While we all enjoy new technology such as solar panels and geothermal heat pumps, the easiest thing any homeowner can do to use less energy and be more sustainable is insulate. And then insulate some more!
Source: Mother Nature Network
I went to visit one of North America’s first “net zero” multi-unit residential dwellings – a three-story apartment building in the east end of Montreal that generates all the energy it needs over the course of a year. The development is called “Abondance,” and it’s the product of a young, ambitious architect named Christopher Sweetnam-Holmes…
…Sweetnam-Holmes’ Abondance development is an elegant example of how sustainability reorders priorities in ways that are hard to see from within the confines of our current paradigm. It’s not a conventional Montreal apartment block with solar panels on the roof; it’s a thorough rethinking of the conventions of the conventional apartment building top to bottom, often using the same materials and processes but in much different ways.
Sweetnam-Holmes gave me a tour of the project the other day – first the three-unit Phase 1 building, in which he lives, then the still-under-construction 17-unit apartment block next door. Abondance stands in a working-class neighborhood just south of downtown Montreal. I was following the beacon of the site’ s address on Google Maps on my iPhone, and the building was so inconspicuous I walked right by it. If I was further back from it, I might’ve spied the silhouette of the solar array on the roof, but otherwise it was a brick low-rise seamlessly integrated into the rest of the block.
The really radical thing about Abondance is not the solar PV and hot-water heaters, not the geothermal heat pumps in the basement that warm and cool it or the wireless master kill switch at the door of each unit that lets you turn off all the lights and everything sucking juice on “sleep” mode in one poke as you leave. No, what’s radical about Abondance is how little energy it needs – something like 23 percent of the Montreal average – and how it reduced its required load.
The main answer: insulation. Lots of it. More than double the norm, including exterior layers of spray-foam insulation to avoid heat loss at the wooden studs. Abondance isn’t an energy-generating marvel so much as an obsessive experiment in R-value and what they call “tightness” in the building trade. Abondance takes in heat very well, and it traps it zealously. It’s ridiculously well-insulated box masquerading as a cleantech showcase.