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Sustainable Building Is Here

By Charlie Blore

Robert Smith, Inspiration project engineer, directs attention to the house’s energy sources.

Walk up the driveway and you would think you were about to step into just any ordinary suburban Ottawa home. Swing around back and the photovoltaic panels covering most of the roof would disillusion you rather quickly.
Ordinary homes don’t produce their own water supply. Ordinary homes don’t generate their own heat supply. And ordinary homes certainly don’t produce enough electricity to not only be self-sufficient, but also sell back the excess kilowatts to the electric company.
Inspiration — The Minto Ecohome wasn’t designed to be ordinary. But then, no EQuilibrium project is. Instead, the EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative — devised by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation — is about showcasing the state of sustainable housing technology in this country.
“I think we felt that a lot of good work had been done over the past number of years and it really was time to showcase the state of the shelf — what could really be achieved now in market housing,” says Thomas Green, EQuilibrium project manager, of the initiative’s genesis. “They’re not prototype designs; they don’t have any sort of stuff that you won’t see on the market for five years because it’s under development. It’s already available right now. We essentially challenged industry to see ‘what’s the best you could be on this?’”
The response has been resounding: twelve projects in all, five of which are already completed and open to the public for tours. They are peppered all across the country and are being produced by some of the biggest names in the industry.
The goal of the project is first and foremost to get the word out that low or zero-emission housing is not a dream but rather a reality. To this end, the projects, once completed, will be opened to the public for visitation purposes for a period of at least six months. The homes will then be sold to the highest bidder, but again, not as a concept or novelty but as a standard residential property.

Minto Entry Among Most Successful Projects
Inspiration was among the first wave of completed projects that came online in the summer. Chief engineer Robert Smith and the Minto team chose to focus on energy efficiency and solar generation as their path to creating a net-zero energy home — a house that produces as much energy as it consumes.
Every entry in the EQuilibrium initiative is free to use the technologies and procedures they choose in their project, the only requirement being that at the end of the day they be as energy efficient as possible.
“We set performance guidelines, but it’s the builders who know their market and know their industry that selected all the products and materials to achieve the performance guidelines that we wanted,” Green says.

CHBA national TRC members tour the Minto home.

The Minto Group has outfitted their effort with triple-pane windows, a heat recovery ventilator system with solar air heating unit, highly insulated double-wall frame and Energy Star® appliances — all intended to squeeze the most out of every amp of energy used in the house.
Then there’s what the house actually produces itself. The house’s water supply is, for the most part, drawn from a rainwater harvesting program. An active solar hydronic space as well as photovoltaic power generation, meanwhile, heat that water and supply the house’s electricity.
“The challenges were, I’d say, on the trade side,” Smith says. “Just educating the trades because they’d never done this before.”
Are these standard building features or practices? Of course not, but individually, they aren’t completely foreign to builders either. Projects like EQuilbrium will go a long way towards bridging that gap.

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