we chose has an EnerGuide rating of 293 kilowatt hours per year, representing a savings of 177-222 kilowatt hours per year. This is a substantial decrease, probably the single biggest savings that an appliance choice can make. With our 5 kilowatt photovoltaic array, that represents between 35-44 hours of peak production from the panels that can be used of offset other uses in the home!

So from an energy use point of view, the induction range is great. But how about in daily use?

We’ve been extremely impressed with the induction cooktop, enough so that I would definitely install one in another home. Cookware heats up very quickly. A kettle of water boils in a remarkably short amount of time (no more getting a little chore done while the kettle comes to boil!), and in general temperature is imparted to the cookware in a surprisingly short amount of time. Heat in the cookware is completely even, with no hot spots in the middle of the pan and cooler spots around the edges. Changing the temperature setting causes an immediate change in the pan (which is usually touted as the advantage of cooking with gas). Simmers are easily achieved and work well. No heat is lost around the edges of pots or pans, and the cooking surface is not directly heated, so the surface is quite safe to work on. When a pot or pan is lifted from the surface or the dial turned off, there is no more heat.

We haven’t experienced any major drawbacks. There is a slight buzzing noise that accompanies turning on an element, and it’s loudest at the “Power Boil” or high setting. Under all but the very quietest conditions, this is barely noticeable, about on par with a “buzzing” lightbulb. If our tankless hot water heater is on at the same time, the noise is louder (not sure why). I wouldn’t consider this a drawback, just something we’ve noticed.

Dr. Magda Havas from Trent University (and who does a session with Endeavour’s full time students) warns of some potential issues from exposure to the magnetic fields generated by the cooktop. This is not an issue that has received much attention or testing, but the small amount of testing available seems to indicate that keeping a reasonable distance between the body and the element (the Swiss government suggests 5-10 cm) minimizes exposures. While this exposure does not concern me greatly (wireless internet is a much more pervasive and problematic threat, and we wired this home with ethernet cable to every room to avoid the need for wireless), I would not install an induction stove in a home for someone with electrical sensitivity.

Some of our cookware is not usable on the induction range (anything with an aluminum base), but all of our favourite pots and pans work just fine. The heavier/thicker the bottom of the pot or pan, the better it seems to work.

Changing the appliance we cook with was not something I expected to notice much or appreciate, but it turns out to be a rare case of an energy saving device also being a better functioning device.

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