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Chasing Net-Zero Through Location and Innovation

Posted: 07/09/2014 5:44 pm

Building a net-zero home is an intricate dance between design, technology and location. But if you build a net-zero home in the wilds, far from your work, school and entertainment, with no infrastructure and an hour-long commute how sustainable is it?

This series is called Chasing Net-Zero in recognition of how close we are too consistently building houses that produce as much energy as they consume. But it turns out location, location, location is as important as the design of your home when it comes to reducing your energy footprint.

Small is beautiful

We visited LG House, the personal residence of Louis and Giselle Pereira. Louis is an architect and owner of thirdstone, a home design studio based in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Pereira's home is energy efficient and beautiful, but it's not net-zero. Pereira is redesigning inner city homes to fit on smaller lots and help revitalizing older communities while supporting a sustainable lifestyle in the process. 

 "Net-zero to me is minimizing your footprint and developing a house that is going to be very responsible environmentally. Whether that means using less energy or taking up less square area in your development, there are a lot of advantages in developing in infill areas where the infrastructure is already there. You're more centrally located, closer to amenities," says Pereira. 


When he talks about using less space, he's not kidding. He built his 2,400 square foot home on a 25-foot lot that the city had previously declared as insufficient, inadequate and substandard. Pereira's home building permit was initially rejected by the city but after talking to neighbors he appealed the decision and succeeded in building his beautiful small footprint home. 

"We went from a two car household to needing one vehicle. So we're less car dependent. Because we're located where we are we're closer to amenities. You can easily walk to work, the school is nearby as well. So our kids can even walk back and forth from school," says Pereira.

With his full-sized home on a half sized city lot Pereira is creating a more affordable alternative for families to revitalize inner city neighbourhoods, making use of existing and expensive urban infrastructure such as schools, parks and transit. 

While it's not a net-zero house it's far more energy efficient than your standard suburban home. It has triple glazed windows, an insulated foundation and it takes advantage of passive solar heating and cooling. It's green footprint comes from its location and the lifestyle it supports.


Solar Decathlon - driving net-zero innovation forward

The Solar Decathlon was started by the US Department of Energy in 2002 to prove that a solar-powered, sustainable home was possible.

In just one decade that mandate has evolved from proving solar works to designing, building and operating a solar powered house that is affordable, energy efficient and attractive.

Kim Gould was a member of a 100-member University of Calgary team that built the Cenovus Spo'pi Solar House, an entry in the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition.

Her team raised $1 million to design a net-zero home that can be built for $300,000. 

"This house was designed for the Treaty 7 communities of southern Alberta and it's rounded responding to the traditional forms of the buildings you would see," says Gould, who is now a junior project manager with Pivotal Projects, in Calgary, Alberta.

Their first big challenge put the engineers on a collision course with the architects - to make solar work on a curved roof shaped like a turtle. In the end, the 8.7 kilowatt solar array is only five per cent less efficient that if every panel was at the perfect angle, and there's more than enough energy to cover all of the energy needs of this 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom house.

The Spo'pi home is well insulated, has energy efficient appliances and uses an electric powered air source heat pump for heating and a simple electric hot water heater for hot water (check the Solar Decathlon pagefor more details).

Gould is only a few years out of University and even she is surprised by the pace of change: "When you're looking at the economics of solar how much more viable solar photovoltaics on the home have become even over the course of the past two years the gains are just astonishing."

It's innovation like this that has helped net-zero homes threaten to become commonplace in just one decade. As for Kim Gould: "My involvement with this house really did shape where I ended up going with my career and with the previous house. It got me interested in renewable energy, it got me interested in finding a company that really had that involvement in the green building industry."

There is no net-zero formula and everyone approaches it in their own way. But when you home goes beyond being passive energy consumer it changes the game in how you look at houses.    

This is part two of our four part series called Chasing Net-Zero. Our next episode explores how simple, passive energy systems are the key to creating affordable, sustainable homes of the future.


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  • Small footprint beautiful homes

    Louis Pereira designed LG House as an innovative infill home that was built on a small, 25-foot lot, perfect for a lower impact urban lifestyle. Photo supplied

  • Build infill, drop a car

    For home designer Louis Pereira, building a modern home on a small, infill lot allowed him to support a lower impact lifestyle – the family got rid of one of their cars and are able to walk to schools, work and good transit. It also helps revitalize mature neighbourhoods. Photo David Dodge

  • Innovative narrow infill design

    LG house is a long narrow home that makes very innovative use of the narrow format of the house. Since there are no load-bearing walls in the 17 feet between the two side walls, the interior layout feels quite spacious. Photo David Dodge

  • High on innovative infill design

    Home designer Louis Pereira having a little fun in front of his beautiful, small lot, infill home in Edmonton, Alberta. Photo David Dodge

  • Indoor-outdoor integration of courtyard

    Louis Pereira shows Tiffany Collinge-Shaw, an architect intern, how he integrated an outdoor courtyard seamlessly in the middle of this modern infill home. Photo David Dodge

  • Wall opens and merges courtyard with kitchen

    Louis Pereira demonstrates his sliding-folding courtyard doors that effectively open the wall between his kitchen and courtyard seamlessly integrating outdoor space with indoor space at the same level as the home. Photo David Dodge

  • Sunny, bright floor level courtyard

    Louis Pereira used the limited space on this small, 25-foot lot, infill home to blend the outdoors with the indoors. Photo David Dodge

  • Narrow infill design feels spacious

    Thoughtful design creates a very functional and attractive home in this home designed for narrow lots. It enabled Louis Pereira to locate his young family in a new home, in a mature neighbourhood thereby significantly reducing their energy footprint. Photo David Dodge

  • Spacious kitchen in narrow infill design

    A spacious kitchen has many thoughtful design features that create a highly functional and attractive kitchen in the middle of this small lot, infill home. Photo David Dodge

  • Concealed shelving creates nice space

    An enclosed entertainment system and boxed-out shelving are all part of creating a spacious feel and making excellent use of the limited size of this infill lot. Photo David Dodge

  • Skylight provides passive cooling

    A strategically located operable skylight brings light into the home and provides a passive cooling system that utilizes the “stack effect” to cool the home on hot summer days. Photo David Dodge

  • Kid's bedroom shares common space

    A kid’s bedroom on the second floor shares common space while the kids are young and will be split into two rooms as the family ages in this adaptable home. Photo Supplied

  • Designing amazing space in narrow infill home

    The spacious master bedroom fits nicely into the narrow design complete with a big front-facing window that allows plenty of natural light in. Photo David Dodge

  • Bathroom features walk-in floor level shower

    Everything is designed to make great use of space in this narrow home designed to provide generous living space on narrow footprint. Photo David Dodge

  • Spo-pi Solar House

    The Cenovus Spo’pi Solar House was build by a team of 100 University of Calgary students and entered into the solar decathlon competition in Washington DC in 2011. The purpose is to build an affordable, net-zero, solar powered home. Photo supplied

  • Roundish shape inspired by First Nations structures

    Kim Gould stands in the heart of the Spo’pi solar powered house. It’s roundish form was inspired by traditional First Nations structures such as the Tipi and to fit in with the southern Alberta prairie landscape. Photo David Dodge

  • Solar home shaped like a turtle

    The UofC solar decathlon home took on the shape of a turtle, leading to the project being labeled as Technological Residence Tradition Living, or TRTL for short. Turtles are also native to southern Alberta and serve as a connection to the natural order. Photo David Dodge

  • Energy efficient appliances reduce energy demand

    The students used energy efficient appliances and mechanical systems to reduce the energy demand of the home so it could become net-zero with 8.7 kilowatts of solar PV. Photo David Dodge

  • Solar home pushed affordability envelope

    The Spo’pi University of Calgary Solar Decathlon entry from 2011. The Solar Decathlon completion started in 2001 to test new ideas and prove that solar powered homes could be built. That mission has evolved rapidly from a proving solar works to building everyday homes that are affordable and produce as much energy as they consume. Photo David Dodge

  • Fitting in with natural landscape

    The design of Spo’pi house was guided by a holistic view of the home as a living part of a greater natural order and it’s relationship to the prairie landscape of southern Alberta. Photo David Dodge

  • Energy efficiency is job one

    Energy efficiency is job one in a net-zero, solar home. Kim Gould notes energy efficient appliances, the air source heat pump furnace, the air exchange system that pre-heats air and the solar system, all part of making a modern home that produces as much energy as it consumes. Photo David Dodge

  • Early concept of the Spo'pi solar house

    An early concept model of the Cenovus Spo’pi Solar House, the University of Calgary’s project built by a team of 100 students that was entered into the Solar Decathlon competition hosted in Washington DC in 2001. Photo David Dodge

  • Net-zero secret sauce

    The net zero secret sauce – an air source heat pump was used both to heat and cool the Spo’pi solar powered home. It’s a way to heat a home using electricity and it can heat the home in the winter and cool it in summer. This came in useful for the University of Calgary’s 2011 Solar Decathlon entry that was featured in steamy hot Washington DC where 350,000 people came to view the homes in the competition. Photo David Dodge


Follow David Dodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenergy_dave