"Reid's Heritage Homes - artist concept of the "net-zero" house being built in Guelph, Ontario. Solar panels on rear roof provide electricity roughly equal to consumption within the super efficient house."

Reid's Heritage Homes Construction- artist concept of the "net-zero" house Solar panels on rear roof provide electricity roughly equal to consumption within the super efficient house.
Photo Credit: Reid’s Heritage Homes

Demonstrating the feasibility of “net zero” housing

In housing, the “net-zero” concept means a house that produces as much energy itself as it consumes.

This is not an entirely new concept, but such rare buildings have always been custom made.

BuildABILITY Corporation is a housing industry consulting firm which seeks to bring innovation and new technologies to the construction industry.

In collaboration with Natural Resources Canada, and the firm Owens-Corning, they’ve initiated a challenge for  affordable net zero housing.

Candice Luck is a director of BuildABILITY in the strategy and programmes department

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Candice Luck, strategy and programme director BuildABILITY Corp
Candice Luck, strategy and programme director BuildABILITY Corp © BuildABILITY

The challenge is two-fold: first- to build net-zero housing in Canada where temperatures in the southern half of the country can be up to 30 degrees C in summer and -30C in winter, and second- the more challenging part- to make it affordable, and perhaps eventually the new standard in the construction industry.

Building codes across Canada vary, and are a provincial responsibility. There are minimum construction standards, ratings and materials that can be used. In the 1970’s when the first energy crisis hit, the government proposed a new voluntary energy standard for insulation called R-2000, this is a technical performance standard for energy efficiency, indoor air tightness quality, and environmental responsibility in home construction, and is widely practiced now.

Energy Star is a new level of performance often rating household appliances, but also now applied to homes.

Net Zero, is the idea of taking these concepts to the highest level such that a home is so efficient that solar panels supply enough energy to completely offset typical household use.

Recent image of the six-plex condo unit being built in Laval, north of montreal. Extra insulation and sealing can be seen on walls and roof.
Recent image of the six-plex condo unit being built in Laval, north of montreal. Extra insulation and sealing can be seen on walls and roof. Net Zero- means extreme efficiency and a house that produces as much energy as it uses. © Voyer Construction- BuildAbility

The idea is that typical energy usage of a family of two adults and one child over the course of a year in this super efficient house- heating and appliance use – augmented by power company supply, will be counter balanced by electricity produced by solar panels out such that at the end of the year, the power bill would be zero.

The challenge is being met by five building companies in four provinces building a variety of housing, from single family dwellings, to four townhouses, to a six-plex condo.

In addition to energy cost savings for the home-owner, there is an environmental advantage, as housing contributes about 15 percent to greenhouse gas emissions, and building far more efficient houses will reduce that figure considerably.

Reid Heritage Homes construction (RHH) Net Zero

The hope is that this project will develop affordable energy efficient techniques for constructors for wider adoption in the industry, while also demonstrating the net-zero building is affordable.

While the first houses have been completed, all projects are expected to be complete, and available for purchase early in 2016.

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2 comments on “Demonstrating the feasibility of “net zero” housing
  1. Rahul says:

    Fascinating, thank you for sharing this innovative shift in housing, it looks like we are seeing much more come online this year!

  2. Greg says:

    Glad to see more net zero demo project homes being built in Canada. But the builders need to start with some new\fresh house plans that are site specific instead of just applying net zero features to existing house plans that are stuck in the past. Start considering the sun among other things. I realize this is a difficult design challenge in a subdivision setting on narrow lots but a least give it a try. I am thinking along the lines of the Honda Smart Home (though it has its issues as well i.e garage and lot width).