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Eco Solar Home Tours in Edmonton

Each year during Environment Week, Edmontonians have the chance to see what new and efficient buildings are going up in the City.  The 13th annual Eco Solar home tour took place on Saturday June 9, 2012, the closing day of Environment Week. In and around Edmonton, 12 homes were showcasing the green technologies and sustainable practices they integrated when modifying or building their home.

An interesting technology I learned about is the ground source heat pump. I often perceived geothermal as a major industrial power plant system involving deep drilling that produces energy by pumping water into rocks and producing electricity on a massive scale. However, the eco-solar home tour provided me with the appropriate information. Geothermal can be heat pumps, not exactly industrial size, but to pump heat out of the upper layers of the ground from nearby. For example, the ground source heat pump is one type of geothermal available. This can be localized to homes to produce heating for living spaces through in floor heating or by heating up water.

Geothermal system inside the basement of a home.

Many people already know about solar photovoltaic systems (solar panels, aka PV) and how they produce electricity from sunlight. But many people are concerned about the cost of panels and installation of the solar PV system. Many people think installing a solar PV system means you need to purchase a battery bank to keep the electricity stored. This is only true if you want to install a system and have your home completely off grid. As I learned from the Eco Solar Tour, there are multiple options for solar PV systems. On the tour, the majority of the solar PV systems I saw were grid tied solar PV systems. It requires no batteries, which eliminates the cost of batteries. How it works is the electricity produced will feed into the grid, reversing the meters that count how many kilowatt hours you’ve consumed. On a sunny day, the number would be going down, reducing your monthly electricity bill.

Example of a solar PV system.

Solar PV systems still seem expensive to many people and cost is frequently a limiting factor that stops people from installing new technologies. As I talked to the owner of one PV system, he mentioned an option of buying out the solar panels after the lease is done. I’ve done some research and found one of the local electricity suppliers is offering leased solar PV. Homeowners can choose the amount of down payments they can afford. The owner also mentioned that maintenance and repair is done by the company leasing the panels, which is another advantage to the homeowner.

Another smart idea I encountered during the Eco Solar home tour is a multipurpose wood burning furnace. This furnace is special because it heats up the living space as well as water coming into the house. The water is then stored in a hot water tank for usage. This dual purpose wood fired furnace will reduce the owner’s energy cost.

Example of a dual purpose furnace that heats water and the living space.

One eco home owner really went beyond ‘thinking outside of the box’. They saw waste material as a resource and reclaimed used materials inside their home; materials that would otherwise end up in the landfills. The home had several reclaimed materials such as a reclaimed bathtub, wooden pew from an old church turned into window sills, or even old doors. But one of the major features of this home is the used elementary school gym floor. They reclaimed it and used it as their hard wood flooring. And another interesting design they had is using old bricks as the back wall behind their wood furnace. Instead of investing in expensive slabs of granite or marble as the backing, the owners simply used old bricks that were not in used anymore and was readily available at low or no cost.

The home uses a wood fired furnace for their heating, constructed a wall made of used bricks, and used former elementary school gym flooring.

A reclaimed church pew. A reclaimed cast iron bath tub from another house.

Not all these technologies are suitable for everyone’s home due to financial or physical constraints. But when you get the chance to renovate or construct a home, the Eco Solar Home tour offers you ideas about alternative features or designs you can incorporate to make your living space greener. Maybe you can produce some of your own energy through solar PV or geothermal or a dual purpose furnace or effective heat recovery system, or even integrating some reclaimed materials. And while it’s never visible, improving the insulation in your home to save energy should always be a priority!

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in this year’s tour, you should flag it as a “must do” for next year. For more information about the 2012 tour homes, visitwww.ecosolar.ca.




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