The Net-Zero Energy Now House is Really Boring.

now house from street photo

I mean, really. Except for the metal roof, the Now House looks just like every other sixty year old postwar veteran's house on the street in suburban Toronto. Everybody knows that a zero-energy house has to look all heliotropy and be covered in green gizmos.

And everybody knows that these old 2x4 houses are not worth renovating. They're sieves, they're heat sinks. As Ruben said in an earlier post: Most old buildings merely slow the wind down. They are abysmally hard to heat, as any reading of period novels will tell you. Even though there are millions of them across North America, everybody knows they are just knockdowns. Net zero energy? Impossible.

And the size? 1350 Square feet! nobody has lived in that since 1960. This has to be replaced or boxtopped (second floor added on) or it is uninhabitable. Everyone knows that a North American house has to be 2500 square feet. I mean, really.

now house lorraine gauthier photo


Not if you are Lorraine Gauthier of Work Worth Doing(on the left with scissors) and you are one of twelve winning teams in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative, and the only winner that was a renovation.

Not if you are architect David Fujiwara, who tells us that anyone can do most of this in their house, that it can be done incrementally in stages:

1) Insulate it like mad- basement, walls, roof, everything.

2) Seal it tight as a drum.

3) Install new windows (the old ones were not exactly historic)

4) Don't build any more than you need- when you build to this standard it gets expensive. Just by doing all of this you will have gone a long way to cutting your energy costs to the bone; if you want to start adding equipment to go zero energy, it gets really expensive as it gets bigger.

Besides, when they built the house back in the '40s, nobody used the basements for anything but a furnace and laundry. Once it is insulated this well, it becomes warm, habitable space, increasing the usable area dramatically.

Anyone can get to this stage and save a lot of money, but this was a demonstration project with CMHC funding and is supposed to demonstrate how you go net zero energy, meaning that it gives back to the grid as much as it takes. So now the fun begins. Here's the goal:

* Reduce emissions by 5.4 tonnes
* Achieve an annual energy cost of near zero
* Reduce plug load by 59.8%
* Reduce heat loss to achieve EGH rating of 84
* Produce energy on site from renewable resources increasing EGH to 93.7
* Use minimal new resources and produce minimal waste
* Improve indoor air quality
* Be affordable
* Be repeatable

Here's the plan:

now house changes image

And here's the technology, lots of it. Here is a view of the mechanical room, with the solar hot water heat exchanger on the left, mixing and monitoring valves in the middle, and an instant-on hot water heater on the right to make up the slack.

now house basement photo

It's all too much for me to cope with so I asked the mechanical contractor, Patrick Scantlebury of Copperhead Mechanical, to explain:

There is also a heat recovery pipe on the drain (seen also on TreeHugger here)

now house heat recovery photo

and on the rear, south-facing side of the house, all the green gizmos: solar hot water evacuated tube collectors on the left, photovoltaic panels on the right. Those 60 year old houses had little second floors and nice sloping roofs that lend themself perfectly to such an installation.

now house rear view photo

What can I say? It's boring. They had to wrap a monster orange ribbon around it just so people could find it for the opening.

now house ribbon photo

But it may just be the best example yet of what we have to do to to get out of this climate and energy crisis. Let's get real about this; demonstration projects are great, new eco-towns are great, but in North America we have a third of a billion people living in existing houses on existing lots and unless we fix that, everything else is just window dressing.

The Now House has a lot of lessons:

-Stop demolishing everything. Any house can be rebuilt this way, there was nothing special here. Our housing stock, particularly all the small, two story stuff in the north, is waiting for this. Read more here about it:
Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition
Razing Buffalo : Why is This Happening? : TreeHugger
Donovan Rypkema : LEED stands for "Lunatic Environmentalists ...

Take it in steps.
You don't have to do everything at once. Seal, then insulate, then think about technology. See our "green your house for winter" series on Planet Green, and more on TreeHugger:
Victorian Houses Can Have A Green Makeover Too
Real-Life Green Kitchen Renovation
Green Chicago Renovation Has it All

And ultimately, this project proves that we don't need a Manhattan project, we don't need a moon shot, that we can take the 40% of our carbon footprint that comes from buildings right out of the equation just by fixing what we've got, the way Lorraine and David did. What is the solution to energy independence and climate change? The Republicans say "Drill, drill, drill!". Thomas Friedman says "Invent, invent, invent!" How about this demonstration of the simplest and best, that anyone in Alaska or Canada gets: "Insulate, Insulate, Insulate!"
Other Equilibrium houses in TreeHugger
Zero-Energy Condo Wins Equilibrium Competition
EQuilibrium Competition: Minto Manotick :
Equilibrium Competition: Montreal Zero

The Net-Zero Energy Now House is Really Boring.
I mean, really. Except for the metal roof, the Now House looks just like every other sixty year old postwar veteran's house on the street in suburban Toronto. Everybody knows that a zero-energy house has to look all heliotropy and be covered in green

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