As anticipation starts to build for the 2013 edition of the displaced-from-D.C. Solar Decathlon and sneak-peaks of the photovoltaic-clad contenders begin to emerge, here’s a look at a student-built home in Canada that’s not competing in the Department of Energy’s biannual collegiate solar home building showdown but has been generating a decent amount of buzz as of late … and for good reason:

Erected on an urban infill lot in Peterborough, Ontario, the straw bale-walled abode is the currently-for-sale creation (price tag: $649,000 CAD) of an eight-member team hailing from nonprofit green construction school the Endeavour Centre, also located in the small, north-of-Toronto burg of Peterborough. After taking a glance at the impressive laundry list of eco-friendly specs of the net-zero-capable, airtight home — a rainwater collection and filtration system, an EV charging station, an income-generating rooftop solar system, recycled cellulose insulation, and on and on — it becomes apparent that this is one mighty green three-bedroom residence.

In fact, the 2,800-square-foot built-on-spec property (it was constructed with zero grants, subsidies, or government assistance) is boldly being marketed as Canada’s Greenest Home, a title that the Endeavour Centre team is more than comfortable with. Endeavour Centre executive director and project director Chris Magwood explains to DesignBuild Source that the team “feel[s] it’s the greenest home because we’ve come at it from all different aspects.” 

Indeed. Aside from the home’s emphasis on energy-efficiency, indoor air quality, and super-low water use, perhaps notable is the reliance on natural materials sourced from within a 250km (155 mile) radius of the build site. Magwood tells DesignBuild Source that the only non-natural items to be found in the home are plastic light switches and the thermostat. “We took everything we could from the natural world…and put it in a modern context so it doesn’t look ‘cave mannish.’”

There was some initial reluctance in branding the home as being the greenest in all the land, of course. Magwood explains in the project blog:

We were initially quite hesitant to brand this project as 'Canada’s Greenest.' The claim was not made to be boastful or to dismiss the work of other designers and builders who have made remarkably green homes. The sustainable building community is very 'open source' and cooperative, and definitely not competitive. But we were very interested in pushing as many boundaries as possible with this project, to challenge ourselves as designers and builders to make the very best house possible, going beyond what has been done previously.
Magwood goes on to detail how his team went about achieving an array of “very well defined” sustainability goals in a self-graded report card.

Canada’s Greenest Home was built to exceed LEED Platinum standards and according to the project blog, the Endeavour Centre team is “well on our way to being certified with a points score well in excess of the Platinum requirements.” Magwood and the team also abided by uber-stringent standards set forth by the holy grail of green building certifications, the Living Building Challenge, although it will ultimately be up to the homeowner if they want to pursue LBC certification or not as the home must be occupied for a year before being bestowed with the somewhat rare honor. I'd be interested to see if this ends up happening.

Other notable features of the project not mentioned above include a total of 23 triple-glazed windows, an energy recovery ventilator, an air source heat pump, the strict use of nontoxic paints and finishes throughout, an energy monitoring system, and an odor-free composting toilet system that allows for zero sewage output. Acting as a "generative rather than destructive feature," the composting toilets are described as one of the most “distinguishing” features of the home although a human waste composter in the basement could also potentially scare off poop-anxious buyers.

And as mentioned, the rooftop solar array pushes the home into net-zero energy territory, generating enough surplus juice to earn the homeowner in the ballpark of $3,500 to $4,000 CAD annually when sold back to the grid. As for the carbon-capturing "Bio-Sip" straw bale wall panels, they're from Ontario-based manufacturer NatureBuilt.

Magwood and his team also set out to make the home highly reproducible with a fair amount of street appeal (i.e. it fits into the existing neighborhood without being too “showy”):

We did not want this home to be a 'one-off' specialty home. Any contractor or homeowner can reproduce the results of this home with materials and products that are off-the-shelf.

We intentionally did not choose materials or systems that would require skills, sourcing or maintenance that are outside the scope of any builder or homeowner.

As for the Walk Score attached to living in Canada’s Greenest Home, it’s a so-so “somewhat walkable” 60, a score that could be better but also could be a lot worse. Having visited the home during an open house event in late May, Lloyd Alter at sister site TreeHugger was somewhat surprised by the score. He notes that the home’s future residents “could live a car-free life here quite comfortably. Given the nature of Peterborough, a canoe or kayak free life might be tougher.”

Concludes Magwood:
There is no reward or prize at the end of a process like this beyond the satisfaction of achieving a professional pinnacle and meeting one’s own very high standards. We anxiously await the buyer who will recognize this achievement and work with us to commission the home in a way that ensures it meets its substantial promise.
A huge congrats is in order to Magwood and the Endeavour Centre team for achieving something remarkable, the construction of Canada’s Greenest Home, while not getting distracted by the bragging rights that come attached with such an accomplishment. It's obvious that the home was built to pave the way and to educate, not to grandstand. 

Lots more info and images at the Endeavour Centre website, the home's official listing, and over at TreeHugger where Alter offers his thoughtful analysis of a project that he believes to be “certainly the greenest spec house in Canada, and possibly in North America.” You can also see Alter chat with Magwood in the video that I've embedded above.

Via [DesignBuild Source], [TreeHugger]

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