A Net Zero Energy Year - Beginning

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(our bidirectional electricity meter – the first reading is how much power we had purchased from Epcor as of October 18, 2010)

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(how many kWh we had sold to Epcor as of October 18)

The concept of a net zero energy building is a brilliant one. For one thing, you can explain it to anyone in one sentence. For another, it sets a non-arbitrary goal. I think that most people have a gut feeling that if every part of the economy gave as much as it took, we would be approaching true sustainability.

From the beginning we have confidently declared that the Mill Creek Net Zero Home would annually generate as much energy as it uses, on a net basis. However, our assertions have been based on computer modeling and rules of thumb. That, and a good dose of optimism.

In fact, I’m not sure that we have a “proven” net zero energy building in Canada yet.

We aim to change that. Our PV modules are all installed now (more on that later), so it’s time to start a year of monitoring. We will only do one year of highly accurate measurement, because to make it a true test we have to abstain from burning waste wood in our wood stove. Since we are loathe to heat with coal-fired electricity  (even if we are offsetting it with solar power), and since the wood stove is such a nice way to heat a house, we only want to go through one winter without wood heat.

So on October 18, 2010, we began our year of monitoring. On that day, our meter readings were as follows:

  • bi-directional power meter (total import and export of electricity for the house):
    • import: 4160 kWh
    • export: 2936 kWh
  • inverters (cumulative production from each of two PV arrays):
    • fixed modules: 3683 kWh
    • movable modules: 616 kWh

I’m not sure how convincingly this experiment will “prove” that the house has achieved the net zero standard. Even if we do net out, I can’t absolutely prove that we didn’t burn any fires. We will be dismantling the stove so that we can seal the chimney off from letting cold air in. I'll post pictures, but besides that ya'll will have to just trust me!

Leaf mold (mould) handout from Earth’s General Store Workshop - October 24th, 2010


Leaves are little storehouses of carbon (organic material) and trace minerals. This is something that is usually in short supply in most soils. They are too valuable to bag up and send to a landfill. There are lots of ways to use leaves that to take advantage of the benefits they can provide to your yard and garden. Leaves also are a source of trace minerals and elements like calcium and magnesium. A good healthy yard and garden is supported by a good composting system. A good compost mix includes a blend of nitrogen (green and moist items like grass and plants) and a source of carbon (brown items like leaves). When next summer comes and your garden/yard starts to generate green materials (grass clipping) and you wish to compost the grass clippings you will be short of carbon to make the best compost you can – so save your leaves now! Trees generate a lot of leaves and usually more than the average home can use in a compost system. Leaves not only are great sources of carbon but they are an excellent soil amendment. If leaves are added to soil they provide organic matter, a fantastic moisture retainer (they can hold between 3 – 5 times their weight in water) which helps soils retain up to 50% more moisture thus helping deal with dry periods, they add fluffiness (loft and tilth), and they connect you to a natural cycle.

Extra leaves can be used as mulch, added to a compost bin or turned into Leaf Mold.

Mulch is a layer of material that covers open ground in your garden and serves several purposes – protects the soil from erosion, regulates the soil temperature, retains moisture, suppresses weeds, and does this all for free. The best way to mulch is to apply some sort of organic material over the entire area (compost, fresh grass clipping, semi-rotted manure, seaweed, fully moulded leaves, etc) and cover with 2 –3 inches of leaves (or 1- one and a half inches of shredded leaves). Since leaves or leaf mold does such a great job of retaining moisture you need to ensure that the mulch does not cover plants and that there is a little space around the plant so that it avoid problems with pests and diseases.

Advantages of shredding – increases the rate of decomposition, increases surface area of the leaf, allows more moisture to pass through the mulch or molding pile since the leaf will not shed the rainfall or water application, and reduces volume of the leaves (3 bags of leaves ~ 1 bag of shredded leaves). Ways to shred leaves (wear the appropriate safety equipment gloves, hearing and eye protection) –

  • Use a leaf shredder/mulcher machine (Earth's General Store has one)

  • Use a lawnmower – pass over the leaves several times. If you are doing this to add organic material to your lawn then leave the mowed leaves where they fall but if you wish to collect them to use them somewhere else then mow them on the sidewalk or driveway since they will be easier to sweep/rake up

  • Put the leaves in a garbage can and insert a weed eater machine and turn it on (best to have the lid covering most of the bin so less dust is thrown up.

  • Also you can rake up the leaves in the gutter of a roadway since cars will crush the leaves and provide a very nice product. Avoid leaf litter that is obviously contaminated by oil or anti-freeze.

If nature gives you leaves – make mold! When you walk through a deciduous forest in the fall or spring you will notice a smell. It smells a little musty/earthy – but healthy. If you kneeled down and pulled back some of the leaf litter that is covering the ground you would see leaf mold (it would be the dark crumbly material that is closes to the actual ground and it would be damp). Nature makes leaf mold on a continuous basis because it knows what is good for itself. Leaf mold is a valuable ingredient in a healthy landscape and we can help nature along to make this wonderful material for our own use. Leaf mold is composting without adding the green component of a regular compost pile. Leaf molding is a slow and cold process (regular composting process is a hot process caused by the biological activity – hungry and very active bacteria) done by fungal activity.

The following is the process I started using many years ago and have tweaked it only a little over the years:  read more... »

Edmonton Votes, 2010

We vote for a new city council tomorrow. Three years ago we had the thrill of seeing Don Iveson defeat the always jerkish Mike Nickel. What will we see this year?

I'm pressed for time, but here are some short notes on what I hope will happen (sorry that it's incomplete).

Ward 7

I am strongly endorsing Scott Mckeen in this ward. He has been a proponent of smart urbanism for years now. Tony Catarina, on the hand, is fighting hard to bring back 1960s Edmonton. When the world still had most of its cheap easy oil in the ground and Edmonton had 250,000 people, that made some sense. Now? Not so much. Please vote for McKeen if you live in ward 7.

Ward 11

Kerry Diotte is another reality-denying (as in, there's no climate change and our economy will continue to grow forever), sprawl-supporting airport supporter. As far as I can tell, the best man beat him in ward 11 is Chinwe Okelu. He came very close to winning last time, making him the best hope to beat Diotte's strong campaign. I support Okelu in ward 11.

Ward 8

I will be voting for Ben Henderson. He totally gets it on issues ranging from urban sprawl to food security to LRT.


There's really no debate here - Mandel isn't perfect but he is pushing hard on the LRT and has the gumption to stop ugly architecture and close that damn waste of space airport. I endorse Stephen Mandel as mayor of Edmonton for the next three years.


Here's the obligatory section where I tell you to get out and vote.

However, I'm not going to do that. If you disagree with me - if you think that there's a huge pile of money at city hall waiting to be found by going over the budget "line by line", if you think that endless seas of vinyl siding on the edge of the city provide much needed choice for middle class families to park their SUVs in, if you think that climate change is a socialist hoax to transfer wealth to developing nations - don't vote tomorrow. Why would I encourage people to vote against my candidates?

If you are a green voter, please make the time to support the green candidates, the ones who will make a positive difference in Edmonton for the next three years. And tell your friends too. I look forward to seeing an intelligent, forward-thinking, airport-closing city council tomorrow night.




I used to think that garlic was an exotic food. I thought it was like the mango - something so full of flavour couldn't possibly come from nearby, could it?

I couldn't have been more wrong. Garlic is in fact easy to grow in Edmonton and impossible to grow in the tropics. Ha! Suck on that year-round-luscious-food-having tropical countries!

Since it also stores very well, Edmonton could be self-sufficient in the stinking herb if it wanted to be.

It's time to plant your garlic for next year. Here's how:  read more... »