Saturday, April 29, 2006

Zero-Energy Home Plans

New homes in Canada should produce more electrical energy than they use.

We don't expect to see this happen for another 25 years, but we do think a dozen such homes could be built next year, with 1,500 more added over the next four years.

That was the challenge the CMHC threw out to the eco home-building industry at the recent National Green Building Conference in Ottawa.

Two days before Ontario residents were told their electricity costs are about to shoot up, some 300 architects, engineers, builders, environmentalists and municipal planners gathered to discuss, display and dream about designing and building homes and other buildings that will improve the health of both the human occupants and the surrounding environment.

At the conference, the CMHC unveiled its Zero-Energy Healthy Housing campaign. Thomas Green, senior researcher in housing technology for the CMHC, said his agency has to come up with a catchier name for its energy program because it won't work unless consumers jump on the bandwagon to support and demand it.

Green said the CMHC will give $50,000 grants to help a dozen multi-disciplinary teams design and build zero-energy demonstration homes, which must be standing by June 2007. He said builders must team up with architects, engineers and even municipal officials to qualify for the grants.

The zero-energy program is aimed at creating homes that will have no impact on air, land and water. The homes will have passive heating and cooling, they'll be flooded with natural daylight, will have on-site energy-generating systems and must preserve water, land and the natural habitat.

Green said there are already zero-energy demonstration houses in the United States. Natural Resources Canada estimates that each Canadian annually contributes 6 tonnes of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, he said. Half that gas load comes from homes. The rest is mostly from transportation.

Bruce Nicol, president of Tartan Urban, an Ottawa-based, award-winning environmental builder of infill housing, says saving money by reducing energy consumption is not catching the interest of homebuyers. "There's no passion in that. Buying a home is mostly an emotional thing and if we are going to get the Energy Star story told it is going to have to be a lot more emotional," Nicol said.

Energy Star is a measuring system of energy consumption by all appliances, plus homes in general.

He agreed with Green that the CMHC needs a "sexier" name for its program. "The first thing CMHC should do is hire a private marketing firm to sell the program to builders and eventually to homebuyers."

Nicol said governments also need to push the concept by reducing property taxes for zero-energy homes, cutting development charges for builders using the program and slicing through the red tape to get the homes built.

"There's a clash of cultures between builders and various levels of government. Builders want to get the homes built and occupied. Governments want to go slow to ensure all the Ts are crossed and that rules and regulations are followed before anything happens."

That's why it is a good idea for the CMHC to give grant money only to demonstration homes that will be built by teams that include municipal officials, builders, designers and engineers, he said.

Lawyer Rodney Wilts, an official with BioRegional Development Group and, told the conference that if everybody in the world lived like Canadians, it would require the resources of five Earths to support their needs.

By the mid-1980s the world had exceeded its carrying capacity, he noted. If you divide the world's known arable land by the global population, everybody would get two hectares — but Wilts said Canadians are using more than 10 hectares per person in natural resources.

In 1992, Toronto builder Rolf Paloheimo, president of Creative Communities Research, built a CMHC-sponsored healthy home in the Riverdale neighbourhood. The semi-detached house, designed by Toronto architect Martin Liefhebber, relied on sunshine and rainwater for much of its energy consumption. It was not hooked in to the city's electrical, water or sewage grids. Paloheimo and his family still live in the house.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:24 PM  

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