Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eco/Green Features of our Home

In a previous post, I outlined our experience in creating our 'eco-house'. I thought it would be useful as a follow-up to go into a bit of detail on the actual features of the home.

Essentially, this is an "eco-house", or "green" house. It addresses sustainability, low energy use, indoor air quality issues, low environmental impact and potential for off-grid living.

There is approximately 3000 square feet of interior finished space: 1100 sq.ft. for the basement and ground floor each with about 700 sq.ft. for the second floor.

On the surface, this may appear to be a rather conventional house, but from a performance perspective, it is very unique. It's our first year, so we can't get a true handle on energy costs just yet, but so far, it is proving to be about as low as you can get on a per square foot basis. It's looking like it won't take much more than $1600 in propane (including HST) for heating. this includes running the dryer, stove and hot water heating. These will prove to be long term energy savings.

Our previous house for example, (a century log home that we renovated back in 2000. It had a new roof, and a sizable addition resulting in about 1900 square feet of living space plus a partial basement coming to about 2550 square feet of actual heated space, cost well over $2700 in propane per year plus we needed to burn a minimum of $650 worth of wood with an identical fireplace to keep comforable. The new addition was built to code and the code insulation values haven't changed since then.

To compare heating energy costs alone then, the previous house cost $1.31/sq.ft. (including basement area) with the themostat set for 65F during the day and 63F overnight. This house, wiht the thermostat set at 68 day and night, will be more like $0.53/sq.ft., or 60% less. Or put another way, the previous place cost 1.5 times more than this new place to heat. When you add that up over the lifespan of the house, it is monumental. In 25 years, the previous house will cost $44,000 more to heat than this house and yet it is 17 percent smaller and the thermostat is set at a lower temperatures. And that's not accounting for inflation.

In terms of the major features they are as follows:

Firstly, the house is passive solar designed, i.e. it takes advantage of the sun for indoor heating and uses shading devices for summer cooling. Two weeks before Christmas 2010 it was -25C outside (-13F) and sunny all day. The indoor temperature on the main floor and basement both were in the mid to high 20's (26C/78F)... just because of the sun i.e. no supplemental heat! The heat did not come on until late into the night after we went oto bed.

To assist with holding all this free heat, the walls, roof and other exposed exterior elements are super insulated. This has a gigantic impact on energy costs. They are insulated to almost double building code requirements.

Further, all windows are low-E (on the thrid surface) and are argon filled for superior performance i.e. minimizing heat loss in order to trap all that free heat.

The basement and ground floors are intentionally made of concrete to absorb the suns energy and re-radiate it out later in the day, which moderates the internal temperature. This also allows for in-floor radiant heating which is the most desirable and efficient ways of heating.

The fireplace in the Great Room can heat most of the house. (which is useful in a power outage). however we have found that we use it rarely as it tends to over heat the place. A central air system would have helped alleviate this by running a cetrnal fan and re-distributing the heat, but the cost would have been prohibitive in addition to all the other features.


Many ask about indoor conditions in the summer. Good question. We deliberately chose to not install air conditioning.

Being so exposed, one would think we would just cook in there. Well, this past summer, when it was in the low 30's (high 80's) outside for several days straight and the solar shades were only 75% completed and the crank to operate the skylights wasn't available, the hottest it got inside on the main floor was 27C (80F). We kept the overhead fans going and kept most of the windows open and belive it or not, it was quite bearable. overnight, fortunately the termpature dropped to low 20's (70's) and the cool breezes would flow thru.

The solar shades on the south facade and the east and west porches shade the majority of the house which has a major impact on minimizing interior heating. The super insulated exterior also helps significantly in minimizing the heat build-up.

This summer we will attempt to keep the windows mainly closed (to keep the humidity out) and open the skylights. This will allow the earthtubes to draw in pre-cooled air into the basement and exhaust the hotter air out the skylights at the top. Stay tuned to see how successful that ends up being.
All water fixtures are low-flow and the well pump is a hi-efficiency type therefore cutting down on water and electricity use.

The house can be easily hooked up to a portable generator should there be power outages. And all the critical circuits, (fridge, water pump, boiler equipment and pumps, fireplace fan, etc.) are on special emergency circuits.

The house can be easily converted to an off-grid house as all appliances are Energy Star rated and lighting fixtures are predominantly compact fluorescent. The roof is also at the ideal angle for maximum solar benefit.

It also has "earth-tubes" which allow for the exchange of fresh air (as required by building code) but without using energy. Essentially they go underground to pre-heat (in the winter) or pre-cool (in the summer) the necessary fresh air.

Minimizing Chemicals:
All indoor finish materials are low VOC and made from native tree species.

The other aspect that is a result of the reduced heating costs and lack of cooling equipment is the reduction in CO2 emissions, which is also significantly less.

Solar shades installed on South Facade and Porches located on
East and West Facades
for solar shading in the summer.

Plenty of Light in Main Living Area

1 comment:

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