The Award-Winning Windsor Park Net-Zero House In Edmonton, Alberta

Amid growing concern surrounding climate change and the impact we humans have on the environment, the shelter industry has been developing sustainable solutions. One of these is the Net-Zero Energy home.

But, what is a Net-Zero Energy home? It's a dwelling that can generate more energy than it uses over the course of an entire year. This means that if the property can generate a large surplus of electricity in the summer that exceeds its use of power during the winter, it is considered Net-Zero.

 

Photo courtesy of Edmonton Tourism

 

In Canada, the city spearheading the movement is Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. Edmonton is North America’s most northern city with a population of over one million, making it a superb testing ground to see how various shelters can perform in extreme climate. Think long winters, high snowfalls, and large swings in temperature throughout the year which, according to  Living In Canada's "The Climate and Weather of Edmonton, Alberta" can drop as low as -30 degrees Celsius during the winter and +30 degrees Celsius in the Summer. However, from my own experience I caution that 'average temperatures' can be misleading. For example, on February 5th, 2019, the headline Global News story was "Tuesday The Coldest Day In Edmonton In More Than 9 Years" when the recorded temperature was -41 degrees Celsius.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons Canada is affectionately called 'The Great White North'. The roots of this nickname - which has been around for decades - comes from the fact that because Canada is the second-largest country in the world after Russia (therein, 'Great'), it has a lot of snow (hence, 'White'), and it’s located “North” of the United States. But the phrase really became entrenched in popular culture in the 1980s when a comedy show called 'SCTV' was required to add two extra minutes of “identifiable Canadian content" to meet media regulations. 

The result? An improvised weekly sketch called “The Great White North” where 2 fictional television brothers - Bob and Doug McKenzie - embody the stereotype of an uneducated Canadian 'hoser', meaning a beer-swilling, bacon-loving, doughnut-munching, and frequently inarticulate person.

Here's a snippet of Canadiana for your viewing pleasure:

 

 

Edmonton, with its extreme climate, was first identified as an ideal location for a Net-Zero initiative back in 2008. The result was the Riverdale NetZero Project (below), a duplex with a large solar thermal array in the hope it could achieve its Net-Zero designation. Would the severity and duration of the winter season - which lasts from November through March - be offset by Edmonton's northern position, which has some of the longest sunlight hours of any Canadian city during the summer? The project developers had a massive learning curve, discovering they were able to get close to Net-Zero by ensuring they installed high performance triple-paned windows and a thermally massive concrete floor oriented to the south for passive heating (simply put, the concrete stays cool during the day, but radiates heat back into the house at night to lower heating costs).

 

 

Photo Courtesy of CMHC

 

Like many projects, the success and failure of one endeavour invites the opportunity to review, refine and improve in the quest to create a higher standard of excellence. And in the shelter industry, where innovation in design and building technologies are constantly evolving, elevating the Net-Zero design and construction programme is a winning strategy.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Cooper and O’Hara Photography

 

A recent example is the Windsor Park Net-Zero House, a 3,092 square foot home completed as a joint collaboration in 2017 by De Waal Developments and  Designex Consulting. The objective of this project was to replace a dated 1950’s bungalow located in Windsor Park - a south central neighbourhood located immediately to the west of the University of Alberta north campus and overlooking the North Saskatchewan River Valley - with a fun, modern, and efficient home for a family of four that would be easy on the environment. Although the location was beloved by the owners (one had grown up at the property), the dwelling was obsolete so the entire structure was razed while as much of the site's landscaping was salvaged. In keeping with the concept of conservation, windows, doors, hardwood flooring, kitchen cabinets, and a sunroom were salvaged before demolition, while all recyclable materials were properly sorted and sent to a recycling depot.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Merle Prosofsky

 

 

The Windsor Park Net-Zero house design team employed various energy-saving and efficient building envelope strategies for the purpose of reducing the energy demand of the building as much as they could. This resulted in increased insulation, an airtight construction to limit air leakage and heat loss, and highly efficient mechanical systems such as a Heat Recovery Ventilator to save on electricity use. Once every step was made to reduce the energy consumption of the project, a photovoltaic system was installed to offset the total electrical usage, which includes the home as well as two charging stations for electric vehicles. Beyond the technical design, the project skillfully integrates renewable energy sources and green initiatives in the overall architectural aesthetic. This can be challenging as solar panels can be an eyesore. You can see that this project was able to use the angles of the solar panels to their advantage, shifting the roof angle in such a way for aesthetic purposes as well as functionality. The subtlety is very much appreciated.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Merle Prosofsky

 

 

The Windsor Park Net-Zero House was awarded the Technical Award in the 10th annual Green Building Awards for the house’s achievements in energy generation, heating, material usage, and water conservation techniques.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Merle Prosofsky

 

This project is one example of how a lesser-known city is putting its best foot forward in leading Canada towards a better future. As a proud Edmontonian, it is refreshing to see that the former City of Champions is making many breakthroughs in Net-Zero Housing.

If you would like to see more projects like this, visit De Waal Developments and/or Designex Consulting.

 

Interested in learning more about sustainable housing projects? Then check out these additional Houseporn.ca articles:

Wood, Wood, Wood! An Architect’s Food For Thought –Part 1

Off-The-Grid Living In Nova Scotia By Solterre Design

The Firefly Eco Cabin By Julien Jodoin-Eng In Nova Scotia

Another super fascinating Net-Zero Energy project happening in Dundas, Ontario that you can read about on Houseporn.ca can be found here:

K-House By Office Ou In Dundas, Ontario

 

Researched and written by Matthew Mun, a student in the Masters of Architecture Program, Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, Carleton University.

Posted In: Alberta

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