By Jody MacPherson
Originally published in C3 Views newsletter, Climate Change Central, November, 2003
1981. It’s the beginning of a new decade and hopes are high. Pierre Elliott Trudeau is at the height of his popularity, having won the first referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Across the nation, Pac-Man is the video game of choice. Canadians are tuning in to “The Love Boat,” while on the radio, Christopher Cross sings, “Sailing.”
In a quiet neighbourhood in south Calgary, Garry and Carla Bridgewater also have high hopes for their future. Garry, a television journalist, has just met Bill Crist of Sol-Tech Housing. He is so impressed with Crist that despite some initial fears about the cost, he and his wife decide to build a super energy-efficient home with his help.
During construction, onlookers know there’s something unique about the house. The two by six inch lumber and absence of plywood are the first clues. Styrofoam insulation (1 1/2 inches thick) provides enhanced heating and cooling performance. Before the final pressed wood siding is added, the home’s bright blue insulation attracts a bit of attention.
“We were the first home on our street,” says Carla Bridgewater, “so it kind of stood out.”
Being first on the block allowed the Bridgewaters to select a lot that could accommodate their requirement for a south-facing exposure. The 1,600 sq. ft. home has mostly windows on the south and very few windows facing north. They decide against costly solar panels, opting for a “passive solar” approach perfectly suited for “sunny Alberta.”
Now, Bridgewater estimates they pay about 50 percent less to run their home. A tightly sealed plastic vapour barrier provides an airtight seal against heat loss. They also have a wood-burning stove, window quilts and a wood basement. As a result, she says the home is warm and comfortable all the time even though their furnace only comes on occasionally, usually in the early morning.
They also use energy-efficient appliances and during construction, chose only materials that did not emit toxins (known as “off-gassing) to protect indoor air quality. Bridgewater says they spent about $7,000 more in construction costs but their investment was paid back within five years, even sooner than they had been promised.
“To see it now, you can’t tell that it’s not a ‘normal’ home. Not too many neighbours even know, but those who do have told us that having a solar home on the block increases the value of their home,” she says.
When construction was complete, they had the home tested by R-2000 inspectors, a home energy efficiency measurement program (see sidebar?). During testing they found only about two square inches of air escaping from the structure. An average home loses the equivalent of an open two-foot square window. The tightly contained structure, fed by a fresh air exchange system, passed with flying colours.
“We absolutely love the house,” says Bridgewater. “Now that the kids are grown, we contemplated moving to a smaller place but didn’t know how to find anything else like it. I couldn’t imagine NOT living in an energy efficient home.”
As if the energy efficiency and health advantages aren’t enough, Bridgewater says the home has another bonus. “I’m convinced that the home is cleaner,” she says. “It doesn’t get nearly as dusty!”