Net Zero housing research reaches market with Minto and Urbandale initiatives

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Two major Ottawa home builders are taking the lead in energy-efficient housing design, developing concepts leading to Net Zero or even positive energy generation in single family homes, while maintaining a living environment that any homeowner would enjoy.

While the economics aren’t quite there yet for most consumers to be interested in 100 per cent energy efficiency, Minto Communities has introduced its first Net Zero optional upgrades for its Avalon development in Kanata and Urbandale Construction has contributed funding for the C-RISE Net Zero house on Carleton University’s campus.

Minto held a grand opening media event for its Killarney Net Zero Energy Home in October, representing the first example of a production builder turning energy efficiency concepts into a real tract development home that consumers can purchase on the open market.

Derek Hickson, Minto’s manager, innovation, said because the offer is new, he doesn’t have data on the number of new home purchasers who would be interested in the energy-savings upgrades for the single family home, starting at $495,000.

Visitors touring the house discovered that it looks just like a regular home – even the mechanical room does not seem far away from a conventional design.

However, the costs to build out the home to true net zero capacity would probably deter any but the most environmentally eager consumer.  Hickson said the full energy savings upgrade, excluding external solar panels, would be about $50,000 extra. Add to that, $30,000 to install the panels.

The standard house (without energy savings modifications) would consume about $3,000 a year in energy, meaning the payback for a 100 per cent energy savings would require 26 years at current energy costs.

Hickson says a more reasonable option may be the “comfort package” with an upgrade cost of about $20,000, including “all of the exterior elements that go into the energy efficiencies of insulation, all triple-pane windows, and the additional quality assurance test for air tightness.” This would reduce energy costs by about 50 per cent, to $1,500 a year, with a 13 year payback – a number that can justifiably be baked into monthly home mortgage costs.

The Killarney single family home will be followed by a set of four townhomes to be introduced to the development soon.

Minto started work on the project after it was selected as one of five building partners in Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, led by Owens Corning.

The financial support helped cover the costs of working with leading residential experts in building science and energy efficiency to plan, design and construct the energy-efficient homes, though Minto absorbed the direct building costs, the company said in an earlier news release.

Meanwhile, an Urbandale-supported research house has taken shape on Carleton University’s campus.

The Carleton Research and Innovation in Sustainable Energy (C-RISE) house, also known as the Urbandale Centre for Home Energy Research, will allow Carleton engineering and architectural department faculty and students to test emerging residential solar energy concepts, eventually including solar installations on its roof and inside.

“It’s a test bed for us to try out concepts we’ve studied either in the laboratory or through computer simulations – it’s a chance to do full-scale testing,” C-RISE project leader Ian Beausoleil-Morrison told The Charlatan student newspaper.

The project began in 2008 at a cost of $1.2 million.

Beausoleil-Morrison said the building will increase the amount of solar energy used for space heating and cooling, and water heating with a “passive solar design” including solar-collecting walls and floors.  “By using windows and the sunlight that goes through windows, we’re trying to minimize the heating and cooling demand of the building.”

Provincial and federal governments, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Panasonic have helped to fund the project, along with Urbandale Construction. “We’re hoping (Urbandale) will be able to take some of our concepts and make use of them,” Beausoleil-Morrison said.

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