Belgravia Green Edmonton net zero project

Judging by the attendance at the Belgravia Green net zero home open house yesterday, people in Edmonton are really interested in energy efficiency and alternative energy.

As environmentally responsible as people want to be, it probably doesn’t hurt that Epcor, the local electrical utility, was charging an outrageous 15 cents per kilowatt hour in January and a major Alberta electricity generator, TransAlta, was slapped for manipulating Alberta electricity prices.

Net zero : a home which produces at least as much energy on site from a renewable source as it uses on an annual basis.

I think that net zero is a great concept and there’s no reason many of the design principles can’t be incorporated into new homes. In fact, I think it should be required by code to build to these sorts of energy efficiency standards.

I’m all in favour of cutting power utilities out of my life completely, and net zero homes are a step in that direction, although they are still required to be grid-tied due to a lack of battery storage.

There were some interesting design elements in the homes and they’re in a great neighbourhood, close to the LRT and University of Alberta. I wasn’t too hot on the price of one of the homes, which was in the $1.2 million range (absurd). I’m sure a big part of the cost to this home was simply the cost to acquire the property.

I didn’t see a solar hot water installation on either home. This would be a cheap and easy way to supply the majority of their hot water needs. The larger of the two homes had 55 solar panels, with 35 on the roof and 20 on the garage. I didn’t ask, but I am wondering if the electricity is split between the two homes, as that amount of solar panels would be enough for both homes. In fact, I saw no solar panels at all on the smaller home.

The larger home was certainly designed with passive solar in mind, considering the very large south facing windows. I liked the bare concrete floor in that living area as well, and it’s a great way to provide some thermal mass.

One thing that jumped out at me in both homes were the walls. They are quite thick; 16 inches thick, I heard. No doubt super-insulation is one of the most important elements of a net zero home. When we build our off-grid home super-insulation is going to be one of the primary requirements. We’re tossing around a number of different ideas, but straw bale construction is one we like. You can have massively thick walls with this method!

Both homes featured wood stoves. We’re definitely planning to have wood heat as a back up in our off-grid home. The main source of heat in the larger home is geothermal, while the smaller home next door apparently is heated with electric baseboards. I’d be curious to find out the rationale behind the choices to heat each home.

Behind the wood stove in the larger home there was an interesting design element we almost went with in our current home. It’s a clay coating you can trowel onto your wall. I know that Carbon Environmental Boutique carries American Clay. And the installer did an awesome job on it! It looks really good! We’re definitely going to find a place to use it next time.

On the design front, I liked that the smaller home had what appeared to be a small apartment located over the garage, and it had an outside entrance. Secondary suites are a great way to reduce the mortgage payment!

One minor thing I also noticed in the smaller home was the corner drawers in the kitchen. Like I said, it’s a minor thing, but a great way to use corner cabinets. I’ve always hated corner cabinets. They’re practically useless, but these drawers were great!

Overall I was impressed with the larger of the two homes and less so with the smaller home. I think it’s great that builders are starting to incorporate smart new ideas and systems into the homes they build. I’m sure they’re getting much more interest from buyers who’d like to buy new homes with these systems already in place. The marginal cost to install these systems at the time they’re being built is absolutely worth it!

We’re lucky we have low natural gas prices, for now. With electricity prices in Alberta on an upward trend, expect net zero homes and their design elements to grow in popularity.

(NOTE: I found out later that the smaller home isn’t actually a net zero home. It was constructed to be very energy efficient.)



By Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure. Of course my home base will be a rural location, somewhere in Canada.

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