Saving Green Building Green 

Can a house in cold Edmonton produce as much power as it consumes? Environmentalists are trying

By Maurice Tougas in See Magazine: It’s a cold February morning, with the temperature barely nudging -25C. Inside a Mill Creek home shared by Conrad Nobert, his wife Rechel Amores and their two young children, it’s cool but comfortable. Very comfortable, in fact, if you take into consideration their home doesn’t have a furnace.

The Nobert-Amores home looks like any other from the front, but if you go around the back — where you’ll find a garden and the three different fruit trees in the summer months —  you’ll see more than 30 solar panels, some on the roof, others on movable awnings. It’s all part of the Nobert-Amores family’s efforts to make as small an imprint on the planet as humanely possible, and as a hedge against the future.

It’s what is called a net zero home, one of only two in the city, with more in the construction and planning state.
A net zero building is one that produces all of its own energy for heating, lighting , appliances, and hot water on site over the course of a year. To do this, the house might draw on the power grid during the cold winter months, but sell back to the grid during the summer or warmer winter days. The net result, if all goes well, is zero.

Whether the Nobert-Amores home — or the first Edmonton net zero home in Riverdale — has achieved actual net zero is not entirely clear. Nobert has been scrupulously gauging his energy production and use this year, and so far it looks promising. Nobert expects they might be able to achieve net zero from the period of October 2010 to October 2011.

Saving your pocket book

But even if it doesn’t achieve the net zero effect, you have to be envious of his power bill, which is about $25 a month, all of which is service charges. And, thanks to the absence of a furnace, there is no natural gas being used, resulting in a remarkable level of savings. To gauge how much, just look at your gas bill for a month like January, and imagine that entire bill, with its laundry list of incomprehensible riders and usage fees, all gone.

Raised by parents who taught him the value of conservation, Nobert is a dedicated environmentalist (he doesn’t even own a car). He and Rechel did everything you can do with their previous house, just a few doors down from their current house, like replacing windows and improving insulation.

Still, that wasn’t enough.

“I realized that it was still consuming a huge amount of energy,” says Nobert. “We don’t really have a good idea, because it just comes in from a pipe in the basement. But the amount of energy used was massive.”

Worried about climate change, and the potential for energy scarcity — one day, he warns, there will be no natural gas left — he and his wife decided to go big and go home, and the easiest way to do that was to start from scratch. Net zero, or even coming close to it, isn’t just a matter of improving insulation and using energy-efficient appliances. The net zero effort begins, literally, from the ground up.

In 2008, he “deconstructed” a house that stood on the site of his current net zero home, saving the fir and maple flooring, the brickwork and the interior doors for use in the new house.

Now with just a hole in the ground, they planned a house that would “push the envelope” of energy conservation, aiming for a net zero house. Read more

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