Pushing the envelope with a "net-negative" home

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter)
November 22, 2018 - 10:51am Updated: November 22, 2018 - 12:27pm

LETHBRIDGE – Rudy Reger, of EnergySmart Canada, has been in the green home business since 2001 when he says “green” wasn’t even a topic.

But as he and his wife planned the home they’ll retire to, Reger wanted to see just how far they could push energy efficiency. The end result is Lethbridge County’s first “net-negative” home. Unlike a typical “net-zero” home that breaks even over the course of a year between the energy it produces and what it uses, Reger’s home is producing a surplus of energy. The house was a partnership between Reger’s firm, EnergySmart Canada, Touchstone Homes, and Greener Homes.

“A lot of stuff we incorporated was more just to prove to ourselves (that) it’s very doable,” Reger said. Generating heat and power through a combination of geothermal and solar, the home goes right down to a level of detail that includes seals on the doors to prevent heat loss, a state-of-the-art heat pump water heater, LED lighting, and a system that recovers heat from shower water as it goes down the drain.

The home uses extra-heavy-duty insulation with double the R-value that’s typically used, along with special windows, paint and flooring.

Even the way the house is positioned is a factor.

“We turned it a little bit, so it faces slightly southeast,” Reger explained. “So, we have no windows on the north side, the north side’s where the cold wind always comes, right? By twisting the house a little bit, we actually have the ability to have the wind bounce off the house rather than just hitting it dead-on.

“Same on the west side; we have only two little windows on the west side, so there’s no heat loss on the west, and again, the wind can bounce off.”

While Reger said such an advanced state of efficiency makes sense for them, at least in the long run and partially for its promotional value, at this point he doesn’t recommend people go beyond “net-zero.” It requires a battery power storage system, which adds to the cost and complexity.

But they’ll be able to sell the excess power they generate back to the grid, through companies seeking to buy green power. The Regers will also be able to use the excess to charge their electric cars.

While it costs more up-front, Reger said the benefits are many.

“The environment is so nice in the house. The temperature never changes. It’s steady all the time,” he said. “You know from now on your utility cost’s fixed. It doesn’t matter if gas or power goes up; you just don’t care. You paid once, right?”

He also said with no natural gas, there’s no carbon monoxide risk and the air inside is cleaner.

Reger said business is growing, though a few customers will show an interest only to be talked out of it by their builder. He added net-zero homes can be built in the city as well as the country.

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