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High-tech St. Albert home joins Eco-Solar Tour

Super windows and heat pump get Marchand to near net-zero

Roger Marchand’s home must have the thickest windows in town.

Two years ago, Marchand’s house at 19 Oakdale Place had regular double-pane windows in its walls. He’s since replaced them with hextuple-pane models that are roughly 11 centimetres thick — almost as thick as the walls they’re in.

These windows and other upgrades have let him virtually eliminate his home’s greenhouse gas emissions and energy bills — he paid $3.67 for electricity and $0 for gas last month.

Marchand said he did all these upgrades to show people what was on the leading edge of energy efficiency.

“If they’re looking to reduce their energy footprint and energy costs, here are some options for their house.”

On tour

Marchand, a retired businessman, will be opening his home to the public this June 2 as part of the 24th annual Eco-Solar Home Tour.

The free tour gives Albertans a chance to explore some of the province’s most energy-efficient homes and talk with the people who live in them, said tour president Andrew Mills.

“The home is a large part of our environmental footprint nowadays,” Mills said (buildings account for 18 per cent of all heat-trapping pollution in Canada, Environment Canada reports), and you can save money and the environment by making upgrades to it.

Mills said this year’s tour features 31 homes in and around Edmonton and Calgary. About 17 of the homes are retrofitted to be near net-zero in terms of energy use.

Mills said deep energy retrofits have taken off in recent years because of the federal Greener Homes program and the Energiesprong technique (where designers bolt super-insulated walls onto existing homes for rapid renovations).

“You end up with a super-insulated exterior shell plus all new doors and windows,” Mills said, adding that four of the sites on this year’s tour were built this way.

Mills said homeowners are also realizing that they can eliminate their energy bills if they combine solar power with a solar-specific energy retail plan, which charges a higher rate in the summer than in the winter.

“At the end of the year, your bill is zero.”

Mills said he was looking forward to seeing Marchand’s extra-thick windows on the tour.

“It gets the insulation value right up to what the walls are, which is outrageous.”

Bleeding edge

Marchand said he and his wife got this 1996-era home about two years ago and set about renovating it.

“I’m a practical green guy,” Marchand said, and he wanted to make the most efficient home possible with today’s technology.

Marchand said his first step was to do an energy audit to find the most cost-effective areas to improve. The audit found about 73 per cent of his home’s energy went to space heating, with 43 per cent of his space heating losses from the home’s 26 windows.

The windows Marchand installed have an insulation value comparable to a solid wall, information from the manufacturer suggests — contrast that with most windows, which are about as insulated as holes in walls. The windows also make the home really quiet, Marchand said — you can run a vacuum cleaner on one side and not hear it on the other.

Additional insulation, air sealing, solar panels, and a geothermal heat system cut the home’s energy use by 69 per cent and allowed Marchand to take out the home’s gas line. The home is now just five gigajoules short of net-zero — a gap he could close with more solar or lifestyle changes (such as turning off the hot tub).

Marchand said all these upgrades cost about $250,000, at least some of which he will get back through energy savings or resale value. He emphasized these upgrades might not be appropriate for every home, and he did them without tapping into financing programs such as St. Albert’s Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP) that could have lowered his up-front costs.

The Eco-Solar Home Tour runs June 1-2. Visit for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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