UPDATE July 23rd: According to Sevag Pogharian, the architect, the homes won’t be ready for another 2 months (late September/early October).
The homes in Hudson, west of Montreal, will be ready for viewing in June. Concordia University and other will measure the effectiveness and energy use for one year to verify the “net-zero” claim.
Imagine living in a house that produces as much energy as it consumes; a house unaffected by power failures or ice storms?
That house is now a reality. The Alstonvale Net Zero Energy House, under construction in Hudson, Que., will demonstrate the attainability of a net-zero energy lifestyle without the use of fossil fuels or production of greenhouse gases.
The ANZEH was one of 12 winners chosen in 2007 by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s nationwide EQuilibrium initiative, a sustainable housing program launched in 2006 and geared to net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide.
The merits of the proposals were measured on the basis of how well they achieve: net-zero energy consumption, a healthy indoor environment, a reduction in resource consumption, a low impact on the environment, affordability and the potential to build a similar house elsewhere in Canada.
Six of the houses have already been built and the rest are under construction.
When completed in June, the ANZEH house, about 60 kilometres west of Montreal, will be the “poster boy” of environmentally sustainable housing.
“The ANZEH kills two birds with one stone. It converts sunlight to electricity, and usable thermal heat,” architect Sevag Pogharian, the head of the ANZEH project, said.
“A net-zero energy house is tied to the utility’s electric grid and draws electricity from it. However, the key component is that it also generates electricity on site, through renewable means, and returns at least as much energy to the grid as it draws from it. This insures a zero-energy consumption balance with the grid over any 12-month period,” Pogharian said.
It does this by relying on an innovative solar technology known as a building-integrated photovoltaic/thermal (PV/T), the latest development available in solar panel or module technology.
The Canadian-made panels will be placed on the building’s south-facing facade, harvesting the sun’s power and converting it to the electricity that runs the heat pumps, lights and appliances.
The thermal energy drawn from the modules is diverted to heating the water in a 4,500-litre water reservoir in the basement. The heat from the reservoir is used to produce hot water.
“We send all the electricity we make directly to the grid, and pull everything we need from the grid in order to run the electrical systems,” Pogharian said. “This is the most direct, constructive method of utilizing the energy the house produces.
“The idea is to generate all the energy needed for domestic and general requirements, including electricity to power an electric car, and integrated home-scale agriculture, which includes a small greenhouse.”
The PV modules generate sufficient energy to charge the battery of the household’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which can also be charged through the grid. This vehicle is the ZENN electric car.
“Replacing one vehicle of a two-car family with an electric one will help drop smog levels by 50 per cent. The city of St. Jerome (a town about 40 km northwest of Montreal) is using them, and in the U.S., there are even more being used,” said Peter Kettenbeil, senior sponsorship adviser for the project.
Energy requirements will be further reduced through a high-performance building envelope, reduced energy demand and an aggressive use of passive heating and cooling techniques.
Kettenbeil, says that, “for humans, the security point is very important. That is, not having to rely on fossil fuels or facing the reality of power failures or blackouts. Anyone can adapt to a green energy lifestyle. It’s a new way of living called a net-zero energy lifestyle.”
He believes that with time and awareness, systems like the ANZEH can only become more common.
“If the public knows they can have a secure energy source, it’s just informing them of the product being available that will make these systems more mainstream and eventually cost less.”
But Pogharian says that there are many hurdles in making the public aware of the options for a greener lifestyle.
“The present attitude seems to be build it as cheap as possible, as fast as possible. Sheer dumbness prevails in construction, particularly in housing, but also in transportation and food production.”
Pogharian also says government has to become more responsible.
“We have a number of eco-action programs, funded by the provincial and federal governments, but the funding toward renewable energy is still pathetic. The financial grants to do a high-performance house are not there. Until then, not much will change.”
Of the $525,000 total cost of the house and the pricey lot at the edge of a golf course, $85,000 can be attributed to the net-zero system.
“In return, you get a vastly reduced utility bill of $144 a year, the basic fee. Even though the current price for a net-zero house is higher, every year after you’re paying a minuscule energy bill compared to a conventional house,” Pogharian said.
“Over a 10- or 25-year term, the net-zero and conventional house present a value of investment that are very close. The important message here is that if you look only at the payback of a net-zero house, it doesn’t work. You should look for net present value, a more comprehensive way of looking at your investment.”
In June, after the house is finished, there will be a six-month open house period for public visits.
Starting in November, the Housing Corporation, Concordia University and Hydro-Quebec will independently monitor approximately 200 parameters to authenticate the home’s performance.
At this time, the house, complete with electric car, will be occupied by a family of two adults and two children for a year.
Pogharian has a few suggestions that can set you on the path to a net-zero energy lifestyle.
“When you’re considering having a home built or renovated, go over the plans with your architect and ask them to consider any energy-saving strategies, such as south-facing windows, a better heat-retaining envelope or instalment of PV panels,” Pogharian said. “The pieces are all there, they’re all available to you. Everything that has gone into this house is available off the shelf, nothing is custom. We put the pieces together in an intelligent, integrated fashion, the rest is up to you.”