›› Tessa Weimer, Devin Fikis, and Kaitlyn Nightingale
We are a group of University of Victoria digital communications students who have partnered with the owners of the newest net zero home in Victoria with the goal of encouraging more people to take action to lighten their carbon footprint.
A net zero building is a building with net zero energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site using technology such as heat pumps, high efficiency windows and insulation, and solar panels. The goal is that these buildings contribute less overall greenhouse gas to the atmosphere during operations than similar non-net zero buildings.
We believe that this kind of renovation is scalable. If you feel, as we do, that time is of the essence, we encourage you to share this story with others. For inspiration, visit netzerovictoria.com, the extensive website for the project. It chronicles the transformation of this home over the last year and a half.
When they made an offer on their house four years ago, owners Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg were excited by the challenge of doing a deep green reno that would rejuvenate the vernacular Arts & Crafts house hidden beneath a stucco façade. They found the architects for the project in Fernwood the same week they found the house. Thanks to inspired design and oversight by architects David & Susan Scott of Scott & Scott Architects and the skill and dogged determination to bring that design to life by Taylor McCarthy and his crew at Frontera Homes, Don and Wendy got more than they first imagined with this renovation.
Wendy’s dad once told her, “If you want to make a friend, ask for help.” In undertaking this renovation, they asked for lots of help and made lots of friends, including fellow Fernwood resident and our mentor at UVic, Rhianna Nagel. They found the solar company and worker-owned co-op Viridian through a Fernwood NRG bulk buy that John Ho, Community Energy Specialist with the City of Victoria, told them about. The solar panels on the roof will generate 110% of the demand for the house. “Every time I see the arrow on the meter pointing west, I do a little jig. Lots of Fernwood houses benefit from similarly advantageous orientations!” Wendy told us. Learn more about their solar set-up in this video at viridianenergy.ca/blog/solar-stories-fernwood-reno.
John Ho shared, “By switching away from an old fossil fuel heating system and by putting great effort into whole home energy efficiency upgrades, the Fernwood Net Zero retrofit project contributes to meeting our ambitious climate targets. The project has gone above and beyond and has redefined what the “home of the future” looks like. We hope it will inspire others in the community to take action and make their own homes more climate-friendly.”
2654 Fernwood Road is a demonstration that it is possible to make an old leaky place highly energy-efficient and handsome. It’s website is a community resource. You can see what was done to the house through each system as you consider what you want to do with your place.
Seventy percent of the housing stock in Victoria is more than 50 years old. If we are going to get to our climate action targets, we need to figure out a way to make buildings much more energy efficient. The more solutions the merrier.
Here are some tips for anyone interested in doing a net zero house renovation. It is best to do lots of homework upfront. This includes conducting:
- A NRCan blower door test—City Green Solutions can help with this
- A Hazmat survey—This will identify issues and can save you money in the long run
- Energy modelling to see how to get to net zero and to prioritize steps to take. It may be new windows, more insulation, new heat or electric source, or some combination that gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
- Budget, revise, and budget some more. Some of Don & Wendy’s best and greenest solutions came from getting creative with cost-cutting.
- Visit bringithome4climate.ca to learn more about home retrofit options and to get free support.
- Commit to an all-electric house. Get rid of your oil tank—there are rebates for that. Get rid of natural gas appliances as natural gas is a fossil fuel. An electric heat pump, water heater, induction stove, and LED lights save lots of energy.
- Minimize waste delivered to the dump. Wendy and Don left the stucco on their house and went over with Rockwool insulation. They estimate they generated just a third of the waste of a conventional reno via embedding or reusing.
- Scratch toxic materials from the shopping list—International Living Future Institute is a great source for advice
- Buy locally and sustainably sourced materials wherever possible
- Salvage as much as you can from your own site or local demos
- Put up a little library. It invites people to stop and converse from a safe distance. Wendy and Don’s little library is often stocked with info on green building.
We can attest to the fact that this is an incredible sustainability project that proves retrofitting can be done effectively, affordably, and locally. We hope it will inspire you to be the change you want to see.