Fort Saskatchewan – You could call Jim Zeibin a brave man. He’s building his dream home with no furnace, no electric heat and no solar panels — despite the shivering cold of a Prairie winter.
Zeibin, a retired chemical engineer, is building what he says will be Alberta’s first “passive house.”
The super energy-efficient technology developed in Europe relies on extra thick insulation in the walls, tight sealing, and big windows facing the sun.
Heating the house for a year will require 90 per cent less energy than a conventional house. Zeibin figures he needs only the energy used by five hair dryers to heat the house for the winter — a little natural gas to run a boiler.
Mostly the home stays warm because it’s so tight. Every tiny seam is specially taped, the basement has 30 centimetres of insulation on the outside and the house walls are 40 cm thick and filled with insulation.
Even the heat from the refrigerator and people in the house will help keep it warm.
The new insulation is a product is made from volcanic rock in a factory in Quebec. “It’s very soft and you cut it with a bread knife,” Zeibin says.
Large south-facing windows let in the sun and triple-pane glass with an argon layer keeps the cold out.
The Edmonton area has a few energy-efficient Net Zero houses. These houses aim to produce as much heat and electricity as they use so they don’t draw from the grid. Mostly, that’s done with solar panels on the roofs of well-insulated houses.
The passive house is different. It simply reduces the need for heat energy, by up to 90 per cent, through its unique construction.
“I will always have a small energy footprint — electricity for lights and appliances and a little natural gas for the boiler and water heating,” he says.
Zeibin is aiming for his project to become Alberta’s first certified passive home, which means he must meet strict criteria set out by the international organization.
A conventional home uses about 120-150 kilowatt hours of energy per square metre to keep the place warm. “We’ll be down to fifteen.”
A normal, leaky house has about two to three air changes an hour, mostly because of leaking around windows and doors. “Every 20 to 30 minutes you are changing all the air in the house,” he says.
The passive house codes that requires be reduced to 0.6. — or once every couple of hours. “It’s a very tight house,” he said.
To avoid problems of a “too tight house” the passive house is built so fresh air comes in 24 hours a day through a heat exchanger. Warm moist air leaving the house heats up the cold air coming in to keep the temperature even.
The three-bedroom, 1,320 square-foot (123 sq.-m.) bungalow will cost about 20 per cent more to construct than a conventional home. But energy savings will help recoup the extra cost.
Zeibin, who worked for oil companies across Western Canada for many years, says he’s mostly motivated by the desire to reduce his carbon footprint and conserve the fossil fuel for the next generation.
“It’s also my first retirement project,” he says with a smile. “I’ve lived in a lot of drafty houses over the years.”
Zeibin and his son, David, an architect, took a weeklong course in Vancouver before they set off on the project.
The Cottonwood Passive House is at 17 Cottonwood Cres. in Fort Saskatchewan.
There is an open house Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., with tours at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Readers can find more information at cottonwoodpassivehouse.ca