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Alberta family wins $50,000 in national challenge for net zero home

Airdrie family who transformed their 1980s bi-level house into a net zero home wins $50,000

The Shannon family of Airdrie won Canada's greatest household carbon reduction challenge – the Live Net Zero Challenge. 

As part of the competition, the family transformed their 1980s bi-level house into a net zero home over the past year.

“Aran O'Carroll from Canadian Geographic gave us the news over a video call and I have to say he has an impeccable poker face," said Samantha Shannon. "He had a very somber and composed expression as he was thanking us for our participation and how tough the judging was. In my mind, I was thinking, 'it's okay, just tell us we lost, I have to finish folding the laundry.'  Then he just gets this big grin and says 'you won'. I think it's the most shocked speechless I have ever been. It has definitely taken a few days of looking at the large novelty cheque in my dinning room for it to all really sink in."

Eight households from across Canada competed in six challenges over 14 weeks to reduce their carbon footprint and win $50,000.

They accepted the award from the Honourary President of Canadian Geographic, the Hon. Lois Mitchell at a ceremony outside their home in Airdrie. 

While the win hasn't really sunk in for the Shannon's yet, they plan to use their earnings first to replace their front door with a more energy efficient front door.

"We would have loved to do it during the competition but we ran out of budget from our grants and home equity loan," Samantha said.

The family also plans to donate a Thermal Camera to the Airdrie Public Library's new "library of things" so local residents can evaluate for themselves where they might be able to find areas to improve their homes air leakage.

"Being able to reduce our air leakage rate through Aerobarrier, weather stripping, spray foam, and additional insulation has definitely been one of the most important things we've done to our own home that is replicable for alot of homeowners," Samantha said.

The Shannon’s made several major changes to their home during the 8-month competition including:

● Installing a geothermal heating system to their home
● Installing solar panels on their roof
● Replacing their garage/workshop’s natural gas furnace with a heat pump which will allow them to disconnect from the natural gas grid

Other major lifestyle changes included working remotely when possible, to reduce their daily commute, and purchasing an e-bike and trailer that Samantha uses for most errands and to transport their kids. While it has only been 8 months into their greener existence, the Shannon’s say they are seeing a reduction in their energy bills at home.

The Shannon family was the only family from Alberta to participate in the challenge. Other contenders include families from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

The Live Net Zero is an initiative by Canadian Geographic, which is meant to empower Canadian families to reduce their carbon footprint and embrace sustainable living practices.

"It's been an honour to be the face of the hard-working trades people that do this work everyday," Samantha said. "Our Building Scientist Amelie Carron from EcoSynergy (also an Airdrie resident) is a fierce advocate for sustainable building practices, and our Solar installers from Solis Energy (also Airdrie company) are the people on the ground (and the roof) helping Canadian's meet their energy goals. With Canadian Geographic we were able to provide the platform for those people to show that their products and services make an incredible difference. It's also been incredibly validating to have all our hard work celebrated. A lot of our retrofits are not visible or as tangible as the price tag."

A win for green technology

For Samantha and her husband Kevin greening their home has long been a dream of theirs. But they started putting in a serious effort after qualifying for a $40,000 Canada Greener Homes loan from the federal government. Later, Canadian Geographic Live Net Bureau also provided $5,000 in seed money to take their efforts to the next level.

The Shannons started by replacing all their windows and added insulation to their attic to meet the current building standard. There were also many small projects, like placing gaskets around outlets and sealing up cracks.

A four-tonne geothermal heating system with nearly one km of glycol-filled pipe replaced their natural gas furnace.

This upgrade allowed them to disconnect entirely from natural gas. They don’t even have the pipe that attaches to the house any more, Shannon said.

They installed a hybrid hot water tank that uses ambient home air temperature and electricity to heat the water and sealed up the envelope of the home as well as their air ducts using a specialized sealant.

The final piece was their 19 kW solar array.

The Shannons calculated their higher mortgage cost is largely offset by cheaper bills after leaving the natural gas grid.

To learn more about their project and check out the household carbon reduction challenge, go to canadiangeographic.ca/live-net-zero/households/shannon


Masha Scheele

About the Author: Masha Scheele

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