Posts Tagged ‘Micro-FIT program’

Canada’s Greenest Home is Complete!

May 24th, 2013

Canada's Greenest Home?

Chris Magwood, Executive Director of  The Endeavour Centre sent me a note letting me know that Canada’s Greenest Home is now complete and up for sale. As he mentions in his blog post on the subject, being the greenest home is not a brag per se, as those people working in the green construction industry tend to work cooperatively rather than competitively. I had a long list of questions about the home that I sent Chris’ way, and he answered each one with significant detail.

If you’re not familiar with the Endeavour Centre, is an independent school that teaches green building skills and techniques. People in the program spend half their day in the classroom and the other half building a house, getting that hands-on practical experience they need.

Using criteria from both LEED and Living Building Challenge certification systems, the team at Endeavour built what is likely to be one of the greenest homes on the market today. Not only was it built with end-use in mind, it was built with materials that have a low embodied energy. For the most part, materials come from close to home, and are made, as much as possible from renewable resources.

The house is a spacious 2300 square feet of living space on two floors. There are three bedrooms (including a Master-ensuite) on the second floor, and two bathrooms. On the main floor there is another room which can be used as a fourth bedroom, den, playroom, office, etc. in addition to the kitchen, living and dining rooms and another bathroom.

Shell: The east and west walls for both the first and second floors are made from NatureBuilt straw Structural Insulated Panels. The south side of the building is “double-framed dense packed cellulose” and the north wall is site- strawbaled. Chris estimates that the SIP walls have an R30 value, the roof has an R-80 value, the basement floor has an R-16 value, while the basement walls, built from Durisol blocks are  R-16. This is a very tight shell despite its vapour permeable walls, with an air exchange value of 0.63 ACH/hour at a standard pressure of 50 Pascal Pressure. Ross Elliot from Homesol Building Solutions  performed the energy audits throughout construction. Chris noted that the floor joists were constructed within the structure so there is no issue with having thermal bridges around the joists. Needless to say, this is a very tight building envelope!

James-St (14 of 19)

James-St (13 of 19)The windows and doors were manufactured by Inline Fiberglass. They are triple glazed (ie., three pieces of glass), argon filled with fiberglass frames. Fiberglass is one of the best materials you can use for windows and doors as the glass and fibreglass expand and contract at the same rate meaning the seal remains tight.

Because the building envelope is so tight, the house is equipped with an Air Source Heat Pump made by Mitsubishi, and an accompanying Energy Recovery Ventilator. Newer ASHPs work even in cold climates such as ours as they can find the heat in air that is -30C (provided the building envelope is tight enough). The ERV recovers heat not just from air, but also from moisture in the air so it is doubly efficient. Chris told me he wouldn’t worry about moisture in this house in any event. Because the walls are made of natural materials (straw, lime plaster, clay and wood), they are breathable and therefore can absorb moisture from the air and dry without worry of mou

Ross Eliott has estimated that with average consumption patterns the annual cost to heat the home should be about $325, taking into account average Time of Use rates in Ontario. In addition, there is a 5 kilowatt PV solar system on the roof which should generate some extra income for the homeowners as part of the microFIT program. In theory, Ross estimates that the home should run at a surplus, and that because the home is so well-insulated, it shouldn’t have any need for air conditioning (although it’s included in the ASHP). No fossil fuels are needed to run this home, and in the event that the homeowners draw more electricity than they produce, they have a contract with Bullfrog Power, a green energy retailer.

Exterior cladding is FSC pine from PurePine and are treated with Sansin stain (water-based) in the factory, and the cedar shingles were sourced in Madoc, Ontario.

Water use: There is no sewer hook-up for this home. The toilets come from a composting company in Sweden called Clivus Multrum. The system only uses 0.1L of water per flush. I’ve looked at the diagram on the Clivus website and asked Chris about it. To be honest, I was a little leery about a composting system within the home itself. The system comes with a fan, and a drainage system that separates urine from excrement and by the time the compost reaches the front of the system it is only about 10% of its original size and ready for use (it takes one to two years to reach the front of the system). My two reservations with this system are sanitation and smell. However, Clivus has been in existence since the 60s and in North America since the 70s, so maybe my reservations are unfounded. Chris noted that they have installed this system in two houses before with great success.  Despite my reservations, I can see a system such as this one being a great way for progressive cities to entice new buildings and retrofits to not use the city sewer system — provided there is a lot of training and some sort of certification system in place to make sure proper safety/sanitation measures are taken.

Because there is no need for water for the toilets, there is also no gray water system. There is a rainwater harvest system in place which can be used for any household uses including watering the garden. An overflow system lets excess rainwater  onto the front garden.

Interior finishes are a variety of materials including non-toxic acrylic paint from Mythic, AFM Safecoat Naturals paint, a homemade Clay finish, lime plaster and Kreidezeit clay. There are no toxins in this house!

Is this Canada’s Greenest house? It is durable, made of low-embodied energy, local and attractive materials, with exceptionally low running costs, that doesn’t tax the municipal sewer or electric system. Further, it blends in with its neighbours, is a reasonable size and offers typical functionality all of which are important factors in creating any “green” house. The market will decide how desirable this house is. And desirability is a key ingredient in any green house.


Tips for Choosing the Right Solar PV Panels and Installers

October 13th, 2011

Ever since the microFIT program was introduced in Ontario I’ve noticed that every time I go to a home show there are more and more solar panel installers. Five years ago I used to joke that home shows were all about appliances and hot tubs. I suppose that now I can add solar panels and installers to the mix. If you’re not familiar with the microFIT program, I’ve written about it before. In short, the Ontario government will pay you $0.80.2/kWh generated, for up to 20 years.

With all these new solar installer businesses popping up, I had to wonder, How do you go about looking for a reputable solar panel installer? And what about the solar panels themselves? How do you know what the right one is? There are several different manufacturers of solar panels, so how do you choose?

I contacted Aaron Goldwater of Goldwater Solar and asked him a few questions about solar panels. He’s been in the solar water business for many years and has installed thousands of kilowatts of photovoltaic panels.

  1. What are some of the qualities that separate a reputable solar panel installer from an organization that opened up shop just to take advantage of the microFIT program? Are there any certifications available?

Currently, there are is a certification that some installers may have from NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners), however it is a more common certification in the U.S.  There are courses offered by CanSIA (Canadian Solar Industry Association) but no official accreditation offered through them.   One way to determine if the company has been in business for a while would be to check how long they have been a member of CanSIA.  Asking for references is always recommended and if you can get a referral from someone that goes a long way.  In order for any company to comply with all the rules, the connection has to be done by a certified electrician.  However, an electrician doesn’t always choose the equipment used.  I would recommend doing some background research into the equipment (panels/inverters/racking) before making a decision as there are a lot of companies out there offering panels that have only been in the business a short while.  Even though they offer a 25 year warranty on performance, they may not be around once the industry matures.

  1. Have you ever heard of any bad installations where roofs have leaked afterwards (where they affix the panel hardware to the roof?)

I have not heard of leaks caused by solar installations.   Generally the manufacturers of the racking systems have a careful method for attachment to roofs that include a flashing that is more than adequate for protecting the roof.  A solar installation can actually protect the roof and extend the shingle longevity since it is usually the heat and UV exposure which causes them to degrade with time.  The panels block the UV and lower the temperature of the roof because they are taking the sun’s energy and converting it to electricity.  A recent study in California also showed that Solar PV can reduce a building’s cooling load by as much as 38%.

  1. What are some of the main factors that make up a good quality solar panel? How much electricity should a standard-sized individual solar panel be generating?

Panels range in size up to as high as 300W each.  These days, typically installers are using panels that are between 220 – 250W.  Panels are usually rated by efficiency and the average panel is around 14 to 15% efficient. Checking the warranty of a panel is a good idea.  Most offer a workmanship warranty of 5 years (although some now offer 10 years) and a power output of 80% of their original value at year 25.

  1. Is there any way to check and see if your house is situated for maximum solar panel electricity generation? Does Google Earth have that ability?

Google Earth is a great tool for seeing if you have an ideally orientated roof for solar PV.  A lot of installers use it as an initial assessment tool to determine if a site is suitable.  Due south is ideal, but east and west can work too with about 80% overall production of a south facing roof.  A typical panel is about 3’x5′ so you can even use google earth to determine how many panels you can fit on the roof with the measuring tool.  At Goldwater Solar we use Google earth to assess orientation, potential shading, system sizing, and then we use PVWatts (an easy to use online PV calculator) to estimate production.  We then send a proposal to the customer so they can evaluate if its worth it for them to pursue it any further.  We then submit an application to the Ontario Power Authority on their behalf to begin the process (free of charge).

  1. How can you figure out how much wattage your roof can generate? Does it depend on the solar panel you choose? (Are some more powerful than others?)

I would go with the 3’x5′ (3’4″ x 5’4″ to be more exact) measurement per panel and assume 240W per panel.  Again, you can do this with google earth.

  1. Is maintenance an issue? Do you need to be able to clean the solar panels every so often?
Cleaning the panels will definitely help with production.  Panels can develop a film (dirt, debris, leaves, etc) on them that can lower performance.  I would suggest if you have trees overhanging the roof (assuming they aren’t shading the panels!!), removing any leaves that fall on the panels in the fall if possible.  Using glass cleaner in the spring can also ensure you maximize the performance in the peak summer months.
  1. Which is a better method of generating power when using more than one panel, in series or parallel?

Performance of the array and whether you string panels in series or parallel will depend on the inverter (what converts the panel’s DC electricity to AC electricity).  Their ability to convert DC to AC is what will determine how the array performs.  Whether it is parallel or series doesn’t matter though from a panel standpoint since when you string them together in parallel you add the amperage and when they are in series you add the voltage.  The power output is voltage x amperage so the total output (watts) would be the same regardless.

  1. Regarding the microFIT program: do you know if there is a long wait to get hooked up to the grid once you’ve received the approval from the ministry?

The process can take a while.  In our experience, the OPA application approval can take anywhere from 1 month to 3 months to get approval.  Once you receive approval (and actually they now request that you do this first now) you need to apply to connect to your Local Distribution Company (LDC), a fancy acronym for hydro company.  This application approval review can take anywhere from 1 week to 2 months depending which behemoth you are dealing with.  Once you have this approval the solar company can begin their installation and the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) then comes to inspect that the system was installed according to code.  The ESA then notifies the LDC and the LDC then installs the meter base (usually 1 to 2 weeks before they get in to do it).  Then the LDC then informs the OPA that the project has been done (around 1 week).  Finally the OPA then will send you a notice telling you that they will be issuing you the final contract soon.  Then in about a week to 10 days the OPA issues you the final contract which the customer has to approve online.  So you can see with all the different parties involved, it can literally take as long as 6 months to get a project finalized!

Thanks for the tips Aaron!

Goldwater Solar Services Goldwater Solar Services North
231 Fort York Blvd, Suite 716
Toronto, ON M5V 1B2
CanadaPhone and fax: +1-416-400-4747
38 Algonquin Cres.
Aurora, ON L4G 3M5
CanadaPhone and fax: +1-647-520-4942

For more information, visit Goldwater Solar’s website.

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Nexterra and LivingHomes Establish Eco-Enclave in Toronto

June 9th, 2010

LivingHomes (Photo courtesy of LivingHomes and Nexterra)

What happens when you put two conscientious real estate developers (no, it is not an oxymoron) together with a prefab homes builder? You get responsible development in an urban setting …but it feels like the country.

Nexterra Developments is a new project started by two real estate developers, Gary Lands and Barry Campbell. They are developing a ravine property in North York, just off Senlac Drive, close to Yonge and Sheppard. With all the development going on in this city — and with most of it being unenlightened —  it’s refreshing to see some forward thinkers for a change.

The homes being developed by Nexterra range in size between 2200 and 3000 square feet with full height (9′) basements. While these homes wouldn’t be considered gigantic, they are neither cramped nor overly cavernous. It’s all part of the “eco-enclave” philosophy. Smart design allows you to get more functional space while using less material. But that’s only the tip of the green iceberg.

LivingHomes Interior (photo courtesy of LivingHomes and Nexterra)

What’s also unique about this housing development is that the homes are prefabricated. They will be built in a factory in Manitoba by Conquest Manufacturing using the philosophy, designs and systems of LivingHomes, a green prefab manufacturer out of Santa Monica, California. LivingHomes is the brainchild of Steve Glenn, who started the company five years ago. Using himself as the first guinea pig customer, he lives in the first factory built home the company produced (the exterior and interior photos here are of his house — I admit I have house envy, sigh).

The advantage of prefab. Building a home in the factory before setting it up on site has several advantages.

  • Minimal waste of materials. In a typical wood-framed single house build, between 30-40% of construction materials end up as waste. In prefab homes 2-8% becomes construction waste. Leftover materials can be used on the next job.
  • Covered Storage. All building materials are covered and protected from the elements so they are not subjected to weather which again leads to less waste.
  • Precision. For building code reasons, prefab homes must be built to higher standards. They need to withstand transport from factory to building site.
  • Shorter time frame. Homes can be built in 46-54 weeks depending on if it’s standard or custom. They can be built in the factory while the footings are being built on site.

LivingHomes are modular. That is, they are built in modules within the factory, and they are assembled on site. If you have a look at their website you can see the crane putting homes into place. All interior finishes can be installed in the factory — including the kitchen cabinets, flooring, windows, etc., and then the modules can be put together on site (think Lego for grown ups).

LivingHomes: Elevation (courtesy of LivingHomes and Nexterra)

LivingHomes: Floor Plan (courtesy of LivingHomes and Nexterra)

Design Excellence.  The homes are designed by well-known American architect, Ray Kappe who is known for his “warm modern” designs.  The importance of a well-designed home cannot be ovestated. A home can be made of 100% renewable, recycleable materials, but if it’s not functional and not nice to look at then well, it won’t last very long either. Good design is at the core of any environmentally influenced home, and these homes are oozing with style and functionality.

Green Building: LivingHomes has a strict environmental philosophy that they apply to all of their homes. In fact most of their homes receive LEED for Homes Gold or Platinum certification. The Nexterra Homes will be more more “Canadianized” than their California counterparts, with walls having insulation value of R38, the roof at R50. Windows will be triple-glazed, low-e with argon gas. Further, the homes will be heated and cooled using a geothermal system, and outfitted with tankless hotwater system. The homes will also have green roofs (which not only absorb excess rainwater, but also act as an insulator).

The materials chosen for the interior continue LivingHomes’ philosophy of mixing high design with environmental practicality. Kitchen cabinets will contain no added urea formaldehyde, are highly durable, and have superior moisture resistance than standard MDF cabinets. Countertops will be the recycled line of CaesarStone quartz, all wood products are FSC certified, all paints used are from Benjamin Moore’s Natura line (zero VOC), bathroom fixtures are made by  WetStyle, a Montreal company that produces bathroom fixtures from either “eco-friendly natural stone composite” material, or FSC-certified wood.

Cost per square foot: The price of a home varies depending on many factors from where it is built to whether it is a custom or standardized home. Here is a link to LivingHomes’ page with various models and pricing options. Note prices are in US dollars and do not include the cost of land, taxes, foundation and many other incidentals.

When and Where? The first home will break ground in August 2010 and is anticipated to be ready by early November, 2010. Visit the Nexterra site for more information or to keep up on progress. Homes are expected to be priced for around $1.5 million.

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Micro Solar Electricity Generation in Ontario

March 19th, 2010

The other day, I paid a visit to Eco Alternative Energy, a solar energy store that I’ve passed on numerous occasions, usually while making a pit-stop to St. John’s Music for my guitar-obsessed son. I’d gone in to see what they had to offer – expecting that most of their customers were cottagers and urban treehuggers. The last time I spoke with some renewable energy vendors (about four years ago) they told me that the majority of their customers were golf courses and farmers because they could write off the equipment as a capital expenditure. For the homeowner the usual $40,000 investment didn’t justify the monthly electricity savings. My, how times have changed.

Premier McGuinty introduced the Green Energy Act last year. I had assumed that the act applied exclusively to businesses or people with a large amount of property. But it applies to business owner or homeowner or anyone with some property and southern exposure, no trees or high rises in the way.

The Green Energy Act: The province of Ontario implemented what is considered to be one of the most progressive energy policies in North America. Under the micro FIT program, anyone can apply to sell electricity back to the grid by producing renewable electricity for a pre-determined price. Depending on which method of renewable energy you choose will determine the return rate. Currently, most of us buy electricity for less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

The idea behind the act is to promote people and businesses living and working in Ontario to help develop clean power generation. By promoting renewable, non-polluting energy production, the province accomplishes a few different goals:

  • Less dependence on coal or nuclear power for energy
  • The ability to shut down one of the largest polluting power plants in North America (Nanticoke)
  • Clean energy production
  • No cost overruns to be supported by the tax payer because the producer is responsible for construction and operation of the renewable energy method they choose to provide.

Clearly the government is keen on solar because by far it’s the most generous payback at 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour. The Green Energy Act has different pay scales for different sized systems using different energy sources. For instance, small scale wind only pays about 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and micro hydro is 13.1 cents per kilowatt hour. For complete details on how the micro FIT program will work, you can read all about the program here.

Cost of solar panels: Derek  at Eco Alternative Energy gave me a table on the estimated rate of return on solar panels. Note that purchase prices are subject to change and do vary, so check directly with Eco Alternative Energy when considering purchasing. Also, the Micro FIT program is only available to Ontario residents and must be approved by your local utility before proceeding if you’re intending to sell the electrcity back to the grid.

Eco Alternative Energy sells a system in which each panel is individually hooked up to an Enphase Micro Inverter which means the panels work independently of each other as opposed to working in series (like Christmas tree lights of old, where the whole strand went out if one light was burnt out). This means you’re maximizing your electricity production. You also have access to your solar panel production online so you can monitor your panels to see if every thing is working properly. See table below for pricing and ROI (note: Rate of Return on Investment is calculated by dividing the annual income by the investment cost including a degradation rate of 0.5% each year. Additional hydro set up charges may apply. Roof mounted systems include Enphase micro inverters. Prices do not include taxes and are subject to change without notice. A separate quote is available for a flat roof. This table was provided by Eco Alternative Energy.

System Type Annual Production Average Daily Production Feed-in Tariff Annual Income (ROI) Installed Price
2.2 kW’s = 10x220w panels 2,726 kwh 7.4 kwh $2,085.46 (10.8%) $19.336.16
3.3 kW’S = 15x220w panels 4,089 kWh 11.2 kWh $3,128.18 (11.6%) $26,931.28
4.4 kW’s = 20 x 220w panels 5,452 kWh 14.9kWh $4,170.91 (12.5%) $33,447.17
5.5 kW’s = 25 x 220w panels 6,815 kWh 18.6 kWh $5,213.64 (12.7%) $41,131.55
7.7 kW’s = 35 x 220w panels 9,540 kWh 26.1kWh $7, 298.33 (13.2%) $55,135.05

In Toronto:
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