We were delighted to take part in the Toronto Green Living Show this year. It was a great event that really felt like a 21st-century show!
There were electric cars from a number of different companies, lithium ion power walls, vertical gardens for your living room, vertical farming out of a container, and geodesic domes where you can grow produce year round even in our climate.
We loved being part of the showcase of green living options and really enjoyed talking about about our electrically operated homes, which are designed to cost just pennies a day to operate.
Congratulations to the winner of our Eco-Feu raffle at the show, Stephanie Hahn of New Hamburg, Ontario.
Stephanie won a Cartier tabletop unit from Eco-Feu. These ethanol units make perfect centerpieces and/or accent lighting. Burning for 2 to 3 hours, they feature a soothing, vibrant, real flame.
The future is now and we need to embrace it! Photos below from the event.
Check out this video about the Green Living Show from The Tesla Model 3 owners club.
We recently came across a great, highly informative article on whole home ventilation for anyone looking at building a new home. Six Steps to Success With Heat-Recovery Ventilation by Bruce Sullivan was first published on the Green Building Advisor blog.
The article explains the difference between HRV/ERV and the necessity for highly efficient fresh air machines. At EkoBuilt, we prefer ERV (energy recovery ventilators) over HRV (heat recovery ventilators) because modern buildings should not only be airtight but also vapour tight.
It is extremely important for long term building health to make sure there is no condensation within a wall cavity. An ERV in a vapour tight house is able to maintain comfortable humidity inside the building while removing excess moisture (anything above 60% humidity). These machines also offer a constant fresh air supply for a healthy interior environment.
Hoping to build your own home some day? Does it seem like a dream? It’s best to start planning as far ahead as possible. Here’s why:
The excitement and potential around building your own home are pretty special, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into the process before you ever get there. If any process deserves a long lead time, home building is it.
Considerations around location, availability and zoning of available land, whether to share or become part of a community with others, whether to build in an income component, and the type of structure you would build are just the starting points.
With land availability increasingly scarce in some areas, and energy costs rising, it’s important to get all of these things as right as you can.
1) How do you want to live?
Are you building for where you are now, or where you will be in a few years or more? Are you building a family home or for a single/couple? Will you work from home?
Do you like the idea of building a home with a community of other like minded folks?
Does your household have special needs?
With rising costs for home ownership, does it make sense to build in an income/rental component?
2) Where do you want to live?
It’s never too soon to start looking at available land and considering your options.
Urban or rural?
In an urban environment you will likely have to take land that’s available or find a property with an existing older home and rebuild. The rebuild may be the preferable option for most in order to be in the neighbourhood of choice and also for the property not to be subject to development costs which can be as high as $25,000-$30,000 in the city of Ottawa. If the property has an existing home on it, regardless of condition or age, the development fee is waived.
In rural areas or smaller towns it is still a good idea to pay attention to development fees. Using Ottawa as an example, the $25,000-$30,000 development fee within city limits could be reduced to as little as $3,500 in the surrounding townships.
Other factors to consider:
– Lay of the land. This is important for some because it may dictate the style of foundation. For example, if you want a walkout basement, a sloped piece of land is necessary. On the flip side, if no basement is preferred, then a relatively flat piece of property is required.
– Orientation. In order to maximize solar gain, it is important to have access to the sun and this means designing the house to face within 20° of due south. In a town or city, streets that run north to south are preferred instead of east to west for privacy reasons. For example, if a street runs east to west, a house on the north side of the road has its south side facing the street. As living areas would normally be placed on this side of a home, there is a potential loss of privacy particularly if the home needs to be positioned very close to the road.
– Water quality. It’s a good idea to research depths of wells if the property is located outside of a municipal area. Deep wells (greater than 250 to 300 feet deep) normally have higher concentrations of minerals which may require a large water treatment system. Well records in the province of Ontario are public information so it’s very easy to see the results.
3) Budget: To build & to live
There is a budget for building, and then there is a budget for living, and as energy prices rise the latter is getting more attention from homeowners.
EkoBuilt’s Mooneys Pad tiny house plan
EkoBuilt offers pre-existing energy efficient house plans to suit many different lifestyles, including tiny/coach house options. Many of our clients like to start with one of our plans, and then customize to best meet their personal needs and preferences, but we can also start from scratch. Working with pre-existing plans provides great benefit in terms of proven models of energy efficiency, layout convenience, and – of course – budget.
EkoBuilt also offers a key array of house performance models for your home, including Code Plus (a home built to the Code standards projected for 2030), Passive House (a home that is 90% better than Code), and even Net Zero (a home which produces as much energy as it uses).
The best investment you can make is in the most energy efficient home that you can afford to build, as you will get the best return on that same investment. Imagine simply not having to worry about steeply climbing energy bills.
4) How will you build?
Finding a builder who understands what you want to achieve and can work with you to do so, is critical. At EkoBuilt, we welcome clients who want to save on the build cost by doing some or all of their own work, when circumstances allow. We also work with clients who need us to do everything from start to finish.
The earlier in the process that we can have a conversation, the more we can help you consider the best and most cost effective ways of achieving your dream. Make time to sit down with us today, even if you can’t foresee being in a position to build for two or three years.
If you’re planning on building a new home, you’ve got a chance to get it right from day one. Low energy bills, a healthy and supremely comfortable living environment, great design – what’s not to love?
Energy efficient home plans are the key ingredient to an energy efficient home, along with energy efficient materials and building technologies, and – of course – a builder who understands how to make the most of all of these.
Why are they so important?
Home plans that have been developed by an experienced home builder over time will take into account myriad factors, including the best distances for work areas in a kitchen, ideal corridor and flow pathways, orientation of private spaces to public ones, relationships of the indoors to the outdoors, etc. But there is much more to a home than floorplans.
An energy efficient home plan will also take into account things like roof slope and style, overhangs, maximizing window size on south and west facing walls, etc.
Will you know an energy efficient plan when you see it?
Possibly not. Unless you know the right things to look for, you may not be able to pick out the best options. An energy efficient home builder will be able to guide you in selecting from the best plans, can work with you to further customize those base plans to best suit your needs, preferences and budget, and will know the appropriate building materials and systems required to realize the build properly. The right builder will stay abreast of the best home building technologies and approaches for reducing a home’s energy footprint.
A child’s bedroom in the EkoBuilt model home. Although curtains have been added for light control, they aren’t needed for warmth. The Munster windows are incredibly well sealed and energy efficient.
After years of building custom and energy efficient homes for customers, the EkoBuilt team has years of experience in designing and building homes, and this experience has translated into the 13 energy efficient home plans from our Passive House line, as well as 8 tiny/coach house plans for secondary dwellings/rental properties and tiny home enthusiasts.
The 13 passive house plans that we’ve developed encompass both two-storey and bungalow styles, all boast low-slope roofs with large overhangs, and each one is designed to maximize the placement and size of south and west-facing windows.
These house plans also build on years spent accumulating knowledge of the best kinds of home floorplans to cater to different lifestyles and life phases. Some of our plans will be better suited to individuals, retired couples or those without children, while others are more clearly family/multi-resident homes.
All of the plans include an optional basement with lower-level access, and all can be paired with an energy efficient garage, as required.
Homes designed to take advantage of electricity – the fuel of the future
These homes are easily and cheaply run using an air to air source heat pump which can heat a home for less than $30/month (electricity) during the coldest months of winter. Really!
And, as noted above, we’re always delighted to work with clients to customize one of our plans to best suit their design preferences, budget and needs. We can help you think through how you live and how your home’s design can best support that.
Most importantly, we can help you end up with the most delightfully comfortable and healthy home, that is also the most energy efficient one possible to build currently.
The EkoBuilt Model Home will be open for public viewing on Saturday and Sunday this weekend from 9am to 5pm each day, as part of Green Energy Doors Open Ottawa ’17. We hope you’ll come out and visit our four-bedroom passive house just west of Ottawa. Just stepping into the house you’ll feel the difference.
Click to learn about the EkoBuilt solar engine
The EkoBuilt Passive House is our premier offering for home owners seeking the best investment, exceptionally low energy consumption, and comfort from a home that is also supremely healthy. We offer 13 designs, all of which can be customized to meet your specific needs and preferences.
Almost all of our conversations begin with the passive house and what it means for home owners. To aid these conversations and to support your research into the best home for you, we recently developed an illustration that shows the component parts of what we call the Eko Solar Engine.
Throwing our doors open this weekend offers a perfect opportunity to ‘see’ the solar engine in action and to ask questions. We look forward to meeting you!
When many of us hear the term ‘off-grid’ in terms of our homes, it’s easy to think it must be difficult or costly to get a off-grid, however it is actually very easy to implement and not terribly expensive. When viewed in line with typical utility bills, it simply makes sense.
A typical off-grid system might range from $20-$30k to purchase, which is a significant upfront investment for most of us, but seen over the duration of a mortgage, it would actually translate into a very manageable monthly payment, e.g. $170 / per month. This is actually more affordable than many typical monthly utility bills for homeowners.
All change…or at least, a significant shift
At this point in time, almost every off-grid project requires a generator, because the sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing, and the capacity for storing the energy generated by these sources in batteries simply hasn’t developed sufficiently.
The problem with conventional off-grid systems is that they require propane or gas, which are petroleum based fuels. As we all know, this represents a simply unsustainable energy supply. Which is why we turn to biofuel.
Why not use readily available bio-fuel?
We recommend using a generator that can burn vegetable oil or bio diesel. These are the fuels of the future as they are non-petroleum based and renewable.
A European company, Gelec Energy, has a great selection of generators, including ones engineered for use with vegetable oil/biofuel.
With this technology, no one is reinventing the wheel; they are simply making use of existing diesel technology developed over 100 years ago. After all, deeply concerned about the pollution that accompanied the age in which he lived, Rudolph Diesel originally designed his engine so that it could run off peanut oil…
As a fuel, bio diesel is also reasonably affordable, costing as little as $.60 per litre, compared to much closer to a dollar per litre for gas at the pump.
What this looks like
In the summer period (mid-March to mid-October) an off-grid house is designed to run off solar PV panels and batteries. In the winter period (mid-October to mid-March) it’s engineered to run off a combination of solar PV, batteries, and the generator.
On average, a full-size family home will use 24 kWh per day in the warmer months, and 30 kWh per day in the cold season. The house can run directly off solar PV when the sun is shining, but here are the factors to consider for overcast days:
Battery storage is 15 kWh.
Batteries experience on average .5 charge cycles per day during the summer period and one charge cycle per day during the winter period.
Batteries cost $15,000 and are guaranteed for 3,000 charge cycles which equates to a battery lifetime of 12 years. This averages out to $1,250 per year.
Generator cost is $15,000; with limited run time it should last approximately 30 years, resulting in an annual cost of $625.
On average, the generator needs to produce 15 kWh per day during winter. The generator can do this with 1.5 L used vegetable oil or biodiesel: 1.5 L x 150 days = 225L x $0.60 per litre = $135/year.
Total annual costs
Cost for bio diesel approximately $0.60 per litre = $135 per year
Generator cost amortized over 30 years = $625 per year
6 kW solar array and inverter $15,000 to last 50 years or more = $300 per year
Batteries amortized over 12 years = $1,250 per year
Total = $2,310 per year. We conservatively estimate that this is 50% less than what most full-size family homes cost to keep heated and cooled when connected to the grid.
Interested to know more?
We’re happy to answer questions about how to take your home off-grid, particularly if you’re building new and want to know the best decisions to make upfront to maximize energy saving potential. Give us a shout today.
The sub-title for this post really should be “how comfortable is a passive house in winter?” And the answer is: very!
Okay, so the sun has been shining and we’re feeling the summer’s warmth, but cast your mind back to the long, grey winter we had here in the Ottawa Valley. Not for long, just long enough to picture the environment in which the EkoModel passive house spent its first winter.
Although the average temperature for the area was roughly -5.5C from December through March, December and January both saw some supremely cold days: -28C the low in December, -25C the low in January. Throughout the period we kept the house at steady 21C for daytime and evening; overnight, with no heating, the temperature would make a gentle fall to 18 or 19C by morning.
Having lived in homes in the past where keeping the temperature at 21C would have been too costly, this round the clock comfort was the revelation we hoped it would be. Both floors of the home, including the upstairs bedrooms, maintained these temperatures – no ‘cool spots’ as in many older homes.
Click to learn about the EkoBuilt solar engine that heats (and cools) this passive house
All of this was achieved using an average of just 31.75 kWh per day – which may not seem that low, until you remember that this passive house has NO FURNACE. That hydro-electricity usage simply represents the operation of the ‘solar engine’ components (including a fresh air exchanger, and an air-to-air heating and cooling pump) of the house, and daily living (lights, cooking, heating water*, PC and television usage) of a family of five.
So, our total energy bills for the four deep winter months was $801.48 (or $200/month).
*We heat our water to 120C.
An interesting note on Sunny Days
If it was a sunny day and we had approximately six hours of sun or more pouring through the south facing windows, we did not need to use the heating system at all.
The sun had no problem raising the temperature of the house from 19°C in the morning to about 24°C in the afternoon, in which case the temperature would drop to about 22°C in the evening and hover at about 20°C in the morning. Amazing!
What we’ll do differently next year
Overall, the house performed as expected, and the very low energy usage (seen here) and bills, even in a cold, grey winter, are great practical evidence. Less easy to share, but no less significant, is the supreme comfort that we enjoyed all winter long.
Looking ahead to next year, we’re considering installing an ethanol (biofuel) fireplace. These units are a very simple and clean alternative to wood burning fireplaces and woodstoves, and their benefits are amplified in a passive house, where much less heat input is required to warm the home, and a fresh oxygen supply with good airflow is continually available.
There is a great overview of ethanol fireplaces on Houzz, and again we’d underscore the greater benefit to a passive house over a conventional build. In brief, this heating method has a very small environmental footprint, is low maintenance and attractive. We see this heat source as a great alternative when sunshine is severely limited, as it was this past winter in the Ottawa Valley. Any successful system has a built-in backup, and this looks like a great way to round out the solar engine that is driving our passive house.
If you have questions or thoughts about our passive home’s winter performance, please do feel free to comment here or contact us. We’re keen to share this information as clearly as possible in order to help homeowners to understand the huge benefits of building a passive house.
The CBC recently carried a story, P.E.I. man wants to know why he pays HST on electricity he generates himself, which left us scratching our heads. Honestly, this poor guy lives in a province where oil consumption for heating houses is exempt from HST, yet electricity is not, and legislation requires that he be taxed for generating it. Worse still? This man, whose solar panels are producing more electricity than he needs for his home, allowing him to sell the remainder through net metering to the grid, notes that the province’s customers then pay HST on what they use.
Part of the problem with rationalizing energy pricing and taxation, of course, is the huge variation in energy generation infrastructure across the provinces and territories. Unlike Ontario, whose electricity is “90% emissions-free, thanks in part to Ontario’s early action to close coal-fired power generation” (source: https://www.ontario.ca/page/cap-and-trade-ontario), P.E.I. is in a much less fortunate position, with no active hydro-electric station, and a reliance on both out-of-province sources of electricity, as well as two in-province sources that are fired by diesel and oil.
None of the above really helps to explain how P.E.I. can tax someone who is generating clean electricity to contribute to a grid that is sorely lacking in local, clean sources of electricity, nor how it can fail to tax oil usage. The CBC story further explains that P.E.I.’s government and Maritime Electric claim that “federal tax law requires HST be charged to homeowners involved in net metering…[and that] homeowners could claim back the HST by registering as a business.” Are there any more hoops that homeowners should jump through in the name of nonsense?
While it may be understandably challenging for Canada to develop a unified and logical strategy on carbon taxing, there is an undeniable need for green solutions like solar electricity generation to be supported, not hindered! The future needs to be carbon-free, and solar panels are helping us to get there, along with individuals like the P.E.I. man who decided to build the most energy efficient home he could afford, unaware that the government would penalize him for doing so.
Whether you’re building a new home or considering retrofitting the lighting in an existing home, if energy conservation matters to you there is only one type of light you should consider: LED lighting.
Basically, LEDs are just tiny light bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit. But unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, they don’t have a filament that will burn out, and they don’t get especially hot. They are illuminated solely by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material, and they last just as long as a standard transistor. The lifespan of an LED surpasses the short life of an incandescent bulb by thousands of hours. Tiny LEDs are already replacing the tubes that light up LCD HDTVs to make dramatically thinner televisions.
The Recessed LEDs We Recommend
In the EkoModel Home, we used recessed LED lighting throughout the home.
The product we chose to use is from a company called Energy Efficient Lighting based in Markham, Ontario:
The Ottawa Home and Remodeling Show 2017 Coach House Village was a huge success and we were pleased to be a part. We were blown away with the amount of interest, from the general public as well as the Ottawa Citizen, CBC and CTV (the latter both broadcast from the Coach House pavilion).
We are attracted to the new Ottawa Coach House regulations because intensification of the city is an amazing example of sustainability! We heard lots of great ideas from visitors to our booth who are exploring putting a coach house on their property for the following kinds of reasons:
Granny or in-law suite: save $2-3k per month moving from a $3000 – $4000 monthly payment (retirement home) to a $1000 / month coach house
Rental unit: homeowners could make 12 to 15% return on investment per year (no more stock market speculation!)
Starter home: alternative for kids moving out or starting families instead of moving into an expensive apartment or condo
Air B&B: for those homeowner entrepreneurs out there
Apart from urban Coach House interest, there were also a number of visitors interested in tiny house communities run like a condominium and with a shared access road. There were retirees looking to truly downsize and those just looking to start small.
Listening to all these ideas was very energizing and inspiring and we look forward to seeing where the Ottawa Coach House trend will take us.