climate change

Phantom Load (or, How Not To Live In Caves)

The new microwave in the Mill Creek NetZero Home tries to burn 35 Kg of coal every year to display the time.

When discussing the environment with non-converts, the debate often degenerates to someone commenting “you want us to go back to living in caves”. The sentiment reveals a shocking but widespread ignorance about the vast quantities of energy and materials that we squander. Energy is cheap and ubiquitous, and it seems that humans are doomed to waste whatever is abundant.

The answer to the living in caves comment is that we could reduce our materials and energy consumption by 50% in a heartbeat without touching our standard of living. In fact, we could reduce consumption by over 90% and still live better than kings and emperors did 300 years ago. (Yes, monster truck rallies would have to go. If by “living in caves” you mean “stop driving my Hummer around while Tweeting on my cell phone”, then I stand corrected.)

The microwave at the top of page is state-of-the-art; we purchased it this year from IKEA, a company that makes claims of environmental responsibility. The problem is, it draws four Watts of electricity, all the time, day or night. The useful work that it manages to produce out of the 100 grams of dirty coal that it needs every day is to display a digital clock.  Quick! Raise your hand if you need another clock in your house!  read more... »

Wood Burning (part 2)


A Scan Andersen 10 woodstove, installed in the MCNZH.

People commenting on a recent national CBC article about Edmonton’s NetZero Energy houses spent a lot of effort criticizing the fact that the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH) has a wood burning stove. Besides proving beyond a doubt that the only thing worse than an ignoramus is an anonymous ignoramus, the comments taught me a bit about what messages to send in a sound bite culture such as ours.

For the record, the MCNZH will consume net zero annual energy without taking the wood burning stove into account. Even if we never burn a fire, the house will consume about 8000 kWh of electricity per year and its PV modules will produce about 8000 kWh per year.

Our Scan Andersen 10 wood stove has been installed, and we really love the quality of warmth that it radiates. Our source of wood will be construction waste from renovation projects in the neighbourhood. If we heated only with wood, here’s how big a pile the MCNZH would use annually:


A pile of tightly packed construction waste this size will heat the MCNZH for one year.

The pile is 1500 litres in volume, and it represents two thirds of a cord of wood (the cord would be 30% bigger because of the extra spaces between split firewood). We’ll be able to burn the wood very cleanly, because the stove is surrounded by the thermal mass of the concrete floors and a brick mass wall that will installed behind it. A quick clean hot fire will radiate heat into the mass, which will slowly release it into the house for hours afterwards.

Because the heat from the fire will be displacing electric heat from our baseboard heaters, we will in effect be converting construction waste into electricity. The wood stove should make the MCNZH a net electricity exporter of 2000-2500 kWh per year. Because the construction waste wood would have rotted in a landfill anyway, I consider it to be completely carbon neutral. That’s good for the environment, and wood heat provides a good deal of the resiliency that the times ahead will demand.

(cross posted at

Riverdale NetZero Energy House - Grand Opening and CMHC Document

The Riverdale NetZero Project is having its grand opening on Friday, October 3rd, 2008. It will be open to the public from 11-4 on Saturday, October 4th, 2008 (more details here).

This duplex is a revolutionary project, one that has already had an influence on other building projects, and one that should be replicated thousands of times in the coming years. I'm grateful to CMHC for sponsoring it (as one of the winning entries in CMHC's EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative), and more importantly to people like Gordon Howell and Peter Amerongen for putting so many hours of volunteer labour into the project.

The duplex is a marvel of beautiful aesthetics and super-efficiency.  This graph compares each unit to a conventional home:  read more... »

Solar Retrofit - Part 3: Looking for Installation Help

As mentioned in my previous posts, I've signed a contract with Taylor Munro Energy Systems from BC for a solar thermal system to help provide space heat and domestic hot water.  My contract is for system design and
major component supply - it does not include installation.

I wonder if anyone familiar with the solar industry in Edmonton could put me in touch with local installers that could help me get my collectors installed on my house.  This is the proposed south elevation:


And the proposed east elevation:  read more... »