The following text has been transcribed from the Creative Commons-licensed YouTube video directly above.
Host (from Exploring Alternatives):
Hey everyone, it’s Danielle from Exploring Alternatives. As you know, we usually share stories about people living in really small spaces, like tiny houses and vans and sailboats.
In this video, though, we’re going to show you this massive house. It’s 4,000 square feet, and you might be wondering, how is this alternative? Well, it was designed and built using sustainable materials and cutting-edge technologies that could be applied to a house of any size, and that’s why we think it’s really cool.
It’s also fossil-fuel free, so there are no fossil fuels being used to power or heat this house, and it’s also a Passive House. And Natasha and Casey who built and live in this home will be explaining more about what “Passive House” means. So let’s go inside and meet them and talk about their house and their conscious living project.
We wanted to build something that we were proud of and that we felt good about, that we felt was doing our part in living the way we like to live, which is a preventative lifestyle. I started doing research on Passive House, and that’s when I decided that was the direction we wanted to go in terms of performance, and then everything else kind of fell into place in terms of materials, and just being in line with what we believe.
The best way to get to Passive House standards is through a super-insulated envelope, an extremely airtight home, and orientation. So then, you orient your house so you can maximize the sun exposure. It’s a building standard that’s focused on energy consumption.
This whole back of the house is facing directly south, so this house is designed for a Passive House standard, and the idea is that we get the solar heat gain from the sun. So we have overhangs outside that block the sun in the summer, when the sun is nice and high, and in the winter, when it starts to drop, then it drops below the overhang and we get all the heat from the south. And this glass, on the south side, has a higher solar heat gain co-efficient than the rest of the glass, and so what it does is allows the heat to come in, lower “R-value” but gives us that heat when the sun is out.
So this is our bioethanol fireplace—this is how we fill it (laughs). Basically, we went with bioethanol because it doesn’t need to be vented. Bioethanol, now, actually burns extremely clean and odourless, so it does start off invisible, and it takes about 10 minutes and then the flame will really show up.
The code-built house, which is basically the worst house that you’re allowed to build, by law, is really the most expensive house to own long-run. Because once you factor in all your utility costs and maintenance, and things that you’re going to have to repair down the road, it ends up being the most expensive home, because utility costs are not going down. In 20 years from now, what’s that house going to be costing somebody to… it’s going to be a mortgage payment, to heat and cool that house. So it’s cheaper to do it sooner than it is to do it later.
This is a model of our whole wall assembly, and we chose to go with Roxul insulation, so this is about 20 inches, whereas typical walls nowadays would be about six to eight inches, depending on what you’re putting on it. And we chose to go with Roxul also instead of fiberglass; Roxul’s more expensive but it’s also, it’s better for the environment, it was actually manufactured close to where we are, and it also has less pollutants in it.
Drain water heat recovery
So this here is called a drain water heat recovery, and what this does is that it takes the water from your shower—in this case, we have it installed below our ensuite shower—and as the hot water goes down the drain, which is just lost energy, basically… the water goes down the drain, and then you have a cold water line that runs through this pipe (you can see, top and bottom, there’s an inlet and an outlet), and the cold water goes around the pipe as the hot water’s going down, so the cold water gets preheated.
And you can set it up one of two ways: You can either set it up so that you preheat the cold water going to your showers, so you use less hot water, or you preheat the cold water going to your hot water tank, so you don’t have to heat up as much hot water after. Either way, it does the same thing, and it’s a way to just not lose all hot water going down your drain. If you have about four or five kids, this is probably going to save you a lot of money! (laughs)
Conscious group of companies
Well, The Conscious Builder only recently came in, so it’s part of this whole conscious group of companies that we’re building. So, The Conscious Builder; we have the podcast that Natasha and I do, The Conscious Living Podcast; we’re starting an online store called The Conscious Store, which is gonna sell environmentally friendly and health-conscious products.
People understand what “conscious” means, it means awake, you know, being aware, so being aware of the decision. So when you decide to build a certain way or use a certain product, you’re aware of all the implications that that product has. So it can be anything from where the product comes from, to how the product’s manufactured, to how the workers are treated…
Windows and air flow
So, this is a cutout of our window, it’s actually aluminum-clad on the outside and fiberglass on the inside with insulated frames. It’s triple-glazed, obviously, and part of our windows, depending on where you go in our house, we have some windows that are triple-glazed with krypton gas and some that are triple-glazed with argon gas.
So a big part of a Passive House is that it obviously needs to be extremely airtight. So if anybody ever says, “Oh, you need your walls to breathe,” yes, you need your walls to breathe, in the sense that you want vapor to be able to travel through it, but you don’t want air to be able to travel through it. So you want your house to be as tight as possible, and you want to mechanically control the air coming and going through your house.
So this is what we put in already, we have two Air Pohoda units, as these run 24/7, so it’s constantly bringing pressure into our house and constantly getting rid of stale air from our house. And, as it’s doing that, it’s filtering the air so we have fresh air, and we’re only losing 8 percent of the energy, so that means these are 92 percent efficient.
Hot water tank
So this huge… thing (laughs)… is our hot water tank, it’s actually an 80-gallon hot water tank, but once again, since we’re fossil-fuel free, we had to figure out the most efficient way to heat our water. And we found this air-source heat pump.
The cool thing about this is that it’s an air-source heat pump, so it takes the hot air from the room and heats the water, so it’s more efficient, but in the summer, it actually helps cool the house as well. In the winter, what we’ll do is we’ll turn off the heat pump part of it, and we’ll just run full electric. So it’ll just be an element, just like every other electric tank. So yes, we use more electricity in the winter, but it’s offset by the savings in the summer.
MicroFIT solar panel system
So this here is the inverter for our solar panel system, we have [a] 10-kilowatt system, and we’re part of the MicroFIT program here in Ontario, so the cool thing about that is that we just sell electricity back to the grid. We’re not off the grid, and we’re not using any electricity directly from our solar panels, but we actually basically turned our roof into a rental unit.
An Earth-friendly outlook
So where this all started for me was… where it hit me is when we had Sullivan [child]. That’s when it hit me that it’s not just about you, it’s about leaving this Earth better than it was. I started thinking about what we can do, the way we live, what can we do to change, what can we change within the business, and then I started thinking about all… everything that I see on the job sites, and all the stuff that we throw out, and all the stuff we put into the houses, and you know, just from offgassing, from the VOCs from different products, and the laminate products, countertops…
Editor’s Note: Casey (CEO) and Natasha, along with the rest of their team, manage The Conscious Builder, a green construction company.
We put all the money, at this point, into the envelope of our home, because it’s a lot harder to change that than it is to change the aesthetics if we wanted to do it later.[Points to countertop] It’s a concrete countertop with an epoxy finish, so it’s done about an hour away. It’s better than stone being cut out of the side of a mountain and being shipped overseas, and cut again and polished and all that, so… obviously, concrete’s not the best for the environment, either, but it was the better option for us at this point.
The floors are all, for the most part, other than the few spots we applied tile, is all reclaimed wood; and the nice thing about the reclaimed wood, first of all, we’re not cutting down any trees to put this… it’s all trees that are already down anyways.
Teaching and learning
We have the podcast, called The Conscious Living Podcast, and… [both C. and N. speak together: with Casey plus Natasha]… the website is caseyplusnatasha.com. It gives us the opportunity to reach out to people who inspire us and learn from them, and figure out how they got from where they were to where they are now.
Really, what we want to do is just provide a platform to empower people and educate people and inspire people in all facets of life. One of the things that Casey and I always say is, “Lead by example,” and we try to preach it to ourselves.
We are still training ourselves, literally, to shop differently, for example. So we don’t necessarily buy brand-new, we’re not into this whole… what is it called? Fast fashion, where literally, products are just being turned over within, like, weeks. So we buy a lot of secondhand, and consignment, and the food that we eat, we try to eat, you know, locally and organic, so we’re not, you know, inducing our bodies with chemicals. So we try to really apply this “lead by example” to all facets of our life. And we’re not perfect, either, right? And like I said, it’s a daily practice [Casey chimes in: Still a journey], we… all we can do is the best we can do.
So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed learning more about these green building technologies and sustainable materials.
image: Wikimedia Commons