hat does this mean exactly? Simply put, net zeromeans zero impact on the environment. Thoughambitious, there has been a recent spate of big, boldannouncements from multinational companiesproclaiming a desire to have zero impact on the environment.Water fixture manufacturer Kohler is one such company whounveiled their own zero impact vision just before Toronto'sGreenbuild conference in early October. In the housing sector,zero energy homes (ZEH) are already a reality. Today, around theworld, there are demonstration projects showcasing techniquesand tools for designing, building and even retrofitting homes thatproduce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis.Contrary to what many may think, these homes are not futuristic, off-grid eco-pods where no one wants to live. Rather, they range fromvery simple town homes (Cancun, Mexico), to single family, detachedhomes (Ottawa), to high design, high sex appeal abodes (Melbourne,Australia). Yet they all have one thing in common: they are shapingthe future of homebuilding in Canada and around the world.VISTA REAL, CANCUN, MEXICO: VINTEOne of Mexico's newer builders, Vinte, undertook a project to retrofita series of small but functional townhouses with a goal to achievezero energy. Providing simple yet attractive design, Vinte beganoffering something new to the Mexican market: affordable homes toget people out of informal housing (i.e. shanty towns withoutelectricity and water) and into dignified community housing.Started by forward-thinking entrepreneurs, Vinte's zero energyproject, Vista Real, located just outside of Cancun, was recognizedby President Calderon during last December's Climate Changeconference as a shining example of "climate-friendlydevelopment." Vinte's innovative approach to homebuilding alsoincludes meaningful social benefits. Through a partnership withIntel and Microsoft, new homes are equipped with a computer andbroadband Internet, a clear step to bridge the digital divide oftencited as a further inequality in the developing world.AUSZEH DEMONSTRATION HOUSE, MELBOURNE,AUSTRALIA: HENLEY PROPERTY GROUPAt the other end of the design spectrum sits the high concept zeroenergy home built by Henley Property Group, one of Australia'smost creative builders. This custom design project, labeled theWINTRODUCING THEZERO ENERGY HOMEBy Anthony WatanabeAusZEH Demonstration House, comes complete with indigenous,water-efficient landscaping and the Home Energy Manager, anintuitive, touch-screen console delivering a real-time display ofthe home's energy performance.Thinking ahead to the (near) future of personal mobility, Henleyalso included a charging infrastructure for a plug-in hybrid electricvehicle. This test platform included both charge and dischargefunctionality, and in a controlled setting, saw the car actuallydeliver 6kWh of power to the house over a six-hour charging period.The developer is currently processing the results of a one-yearperformance and occupancy test to determine how the residentseither helped or hindered the energy efficiency of the home.Believe it or not, the US Department of Energy has conductedstudies proving that energy efficiency on the design/build side canbe undermined by occupants by as much as 100 percent!In partnership with a number of other organizations, Henley hasworked on two follow-up projects: a retrofit ZEH and a second newbuild. The diversity of partners alone, which include builders,universities and government, speaks to both the complexity ofZEH and the desire to measure, test and learn about this excitingnew way of building homes.INSPIRATION, OTTAWA, CANADA: MINTO GROUPPerhaps the most accessible zero energy homes for many arecoming from Canadian builder, Minto. The company's first go atdesigning and building a ZEH resulted in the award-winningInspiration, just outside of Ottawa.Visitors to Inspiration may be caught off guard because from thefront, it looks like a normal, detached, single-family home thatone might find in any Canadian suburb. It's in the backyard,29
30perhaps while enjoying a beer and a barbeque, that you get intothe high-tech guts of the home. On the roof in the back, there arethree types of solar panels: for electricity (across the top), forwater (bottom right) and for pre-heating the air in the chillyOttawa winter (two upright panels flanking the window).While definitely the most visible green component of the home,the solar installations were, in fact, the last design piece to beadded. The first steps to zero energy, or even simply increasedefficiency, relate to less sexy items such as the orientation of thehouse, the windows, energy efficient appliances, and insulation.Such an approach makes sense both from a design perspectiveand a financial one: with decreased energy use, less onsiteenergy (solar, geothermal or other) needs to be produced toreach net zero.However, Minto was determined to take Inspiration beyondenergy, and so in addition to low-flow showerheads and a front-load washing machine, the house has a 550 USG rain waterharvesting system. Collected water is used for the toilets and foronsite irrigation. As the world gets thirstier, what we call waterinnovation in Canada will be commonplace in other parts of theworld such as Israel, India and Australia.And here's a feature the little ones will love. The kitchen has aslate floor that absorbs the sun's heat during the day. At night,as the temperature cools, the slate releases the heat, leaving awarm and cozy surface that pleases little feet, and a zerobudget impact that pleases big feet. Clearly, zero energy doesnot mean zero comfort!Some readers may be thinking that it's relatively easy to reach netzero in warmer climates like Mexico or Australia. Certainly here inCanada where temperature extremes range from -30 degreesCelsius in the winter to +30 degrees Celsius in the summer, oneis reminded of the Frank Sinatra song, "New York, New York."Indeed, if you can build ZEH here, you can build it anywhere!There is, it would seem, a zero energy home for every taste andbudget. Still, most of the ZEHs around the world are part of pilotprojects where technologies and techniques are tested and lessonslearned. So ask your realtor, banker and favourite builder if they'vecome across ZEH and see what comes back! In the meantime, ifyou're looking to take your existing home to the next level of green,follow the lead of the pros and focus on the building envelope.While you likely can't pick up your house and orient it towards thesun, tackling things like insulation, windows and energy-efficientappliances will take you a long way towards reduced environmentalimpact, improved comfort, and decreased monthly hydro bills.HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?With Ontario's feed-in-tariff program, high energy performancehas the potential to put money in the homeowner's pocket. Belowis a simple chart demonstrating how higher upfront costs can beneutralized when one considers the cost of the home over the full-time spectrum of ownership.PurchasePrice25 YearMortgageRental WaterHeaterAnnual UtilityCost Annual UtilityRevenueNet Annual Costof OwnershipStandard Home$350,000$20,780$228$4,041$-.00$25,049NET45 Home$375,000$22,759$-.00$1,639$-.00$24,398Inspiration$470,000$30,279$-.00$1.276$(3,208)$28,346THIS CUSTOM DESIGN PROJECT, LABELEDTHE AUSZEH DEMONSTRATION HOUSE,COMES COMPLETE WITH INDIGENOUS,WATER-EFFICIENT LANDSCAPING AND THEHOME ENERGY MANAGER, AN INTUITIVE,TOUCH-SCREEN CONSOLE DELIVERING A REAL-TIME DISPLAY OF THE HOME'SENERGY PERFORMANCE.Built by Henley Property Group.For the past two years, Anthony M. Watanabe, President & CEO,Innovolve Group, has been part of a global team travelling theworld promoting the market transformation to zero energy homes.. NET45 refers to a home that is 55% more energy efficient than as prescribed by the building code. . At today's utility costs, NET45 is cost effective. . At 6% annual utility rate increase, NET ZERObecomes cost neutral.