What is a smart home anyway?
Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends, Passive House facts, Simply Sustainable

Measuring how smart a home really is

When we talk about ‘smart homes’, there is a general bias towards technology. Consider this definition:

Standard smart home definition: noun “a home equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer.”

At EkoBuilt, we see the smartness in homes very differently, using a sustainability lens.

EkoBuilt smart home definition: noun “a home designed to be autonomous without the use of electronic devices for heating or ventilation control.”

We also think the smartest homes can be affordably net-zero, taking their energy from renewable energy sources. Truly there is much confusion over what a smart home really is. Conventional thinking holds that a ‘smart home’ is one that uses more technology for control. But is that really very smart?

Shouldn’t a truly smart home need less technology?

We feel that a smart home is one that uses the least technology possible. It’s possible to design homes that don’t require all kinds of devices for control.

For example, a home should not need to be heated when the occupants are not there, and blinds should not be required because unwanted heat needs to be kept out. In a true passive house excess technology is not required because the space requires little heating or air-conditioning to be comfortable.

Using energy from the sun as a heat source, the home can be heated naturally even in extremely cold conditions. To reduce the need for air conditioning in hot summers, windows are strategically located to naturally shade themselves so unwanted heat is not coming into the home. This is a smart home!

It is more sustainable, and much smarter to use less technology, both environmentally and physically. There is simply no need to have a wi-fi thermostat. Why spend money to operate a furnace in an occupied or unoccupied home when you don’t have to? It is smart to spend as little money and to acquire as few devices for your home as possible.

Why passive homes are the smartest homes

Our point is of course, to communicate the intelligence of building to the passive house standard. It is, after all, the only truly resilient home known to man.

It is a home that uses so little fuel to heat and cool the space that the electric bills are approximately the same amount every month of the year, whether the home is being heated or not.

Not to be coy, every house, even a passive house, requires a heating system – especially in this part of Canada – but the passive house leaks so little heat (even during extreme cold conditions) that it costs very little to keep the space heated. Less energy, in fact, than a refrigerator uses in a year. Now, that’s a smart home.

Ever compared your home to a thermos?

Thermos passive house analogyA passive house is as close as you can get to living in a thermos! The key difference is the passive space has constant access to fresh air, while a thermos does not.

Seriously though – a good thermos can keep keep tea extremely hot for 24 hours, which is really quite unbelievable when you think about it. Well, a passive house is basically the same thing in a home. And that really is a smart home.

From a health perspective, it’s much safer to live in an environment virtually free of interior toxins or exterior pollution (propane or gas emissions), full of ample fresh air, and designed to last generations. Again, that’s a smart home.

Another vital feature of a truly smart home is that it be electrically operated. We’ve come to the point where a home designed to operate by propane and/or gas, is a home designed for the past. Fossil fuels are not the way forward. Homes for today and tomorrow need to be 100% electrically operated — it’s simply the only fuel source for sustainability. It’s also the best for our health and for our pocketbooks.

A home that helps to create a healthier environment is a home that is healthier for us, and energy savings translate into lower operating costs, and that means more money in our pockets.

In conclusion, a truly smart home designed for today should be one that is built to passive house standards. Realistically, every home in the near future will be required to be built this way, but why wait when you can start now!

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about building your passive home.

Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Simply Sustainable, Solar Power

Our experience at Toronto’s Green Living Show 2018

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.

Cartier table top fire featureCongratulations 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.

 

Photo Gallery

Whole home ventilation explained
Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends

Whole home ventilation: ERV and HRV explained

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.

You can read the full article on the Green Building Advisor blog.

Related Content

You might also like HRV Units and the Passive House (2016, EkoBuilt blog)

 

 

Ottawa coch house costs
Coach / Tiny Homes, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends

What it costs to build a coach house

We have been receiving a tremendous amount of interest in our Coach House offering for the 2018 build season. We thought it would be appropriate to talk about future possibilities for everyone we haven’t heard from yet.

The new coach house regulations in Ottawa create a great opportunity for additional income in the form of a rental property and potentially even more income from an Airbnb format. It can also make for an economical in-law suite or starter home for a son or daughter.

Unlike most builders out in the marketplace, EkoBuilt is focused on building a style of home that is future-proof, something that will actually appreciate over time. Most builders design to today’s building code, and the real problem with this approach is that codes are starting to change dramatically.

This means that a home built to code standard today will be sub-standard come the next code change just four years from now.

Current building code is solid from a safety perspective, but the energy efficiency of most homes built to this code has not kept pace with drastically rising utility costs.

It doesn’t cost much extra to build ahead of code, so why not build to the future code standard? This is our approach and it just makes sense for anything truly designed to be a 21st century home.

To help in showing how possible it is to build to future code, we have prepared a cost analysis documentation for a couple of our designs.

Cost Analysis: Tiny Canuck

Tiny Canuck coach house plan

Tiny Canuck 499 sq.ft.

Size:  1 bedroom, 499 sq.ft.

Finished for $132,375:

  • that’s a $694 mortgage payment
  • rental $1250+ (including utilities), that’s a 56% ROI, beats the stock market.

Download the Tiny Canuck cost analysis


Cost Analysis: Nepean Point

Nepean Point tiny house plan

Nepean Point 720 sq.ft.

Size: 2 bedroom, 720. sq.ft.

Finished for $175,802:

  • that’s a $922 mortgage payment
  • rental $1750+ (including utilities), that’s a 53% ROI

Download the Nepean Point cost analysis

Including utilities would make these units really attractive to anyone in the market. Since the homes are ‘future proof’, they can be heated and cooled inexpensively with electricity (no gas/propane) which will be the fuel of the future.

Alternatively, if a coach house is built to current code standards, your mortgage rates may be slightly less (5%) but with substantially higher utilities, overall cost of living would be more expensive.

Coach House Plans: CodePlus & Passive House

Make sure you visit our Coach House Plans page and review the kit pricing for our coach house plans based on CodePlus and on the Passive House standard. Questions? We’d be happy to answer them!

Please get in touch with us to explore Coach House opportunities for your property!

Couple viewing potential land for their home
Energy & Household Trends, Home Building trends, House Design

Tips for purchasing land on which to build your home

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.

Ottawa coach house plans by EkoBuilt

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.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash
Energy efficient home under construction near Kazabazua
EkoBuilt News & Happenings, House Design

New house build in Kazabazua

A modified version of EkoBuilt’s Primrose house plan is currently being built on Danford Lake near Kazabazua, about an hour north of Ottawa. This is a great illustration of the process that we find works the best with the great majority of homeowners: take on one of our 13 house plans and then modify or customize to best suit your needs.

This homeowner is working with us for the design and construction process, and will implement finishes themselves – another great example of the myriad of ways it’s possible to realize the build and finishing of a new home.

When to Include a Basement

We often get asked the question, can we have a basement? This project is a good example of when you can.

The inclusion of a basement in house design comes down to the property and its slope. Some properties will easily support a basement, as with this project, which is situated on natural sloped ground leading down to a lake. A walkout basement was cost-effective to include in this case.

Other properties may not easily support a basement and our demonstration home is a good example of this, being on a clay-based soil with a high water table. A basement in this case would be a bad idea so we instead installed a super-insulated slab on grade foundation over top of an elevated gravel pad. Basement design should always be dictated by the ground on which the home will be constructed.

The Primrose

The Primrose bungalow, on which this home in Kazabazua is based, encompasses just under 1,600 square feet of living space, and features 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

Click to view full size images.  You can also download the Primrose plans.

Kazabazua Home’s Modified Plans

This project takes the Primrose plan as its basis, and introduces changes to best suit the lifestyle of the homeowners. The ground floor grew to 1,955 square feet and features the addition of a sunroom. The sloping ground on which the home is being built also supports the inclusion of a walkout basement, and the storage/mechanical room is situated on this lower level.

Click to view full size images.

Construction Gallery

 

EkoBuilt News & Happenings, Home Building trends, Solar Power

Ottawa Infill House Project

One of the projects currently underway with EkoBuilt is an infill home in central Ottawa. This house is being built to Code Plus standard and is currently being insulated; drywall to start this week.

EkoBuilt’s Code Plus framework designs to the projected building code standard of 2030 when it’s estimated that minimum exterior wall insulation will be R32 (currently R22), and roof insulation will be a minimum of R50 (currently R32).

The house also has a 10 kW solar array attached to the Ontario Micro fit program. Watch for more updates this winter.

 

Child's bedroom in energy efficient home plan
Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends, House Design

Energy efficient home plans are essential

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.

Energy efficient home plans from EkoBuiltWhy 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.

Why EkoBuilt?

Child's bedroom in energy efficient home plan

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.

Get in touch

Tell about your dreams and plans; we’ll help you choose the best energy efficient house plan and show you how to make it your reality.

Read more about the EkoModel Home, which demonstrates all of these principles.

EkoBuilt's passive house solar engine
EkoModel News, Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Passive House facts

Reflecting on a warm winter in the EkoModel Home

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.

The Eko Solar Engine - passive house infographic

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.

Hydry usage for the EkoBuilt passive house in winter 2017

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.

Questions about the passive house performance?

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.

EkoBuilt's passive house solar engine
EkoBuilt News & Happenings, Solar Power

Your House Needs a Solar Engine, and We’ve Got It

The Eko Solar Engine - passive house infographicsWe now have the opportunity to take houses off the grid and power them with energy completely derived from the sun. Your home can work smarter and save you money all year round.

At EkoBuilt, we’ve invested a lot of time and know-how into developing the perfect solar engine for your home, and we’ve created a special infographic to easily convey how it works.

This simple, fully documented and proven complete building solution is completely unique and makes it extremely easy for anyone to achieve energy independence. Our solar engine uses the latest available technologies to make this not only possible but affordable – NOW!

The beauty of the system is that you can apply it in part or in its entirety, depending on your situation.

Want to learn more about the Eko Solar Engine?

Click here for full details.

Click here to get in touch with us to explore what you need for your home.