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Inside three of Guelph's most energy efficient homes

eMERGE tour attracted strong numbers Saturday

Super-insulated, and surprisingly good-looking. That’s what three homes on the eMERGE Energy Efficient Home Tour had in common on Saturday.

The tour attracted good numbers to three Guelph homes, all deemed among the city’s most, you guessed it, energy efficient.

The object of the tour was to inspire homeowners and aspiring homeowners to consider the many ways in which dwellings can be built or renovated to benefit the environment and save lots of money on heating, cooling and water bills.

One of the homes, the Finlay/Pocock house on Spring Street, is over a century old, and required a major tear down of the walls in order to wrap it tight with insulation.

Another home, a major renovation and addition on an existing house on Caledonia Street in the Old University district, was basically a full rebuild with the addition of numerous energy efficiency measures.

And the third, a brand new Reid’s Net-Zero Home in a new Goodwin Drive neighbourhood, was build from the ground up with energy efficiency and savings as the goal. Visitors to the house were surprised to find that it was not only environmentally sound, but gorgeous.

The one thing all three homes have in common, many said during the tour, is that they are all striking aesthetically, and that their water, power, and natural gas reduction characteristics are largely hidden.

“I’ve done a lot to make this home comfortable,” said Ian Findlay, a long-time downtown Guelph business owner and former Guelph city councillor, speaking of his family’s Spring Street home in the General Hospital area. “While trying to respect the heritage of the home, I tried to make it much more liveable.”

It is a large, stately two-storey structure on a sizeable lot, and it is safe to say that energy efficiency was not foremost on the minds of its builders back in the day. But it was foremost on Finlay’s mind when he bought the house some years ago.

He said it is easy to build a new home to a high efficiency standard, but not so easy to retrofit an old house.

“Insulation was the primary focus of the energy efficiency piece,” he said. The walls were gutted and four inches of spray foam insulation added.

The gas heating bill went from the $3,000-$4,000 a year range prior to the renovation. Now they are in the $400 range annually. 

“And it’s comfortable, so in the winter you can sit and watch TV without layers of blankets, toques and mittens on,” he said. “Despite all the money we spent before on heating, it was a cold house to live in.”

Evan Ferrari, executive director of eMERGE, was giving guided tours Saturday of the Colvin house on Caledonia Street. EMERGE is an organization that fosters resilient communities through resource efficiency in the areas like energy, water, transportation, waste and food.

“What this house has going for it is what you can’t see,” he said. “The biggest excitement for me as the geek is what you can’t see behind the walls. This in an incredibly efficient house.”

He pointed out the home has a large cistern that collects rain water from the roof and circulates it through the home’s plumbing for use in the four toilets. It has a type of chimney that utilizes physics to both heat and cool the home, depending on the season.

The house has solar panels on the roof that supply energy to the structure and to the Ontario power grid. The home uses energy at a level that is 40 percent less than the average Guelph home.

“It’s a beautiful house, and the message we want to give very clearly is energy efficiency can be beautiful,” he said. “We’re hoping to normalize this stuff. A lot of this stuff is off the shelf, not difficult to source. It’s reasonable and easy to do.”

Sarah Steenhoek of eMERGE ran the tour on Goodwin.

“The biggest feedback we are getting is people say it is actually really nice,” she said of the home. “It doesn’t look like a spaceship or a cabin in the woods.”

 She said the Reid’s Net-Zero Home is built to produce as much energy as it consumes. To enable that, the builder has increased the building envelop, she said, adding far more insulation than is normal.

“It’s super insulated, from the basement to the top floor,” she said. “You will see a lot of energy upgrades throughout the home. We use LED lights, all low-flow water fixtures, heat pumps instead of the traditional furnace in the basement, and solar panels on the roof.”

Steenhoek said an owner of one of the homes could expect significantly lower energy costs than a more conventional home, and vastly improved air quality due to ventilation systems that constantly clean and purify the air inside the home.