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© Copyright 2009 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
Building a Greener Future

By Charlie Blore

Across all sectors, the word “green” is mutating from the focal point of a movement into a marketing tool. Slapped on all types of products and installations, often with little or no standardized value attached to it, few builders can say they build green homes with anything close to the kind of vigour and performance being delivered by Constructions Sodero of Mont St-Hilaire, Quebec.
President Robert Deschamps and his team tackle projects that push the envelope of what can be done in green construction. It is work that is not only valued by its customers, but serves as an example for other builders across the country as well.

Experience EQuilibrium
When Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation launched its EQuilibrium Housing Initiative, Constructions Sodero jumped at the opportunity to participate. Together with EcoCité Developments, Studio MMA, Pageau Morel and Associates and Professor Michel Bernier from École Polytechnique de Montréal, the Abondance le Soleil home was brought to life.
The group’s entry is a triplex in the Verdun suburb of Montreal. The project houses three families (nine people in all) and uses 80 per cent less energy than average.
Achieving this kind of energy efficiency was a herculean task that required the company to come up with innovative solutions to complex issues.
“The most important thing was to reduce the need for energy in the house,” recalls Deschamps. “We used only energy efficient appliances, including the furnace, but it was still too much of a draw on the photovoltaics. Then we realized that all the electrical charges that we don’t see, like computers and the television, were using about 30 per cent of our energy. We had to find a way to cut that consumption.”
The solution they came up with was to put each household’s non-essential appliances (i.e. not the refrigerator) on a master kill switch, which could easily be flipped by the front door when leaving the house.
The home is powered by a combination of geothermal heat, photovoltaic (PV) panels for electricity and solar thermal panels for hot water. Altogether it’s designed to produce more energy than it consumes in a given year.
Then there’s the R-45 wall insulation, the R-68 ceilings, the elimination of thermal bridges…the list of measures taken for the sake of efficiency simply goes on and on.

Valuable Lessons Learned
Abondance le Soleil wasn’t just about energy efficiency, mind you; it also boasts a rainwater retrieval system, which reduces the property’s use of city sewers by 75 per cent, and a state-of-the-art air exchange system. That last feature was necessary given how tightly the home was built.
“It was a big job to make sure we were airtight,” says Deschamps. “The first thing we do now is work on the insulation. We make sure there’s no thermal bridge, that we’re airtight, and we put more insulation in than we used to. We’re starting a project in two weeks and we’re going with a really special outside wall.”
Efficiency is something all builders strive for, especially when it comes to producing a tight, well insulated building envelope thatmaximizes energy efficiency. But with a tight envelope and excellent insulation comes the danger of volatile organic compounds potentially polluting indoor air quality.
“If you’re going to be airtight, you need to have something to maintain air quality,” Deschamps says. “We’re so airtight these days; we need to put less into machines for heating and cooling, and more into the heat exchangers to make sure we’re not losing hot air to the outside.”
These lessons really go to the heart of the EQuilibrium Housing Initiative’s goal. It was designed to exhibit the state of the shelf in green building. In other words, the initiative was meant to answer the question. How green can builders be right now? This wasn’t an exercise purely of value to those involved; it was meant to enlighten the builders of Canada as a whole. Which begs the question: What has been learned from this exercise?
“To be honest, that project asked us to imagine ourselves in the year 2030, but one of the things we learned is that to get there from now, we don’t have to go that far,” notes Deschamps. “For now it’s too expensive to use PV and geothermal on all projects, but we can start with better insulation and airtightness. We learned lessons there that we can apply now.”
Lessons such as the importance of proper airflow to minimize health dangers when building for said airtightness. Sodero and its partners managed to deliver a rate of 0.4 air exchanges per hour.
As homes become increasingly airtight, green builders will have to show continued awareness and caution in dealing with this issue.

Veterans of the Green Construction Game
Despite the company’s success in the industry, it remains a specialized operation. Based out of tiny Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec, and with a staff of just a handful, Constructions Sodero take on very few projects. This has allowed them to focus their attention on the rapidly growing niche market for sustainable housing.
“We’re ahead of the competition in terms of sustainable building,” says Deschamps. “We’re on the cutting edge. There are maybe one or two other companies in Quebec who’ve gone as far as we have. We worked for two years with the Université de Montreal and our partners to develop the concept and design of the Abondance le Soleil project. We searched all around the world to find the most efficient products for every detail.”
In a sense, the EQuilibrium Housing Initiative was what Sodero has been working toward for over a decade. Deschamps had his first brush with green building when the Candian Home Builders’ Association’s R-2000 program came along. Since then, the company has specialized in highly energy efficient construction — both new homes and renovations.
“I started to be green in 1992-93, when I first saw the R-2000 house. We had a course there and I thought it would be logical to go towards that,” says Deschamps. “It seemed stupid not to! We have the knowledge, material, everything to do it. Why make cheap houses?”

With the success of Abondance le Soleil filling their sails, Sodero is booked through spring 2010, with more projects in the works. No recession blues around here. Everything keeps coming up green.

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