Energy Efficiency

World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer

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World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer

Garrett Scott doesn’t believe in wasting energy.

So, when an opportunity came for the owner of Scott Subaru to build the world’s first passive-house compliant car dealership in Red Deer, he jumped at the chance.  

“I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it,” said Scott. “We’re building something more robust and really unique that’s never been done before.”

I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it.”
— Garrett Scott, Owner, Scott Subaru

Passive House is an international energy-based standard that aims to reduce a building’s ecological footprint by adhering to strict energy-efficient design elements and construction requirements.

Scott knew that building a passive dealership would be a long and expensive undertaking, but he’s confident the up-front costs will pay off down the line. Not only will the stronger building construction last longer than a traditional dealership, but the energy-efficient features are expected to eliminate 80 per cent of the building’s heating and cooling costs. 

Passive house elements

Prior to beginning construction in 2017, Scott and the building team spent two years studying aspects of traditional dealerships to learn how to incorporate design and construction elements that would adhere to the Passive House standards.

“Because we are a franchise car dealership, there were certain image requirement from the manufacturer we had to adhere to,” said Scott, who pointed out this was a huge factor during the construction process.

“There were obviously some challenges during construction,” said Scott. “There were people we hired who’ve build passive houses before, but never car dealerships with specific design requirements.”

The exterior walls are one of the most important features of the 14,000 square-feet passive dealership. Three-feet thick, they’re built with three layers of insulation, which create an impenetrable seal around the building to help control the temperature inside and minimize air loss.

The floor-to ceiling windows – a design element synonymous with car dealerships – are triple-paned, energy-efficient glass equipped with automated blinds that control the amount of sunlight entering the building.

Further, a moss bed underneath the porous concrete parking lot will collect and control the water and help eliminate mold and mildew.

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Inside the building, energy-efficient air circulation systems eliminate the need for central air, furnaces or air conditioning units.

“Because we’ve built the building so robustly with a thick exterior shell, heating isn’t really a challenge,” said Scott.

A heat recovery ventilation system pulls wasted heat from appliances, lighting and body heat to help circulate the air inside the building and regulate the temperature. The exterior seal around the building also helps regulate the indoor temperature since it greatly reduces the amount of air escaping the building, which means it’s easier to keep a constant temperature, even during the hot summers and old winters.

However, Scott said one of their biggest challenges was figuring out how account for the large service doors that open and close many times throughout the day.

During the two-year planning stage of the project, they ran simulations for an entire year to determine how many times a day the bay doors opened or closed, and how many people entered and left the building.

“There was a lot of planning with building something that is a first,” said Scott. “We learned a lot about how much we could save if we took the time to get it right.”

As well as building a space that is more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient, Scott said he’s also looking forward to the extra-benefits of a passive house construction.

The air is fresher and cleaner, which will improve employee productivity and decrease the likelihood of headaches and air-borne illnesses, like the common cold.

Scott also said the extra-thick exterior walls not only keep it quiet on the inside, but they will also eliminate noise-pollution escaping from the car shops.

“I live my life off a waste-not-want-not kind of philosophy,” said Scott, who hopes this project will set the standard for future dealership builds.

“If we don’t have to consume all of the energy we do now, why should we?”

Edmonton developing world’s largest carbon-neutral neighbourhood

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Edmonton Developing World’s largest carbon-Neutral neighbourhood

One of the world’s largest planned sustainable communities is now selling homes for its first phase of development.

Located 10 minutes from downtown Edmonton, Blatchford is designed as a carbon-neutral neighbourhood powered entirely by renewable resources.

“There will be 30,000 people in Blatchford living and working in a sustainable way,” said Tom Lumdsen, development manager for Blatchford.

The vision for the Blatchford community was approved by Edmonton city council in 2010 while the area redevelopment plan was approved two years later. Construction officially began in summer 2015.

Formerly Edmonton’s Municipal Airport, Lumsden said the 536 acres of land will be both socially and financially green by creating a community enhanced for pedestrian traffic and energy-efficient living.

It’s a very forward-thinking opportunity to show that Edmonton is more than just an oil and gas town.
— Tom Lumsden, Development Manager

The first phase of the neighbourhood – Blatchford West – will include a park with a plaza, playground, community garden and orchard. The completed neighbourhood – including Blatchford East, Blatchford Park and Blatchford Market – will be built with a town square, a civic plaza and two LRT stations.

Environmental sustainability is slated as a key motivator for the community. As such, Blatchford is working hand-in-hand with home builders to create an entire neighbourhood that is both energy-efficient from the start and sustainable on many levels, including walkability, transit-use and local food production.

The community will also support city council’s greenhouse gas targets detailed in Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy, as well as the city’s goals for climate resilience, healthy city and urban places, each outlined in ConnectEdmonton: Edmonton’s Strategic Plan 2019-2028.

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Blatchford’s Energy Strategy

According to Christian Felske, director of renewable energy systems with the city of Edmonton, Blatchford has devised a three-pronged energy strategy – including energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources – in order to reduce overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

First, Felske said project builders must meet certain green criteria to conserve the energy used, both during construction, and within the homes and buildings once construction is complete.

“The builders have to adhere to green building codes, which from the onset use less energy than a business-as-usual building in Edmonton, Alberta,” said Felske.

The buildings will all be high-performance buildings and have features such as energy-efficient windows, low-flow fixtures, increased insulation, smart room thermostats, and a tighter building envelope to reduce heat loss. Further, builders will be required to stick to a recycling program during construction to reduce the amount of materials going to the landfill.

Second, after construction is complete, the community’s thermal energy needs for heating, cooling and domestic hot water will be delivered through an energy-efficient system called a District Energy Sharing System (DESS.)

A low-carbon energy system, Blatchford’s DESS replaces the need for traditional furnaces, air conditioners and boilers in homes and buildings.

“With every building in Blatchford connected to the DESS, it allows us to provide a very efficient sharing system,” said Felske.

Blatchford’s final energy strategy focuses on renewable energy sources, like geoexchange fields. By harnessing geothermal energy below the earth’s surface, a geoexchange system draws heat from the ground for heating during winter months, and uses the ground to reject excess heat and provide cooling during summer months.

According to Felske, all the energy for heating, cooling and domestic hot water used by Blatchford homes and buildings will come solely from renewable systems.

To make up Blatchford’s geoexchange field, 570 geothermal wells have been drilled under a stormwater pond. This field will service the first stage of Blatchford’s DESS.  Down the road, solar installations will be used to offset additional electricity needed to power the DESS.

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While the focus is on Blatchford’s energy strategy, Felske said the community will have other integrated sustainable features, mainly around water retention and recycling. These include low impact development design features like bioswales (a landscape design that helps remove pollution and debris from surface runoff water) as well as rain gardens, urban agriculture, and naturalized, drought-resistant landscapes.

Lumsden said while the entire project will take 20-25 years to complete, the City of Edmonton, as the developer, is constantly looking at emerging and future technologies for community-scale energy systems so Blatchford can meet its goals of being 100 per cent renewable and a carbon-neutral community.

Given that the infrastructure in the community is new, there are no legacy systems in place if Blatchford does not achieve net-zero. However, since Blatchford will be developed in stages, it will give developers the opportunity to adapt to changing renewable energy technologies.

Lumsden added while Blatchford had only recently announced its list of builders, there have been lots of people interested in putting money into the community. The first homebuilders are anticipated to start construction on townhomes this year, with residents moving in upon completion.

“The council of the day made the decision that this is what they wanted to do with this special piece of land,” he said. “[It’s a] very forward-thinking opportunity to show that Edmonton is more than just an oil and gas town.”


Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

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Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

At Hazeldean Elementary School in Edmonton, Grade 5 students created an energy efficiency program through the Innovative Elementary Program. The students were able reduce the energy consumption and cost of lighting at their school and teach other students and teachers about energy efficiency.

“Elementary kids are often overlooked about their ability to make changes and advocate to the things that they care about,” said Grade 5 teacher James Stuart, who manages the Innovate Elementary Program at Hazeldean. This project is one of many ways students have demonstrated the impact they can have in their school community.

They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference. [There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.
— James Stuart

The first step was to learn about electricity, energy efficiency and light bulbs. Stuart along with some energy experts taught the students about different kinds of light bulbs and how much energy is used for each. They also learned about electricity, how it is produced in Alberta and the environmental impacts of the different types of production.

Next, students used their new knowledge to calculate their school’s electricity consumption by determining the types and consumption of light bulbs, and the number of each type of bulb throughout the building. From there, they monitored how many lights were on in each classroom, checking in at various times of the day to determine when classes were in session, when they were empty, and at the end of the day.

After collecting data, the students had to decide how they would present it. To make their information accessible to everyone, including the youngest students, they used made posters with photos and simple info boxes to teach their peers about the energy consumption of objects in their classroom. They included images of smart boards, desktop computers and lights with the amount of energy each consumed. The posters were distributed throughout the school.

The students also decided to create a contest for the classroom who was able to reduce their lighting energy consumption by the greatest amount. Using the information they had about each room’s energy consumption, they created a poster for each classroom showing its energy consumption. They continued to monitor the energy consumption of each classroom at random times until the end of the contest, with the winners earning hot chocolate made from the students’ self-made solar oven.

At the end of the lighting audit the Grade 5 group presented their findings during the school’s morning announcements. Over that time, they saw a reduction of 40 kWh. That is the equivalent of a 43-inch’ plasma TV running 32 hours a week for a month.

Through this project the students in Stuart’s Grade 5 classroom educated themselves, creatively engaged their school on the topic of energy efficiency, and were able to make changes in their school’s lighting electricity consumption.

“They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference,” said Stuart. “[There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.”


For more information on education projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30

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Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30

When you step into the Brookfield Symons Gate Passive House in Calgary, Alta., the front door closes with a sound that makes you feel like you have just entered an airtight vault. And then you are greeted by the sounds of silence.

The sounds of the outside world vanish within the heavily insulated walls of this gorgeous, 2,400 square home. You don’t even hear the hum of a fan, because there’s no furnace.

The walls are solid cross-laminated wood, the basement floor feels like it’s heated, and the windows are triple-glazed energy-efficient Austrian models that tilt and swing open.

This is the Tesla of passive homes

“Passive house takes advantage of one of the most abundant resources that Alberta has, which is the sun,” says Doug Owens, senior director of strategic development and regulatory affairs with Brookfield Residential, North America’s sixth largest developer.

This ultra-efficient house uses 90 per cent less energy than a conventional home. An eight-kilowatt solar system on the roof provides nearly all of the energy required to power and heat the home. It has no gas connection.

“And the giant window in the middle is actually the furnace for the house,” says Owens, pointing to the massive, south-facing window that lets the passive solar heat stream in. The window’s R7-rated triple glazing helps trap the warmth inside.

“Air tightness is critical,” says Owens, but even though this home is rated as super airtight–just 0.5 air exchanges per hour–it gets plenty of fresh, clean, filtered air.

Instead of a furnace, the home has a heat recovery ventilator—a fancy name for an air exchange system that recovers 86 per cent of the heat from the outgoing air. Built into the ventilation system is a 3,000-watt electric heater—but it only kicks in on the coldest, darkest days of winter.

This Zender ventilator is actually called an energy recovery ventilator because it also has an active bypass system that stops scavenging warm air on hot summer days, helping cool the home.

When you head downstairs, most people ask if the floor is heated—it has eight inches of insulation beneath it and it feels quite warm. The mechanical room is nearly empty, with just the air exchange system and a super energy efficient electric water heater.

Sixteen-inch walls – No furnace!

This minimalistic system is made possible thanks to out-of-this-world levels of insulation in the home.

“It’s incredibly well insulated,” explains Owens. “The windows are R7 and typical windows are about R2; the wall systems are R45 compared to an effective R18 that is required, and the roof system is R55 compared to a cathedral ceiling which we’re required to have R10.”

Add the thickly insulated basement floor, and you have an unbroken envelope of insulation blanketing the home.

Brookfield viewed the Symons Passive House as a chance to innovate. You could use thick double-stud walls for the insulation, but Dean Guidolin (design manager at Brookfield) says they opted to use solid cross-laminated timber (CLT). The custom walls were built in a special panelization factory in Germany.

Matt Arsenault of Sawback Builders shows the super-insulated 16-inch wall system. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Solid wood walls

Brookfield designer Dean Guidolin says CLT is environmentally friendly. Behind him is the large window that is a key part of the passive house design. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

CLT is a great, sustainable resource, says Guidolin. “The wood fiberboard on the outside is a byproduct of the manufacturing process for the CLT. Ultimately you get another good environmental story out of that.”

Matt Arsenault, president of Sawbuck Builders (the company that assembled this unique home) describes the CLT system in detail. “It is four inches thick timber that’s been glued and laminated together and it creates the structure of the wall,” says Arsenault. Then add 9.5 inches of solid wood fiber insulation and another 1.5-inch layer of wood-based insulation and you have 16-inch thick walls that lose almost no heat.

Arsenault says the pre-built walls, floors, and ceilings came in a sea container along with some IKEA-like instructions in German to put it all together.

“I learned a lot about how the energy loss happens in a typical house, through air leakage and things like that. And this method of construction really eliminates a lot of the opportunity for outside cold air to come in and cool down the house,” says Arsenault.

Beautiful research – into an energy efficient future

Master bedroom in the Symonds Passive House. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Owens says Brookfield didn’t aim for an inexpensive passive home, but rather chose to explore new systems and build a truly great home. “I was just thrilled to see people walk in, and when they open it open the door their jaw drops at how beautiful the home is,” says Owens.

Before tackling the project, Owens himself took a course in passive house building. He believes code changes are coming, and homes may have to be net-zero-ready as early as 2030. He wants to keep Brookfield ahead of the trend.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alberta, Canada or North America,” says Owens. “Globally, there’s a conversation around energy efficiency, resiliency, and conservation. There’s a tremendous amount of momentum behind it.”

Push for quality and performance

The components of this solid CLT home were built in a panelization factory. Photo Brookfield Residential

Owens says public attitudes are also pushing the shift. “I think people are starting to think about the environment more.” Where yesterday’s customers may have been fixated on granite counters and hardwood floors, many home buyers today have questions about energy efficiency.

Brookfield’s first passive home was not cheap to build, but Owens says they learned a lot. He believes the move toward prefabrication will help ease labour shortages, increase quality, and meet higher efficiency standards.

“I think that’s really going to drive down prices and then they will become commonplace,” says Owens.

If you think this home would be a sight to see, we have good news: you can see it. “It’s going to open through 2019 for booked tours,” says Owens. “We’re going to try to have it open the first Friday of every month. We want to get as many professionals, industry partners, and government folks through.”

Brookfield clearly aims to be an active force in passive technology.

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This story was originally published on Green Energy Futures.

Learn more about Brookfield’s passive house, here.

For more information on energy efficiency in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Energy Made Visible

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Energy Made Visible

Have you ever wished you could see where heat was escaping from your house?

This was the quest that spurred the work of Geoffrey Hay, a geography professor at the University of Calgary. After seven years of research, he founded MyHEAT, a Calgary company that helps homeowners visualize the location and amount of heat loss from their homes.

To accomplish this, a high-precision thermal sensor is attached to an airplane, which flies overhead. MyHEAT’s resulting map of rooftop heat loss is created by combining raw data from the sensor with other mapping data sets and some machine learning.

There are only a few other companies in the world attempting similar heat mapping. Some of its competitors use a 360-degree sensor attached to a car (similar to Google Street View cameras), but MyHEAT’s advantage is the speed at which heat loss data can be collected. By attaching the sensor to an airplane, the entire city of Calgary could be mapped in two nights.

MyHEAT is more than just a heat mapping technology. The company’s vision is to help homeowners understand how their home’s heat loss compares to others in their community. By creating heat loss ratings, MyHEAT builds on the power of thermal imaging as a behavioural nudge tool. This thinking is getting some major recognition; with MyHEAT, Hay beat out 400 other contestants to win the grand prize at MIT’s 2013 Climate CoLab Conference.  


“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map.”


MyHEAT CEO Darren Jones said these heat maps can be a quick and inexpensive first step for engaging homeowners.

“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map,” said Jones.

The heat loss maps and ratings are an indicator, he said, and should be used in conjunction with knowledge of the home. Insufficient insulation and poor sealing are two common culprits of heat loss that MyHEAT can often pinpoint. These findings can be the starting point for an energy audit.

So far, there has been a lot of interest from homeowners; 150,000 Albertans have viewed their home’s rooftop map, and 300,000 homes in Alberta have been clicked on. MyHEAT has mapped several cities in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, but the goal is to eventually map all of Canada. The company just finalized its first deal with a customer in the U.S. and is excited to continue building its global customer base.

The company also wants to continue building the product and offer tools that is invaluable in helping Canadians find resources to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Daygan Fowler, MyHEAT’s program manager of energy efficiency, said many incentive programs are available to help homeowners. Her goal is to use MyHEAT to bring more awareness to these, and develop tools and resources to help answer homeowner questions.

Although often invisible, MyHEAT is improving energy efficiency one rooftop at a time.


You can learn more about MyHEAT here.

Check out the Resources page for more information on how to undertake your own clean tech and energy efficiency projects.

Submit your new energy story here.


Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

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Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

Christina Pidlaski was determined to carve out a career in energy sustainability. After working in California for 10 years, she returned to Alberta to be part of the clean energy transition.

“I never really knew how I could play my part,” said Pidlaski.

She decided to pursue an MBA specializing in Energy Management and Sustainability at the University of Calgary. One of her courses involved a consulting project and she chose to work with the Canadian Coalition for Green Finance, which exposed her to green investment and research. A big part of her work was to communicate her research and make them accessible to investors and industry.

Nearing graduation, she found a job posting at Ecofitt, a Canadian energy efficiency company which began with a small staff of 15 in Calgary. Working closely with consumers on energy efficiency seemed too good to be true to her, but within a week she was working as the company’s Program Coordinator.

Ecofitt runs energy conservation programs across Canada and works with provincial and municipal governments to develop regional programs. They also manufacture water and electricity-saving products, including light bulbs, which they use for direct install and kit programs.


“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next”


Ecofitt’s first Alberta program working with Energy Efficiency Alberta’s Residential No Charge Energy Savings Program (RNCESP), involved efficient upgrades for both rural and urban houses, apartments, and condos, where teams installed LED bulbs, faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, power bars and smart thermostats.

As Ecofitt expanded, Pidlaski was promoted to Regional Program Coordinator, then again to Operations Manager.  At the peak of the RNCESP, she had 16 field coordinators and nearly 400 technicians working on her team, some who originally worked in oil and gas, but whose skills were easily transferable to energy efficiency. As the program nears completion, the team size has become more manageable, but the logistical challenges still keep her busy. 

Pidlaski said the response to the program has been extremely positive.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have made the effort to call in or write in thanking us for not only the products we installed, but the interaction with our technicians and information about energy usage,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a huge success.”

When Energy Efficiency Alberta (EEA) launched the RNCESP, which is administered by Ecofitt, Albertans registered 153,000 homes. As this one-time program nears completion, Ecofitt has delivered energy efficient upgrades to 118,000 of these homes and installed 28,000 smart thermostats.

Ecofitt has now been awarded the EEA contract for the Affordable Housing Energy Solutions Program, which will launch in September. This will reach 25,000 Albertans in vulnerable sectors using the same core team that carried Ecofitt through the RNCESP.

“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next,” said Pidlaski. “I’m very proud of my team. We lucked out in getting fantastic people that care about the work we’re doing.  Being able to mobilize such a great team is really what makes me love my job.”


For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Welcome to the Mosaic Centre

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Welcome to the Mosaic Centre: Alberta’s first net-zero commercial building

The gap from net-zero houses to large-scale net-zero commercial buildings has been bridged. The Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce in Edmonton is the first commercial net-zero office building in Alberta. In a net-zero building  the amount of energy used is equal to the amount of renewable energy generated on-site on an annual basis, allowing the Mosaic Centre to use 65% less energy than a conventional commercial building. What was once just a dream of co-owners Dennis Cuku and Christy Benoit has become reality.

“We said it was going to be beautiful. Check. Sustainable. Check. And affordable. Check,” says Benoit.

This 30,000-square-foot building cost $10.5 million dollars. It’s bright and roomy with beautiful exposed wood beams, feature stairs and a three-storey living wall in the foyer. It has large south facing windows, thermally massive concrete floors and as low an electricity demand as they could get away with.

They reduced that demand by getting rid of as many overhead light fixtures as they could. Instead, the workers get copious amounts of natural light and use task lighting when necessary.

There is much more energy demand per square metre in a bigger, commercial building than a net-zero home. The owners put together a team led by Vedran Skopac of Manasc Isaac Architects that used lean processes and integrated project delivery to build this first-of-its-kind building.

Typically, tradespeople just show up, do their job and leave it to the next crew to finish their part. With the Mosaic Centre crews collaborate to help eliminate the wasted time and materials that happens on a typical build. As a result, there were no change orders during the project, which is almost unheard of in a modern construction project.


“Sustainable and beautiful can co-exist. When you put affordability in there that’s where the real challenge occurs. But this is, I think, a living example of how the three can co-exist”


Mosaic’s heating and cooling system is a fully electric ground source heat pump system. The parking lot on the north side of the building is a geothermal field with 32, 70-metre deep boreholes.

With all of the south-facing glass and concrete floors, the building actually has a much larger cooling demand than a typical Edmonton office building. If the sun is shining brightly the building even has to run its cooling system in February.

Unusually for a commercial building, the windows can be opened. These help regulate the temperature in the summer and gives workers a measure of control over their environment.

The building achieved LEED platinum certification, the highest possible level of recognition for environmental stewardship on a construction project.

“Sustainable and beautiful can co-exist. When you put affordability in there that’s where the real challenge occurs. But this is, I think, a living example of how the three can co-exist,” says Benoit. Due to high savings on energy costs, the net return on investment, over 5 years, is the same as that of a conventional building. 

They want to inspire other builders to follow in their footsteps and to make commercial buildings closer to net-zero. To that end the engineering and research reports on the building are publicly available. If you are a builder and you want to make sure your next commercial building is closer to net-zero, the recipe is out there.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


All Aboard the Earthship

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All aboard the Earthship: a sustainable off-grid home on the prairie

An Earthship is a long skinny bungalow with an earth berm enveloping the back and sides and a greenhouse on the front. The back and side retaining walls are made of tires sledgehammered full of dirt. Non-load bearing interior walls are made of aluminum cans sandwiched into a honeycomb of concrete.

Here’s the story of how a family built an Earthship in southern Alberta. After first reading about them in The Geography of Hope by Chris Turner, Duncan Kinney passed the book along to his dad Glen. He was intrigued so they volunteered on a build near Wheatland, Wyoming. Glen even volunteered on another build in Hundred Mile House in central B.C. the next year.


"It was invaluable seeing one built first-hand and meeting other volunteers and the crew"


A couple years later after everything was in place Duncan’s parents went down to Taos, New Mexico to check out finished Earthships first-hand. Suitably convinced they came back with plans for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Global Model with a couple of modifications.

Michael Reynolds is the father of the Earthship movement. An architect by training and rabble-rouser by nature he was dissatisfied with standard home design and started building sustainable houses on the mesa using garbage. He used bottles, cans and tires alongside natural and conventional building materials. For the past 20 years Reynolds has been perfecting the design.

The design revolves around six core concepts: on-site electricity production and wastewater treatment, using rainwater into drinking water, passive heating and cooling, food production and using readily available materials. It has four walls, a roof, flush toilets and satellite TV just like any other North American home.

It generates electricity on-site with solar panels and batteries. Drinking water is caught by the metal roof and collected in four cisterns capable of storing 5,800 gallons of water. That water is treated and filtered to make it ready to drink. Greywater from the showers and bathroom sinks is used to water the greenhouse. That greywater is pumped back into the house and used to flush the toilets. Simple earth tubes and ceiling vents keep the house cool in the summer. Passive solar design, thermal mass, lots of insulation and sunlight keep the house warm in the winter.

The Kinneys hired the Earthship crew and Michael Reynolds to build the house in Lethbridge. With them came another 30-35 volunteers who camped on-site. Eight hundred tires were pounded and stacked by the end of the fourth day.

About 12,000 cans were used for interior walls, for the bond beam that sits on top of the tires and to help fill in and pack out the tires to get them to a level surface.

What began as a radical alternative in the New Mexico desert 30 years ago has evolved into an inspiring and surprisingly simple home. And the lessons learned from Earthships can be seen today in increasingly popular net-zero homes.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Life is Better at EchoHaven

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Life is Better at EchoHaven

What if we could build suburbs that preserved the natural landscape, featured super energy efficient homes, built a sense of community — and had no vinyl siding? The neighborhood of Echohaven in northwest Calgary is doing it.

A typical suburban development scrapes the site bare and parcels it into lots. At the end, a park might be created or a pond or natural space rebuilt. Echohaven, on the other hand, preserved 60 per cent of its natural spaces from the beginning.

The development preserved its unique knob-and-kettle foothill topography with ponds, creeks, forests and wildlife by parceling off 24 small lots with big natural spaces owned by the neighbourhood condo association.

Instead of a big backyard, kids get to play in a neighbourhood creek or a forest. And the landscape has a purpose.

“Typically, there’d be storm sewers that carry all the runoff from the site down to the Bow River through a series of pipes. We’re reducing the amount of infrastructure by retaining all the storm water management on-site. They feed the ponds, the storm water contributes to the ongoing viability and health of the ecosystem here,” says Dave Spencer, one of the founders of the Echohaven project.

The homes also collect rainwater for use in toilets and the yard, which reduces demand on the city and saves homeowners money.

Every home must meet a minimum Energuide 84 rating. That’s an extremely energy efficient home.

There are no gas lines. Up to 60 per cent of the heat it needs comes from sunshine streaming in through high quality south-facing windows. Spencer recommends an insulation minimum of R40 walls, R60 for the roof and R30 under the slab. His net-zero house has R60 walls and an R100 roof.

Former oil and gas guy turned investment advisor and Financial Post columnist, Martin Pelletier moved into Echohaven in May of 2014 and he loves it.

“What made it really attractive to us was the community feel to it, the healthy aspect to it, and the environmental side, the stewardship. We own the land together through a condo association, so what you see here will never change,” says Pelletier.

And Echohaven is doing more to build community. They’re planning to build a community greenhouse where everyone who lives in the neighborhood will get their own growing space.

This has been a 20-year labour of love for Spencer. And while the project was a lot of work (and, thanks to civic and provincial rules and regulations, a lot harder than it should be), it is nearing its end — and for Spencer it was definitely worth it.

“I think it’ll be easier in the future to do it. We’re just kind of a little laboratory, how to do things a little different in the suburbs, creating a more sustainable city environment. I think it’s worthwhile,” he says.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

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The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

Welcome to the future, a time when your home is energy self-sufficient and produces almost no utility bills.

Landmark Homes of Edmonton has announced a net-zero home that sells for just under $400,000. This new price point means the goal of making all new homes net-zero by 2030 is now a potential reality.

With plenty of natural light and its own garage, The Pisa is a beautiful 2-storey, 1,230 sq. foot home built to specifications beyond the building code.

Leading a tour of the home, Tanya Rumak, Landmark’s sustainability manager, places her hand on the basement floor and suggests we do the same. It’s warm to the touch.

“Insulation under the floor,” Remak says. Yup, foam insulation encases the home.

“We have an R80 attic insulation. We have an R27 above grade exterior wall, and that includes exterior rigid insulation that minimizes thermal bridging. And in the basement, we have R36, which is a fiberglass and mineral wool combination. And then underneath the basement floor, we have two inches of insulation which is R8,” explains Rumak. All that insulation does a great job of keeping heat and air from leaking.

To provide fresh air the home uses a heat recovery ventilator that recovers 75% of the heat in the air before exhausting stale air outside. A similar system recovers heat from water exiting the home.

As you shower, hot water goes down the drain. The solution is heat-recovering copper tubes that retain up to 15 degrees C from hot water.

The Pisa is so efficient it requires 60% less energy than a code-built home. In fact, it doesn’t even need gas for heating.

“We don’t have gas coming to this home. This is an electrically-powered home that is run off the solar panels on the roof,” says Rumak.

The heat-pump furnace, heat-pump hot water heater and ventilation system all run on solar power. So, no gas bill.

The only bill you get is for power. “For the majority of that year, you may actually even be running on credits, which means you’re not paying anything. But there may be those few months out of the year in the winter where you have a small bill,” says Rumak.

A net-zero home has no drafts, no cold spots, is super quiet and very comfortable. And there is another kind of comfort. “It’s the comfort of mind that I’m talking about, not having to worry about what’s going happen to my bill next month,” says Mananni.

The timing of Landmark’s affordable net-zero couldn’t be better. In Edmonton, work has begun on Blatchford, the city’s carbon-neutral neighbourhood. It will someday be home to 30,000 people.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

Learn more about this project on the Emissions Reduction Alberta website here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.