30 january 2013

Building for the environment and living off the grid


(cbc vid grab)
Keith Robertson's home, off the grid and saving money

Keith Robertson is an architect with the firm Solterre Design, in the east coast province of Nova Scotia  More than that however, he’s an expert in energy efficient design and recycling of materials. He’s an LEED-accredited architect, which is a special designation in energy and environmental design and construction.

A few months ago he completed a house which his family of four will eventually use as a full-time retirement home.  What’s unusual is that there are no electrical wires or poles to connect him to the power grid.  The home is entirely “off-grid”, producing its own heat and power, augmented by a little propane for cooking, and a wood burning stove if needed. A number of repurposed and recycled materials also went into the house.

What’s also interesting is that this super efficient house, didn’t cost that much more to build than a conventionally-built house of similar size.
The certification LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  In terms of a building, there are a number of criteria to be met for various levels of certification, from basic up to platinum LEED certification.  Mr Robertson built his house to the highest classification.

(cbc vid grab) Architect Keith Robertson speaking to a reporter in his house which is off the power grid and almost entirely self-sufficient for power.

On the one hand, the interior has quite a number of re-used items from houses being demolished or modified. He’s re-used sinks, counter tops, cupboards and doors for example.

One the other hand, the house has super-efficient windows, uses recycled crushed glass in the concrete and septic systems instead of typical gravel or sand, and has thicker walls and insulation, and an efficient air exchange which uses outgoing air to warm the fresh incoming air.  It also uses solar panels on the roof to heat water and produce electricity to power lights and small appliances.  There is added propane for cooking and a wood stove should extra heat be needed.

(cbc vid grab) Solar panels on the roof supply hot water, other generate electricity to power lights and small appliances

On a simpler note, he points out that attention to detail in construction can help in creating a tighter “envelope” which is important in energy saving.

He points out that creating a super energy efficient house would cost roughly between 6-8% more than current construction designs and methods used in Canada.

(Solterre Design) In addition to energy efficiency, recycling was important, using crushed glass in both the concrete and as material in the septic field

Mr Robertson notes that Canada was a world leader in energy efficient home design back in the 1970’s, but other nations such as in northern Europe have taken Canada’s initial lead and gone much further with it.

He says its his hope that designs like his can inspire residential architects and the construction industry to adopt such concepts in materials and designs to catch up to the Europeans and create more efficient houses.

Solterre Design- Mr Robertson's concept cottage

RCI’s Marc Montgomery contacted Keith Robertson at his office with the architectural firm Solterre, in the port city of Halifax
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