Homes & Design Photo Credit: Zoon Media, original photos on Houzz

One Calgary Home, 11 Lessons in Energy Efficiency

A Calgary duplex designed by the team at Lighthouse Studios Residential Design is a prime example of sustainability.

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The design team at Lighthouse Studios Residential Design—based in Calgary, where freezing weather is common seven months of the year—decided to build a duplex with LEED Platinum certification, the environmental program’s highest rating for a residential home. To create such a home in a cold climate, these builders beefed up the insulation, used high-performance doors and windows, and maximized airflow for optimal heating and cooling comfort. The homes offer many lessons for creating energy-efficient dwellings in cold climates. Learn how the builders did it, and get some ideas for your own green home.

At a Glance

Project location: Ramsay neighbourhood in Calgary, Alberta
Size: 2,400 square feet for each unit
Designers: Barb Kelsall, LEED green associate, and Mark Broddle, sustainable building adviser, of Lighthouse Studios Residential Design

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz.)

How to Build an Energy Efficient Home

1. Pump Up the Insulation
Lighthouse Studios responded to Calgary’s long, hard winters by exceeding the code requirement for insulating the lower level, using materials such as rigid insulation and crushed gravel. From the basement to the attic, Lighthouse took advantage of many other materials with a high R-value, such as spray foam, to slow heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.

2. Use the Local Climate
Calgary’s mild summers allowed Lighthouse Studios to skip the air conditioning, relying instead on cross breezes from open windows and floor plans that maximize airflow when needed. “People just think of insulation keeping heat in, but it actually keeps the cool [air] in as well,” says Barb Kelsall, LEED green associate of Lighthouse Studios.

3. Install High-Performance Windows and Doors
“The challenge is designing a home that feels good and doesn’t just have one window,” Kelsall says. Even with Calgary’s brutal winter weather, it was possible to let in the sunshine by specifying large, Energy Star-rated plate glass windows and doors.

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz.)

4. Reduce Energy Costs with Efficient Appliances
Lighthouse Studios installed Energy Star-rated kitchen appliances. Like the windows and doors, these high-end features cost more upfront. But with potential savings of up to 70 percent over alternate choices that are less energy efficient, Lighthouse gave their buyers a long-term savings plan.

5. Keep the Heat Down with LEDs
LED (light-emitting diode) lightbulbs used throughout the project save money by focusing light in a specific direction rather than scattering it. The efficiency saves energy and money.

6. Keep a Sharp Eye on Construction
Testing the integrity of the wall construction before and after the drywall was installed showed where small pockets of air leaked in and out of the building. That information gave the builder an opportunity to make adjustments where needed.

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz.)

7. Maximize Control of Airflow
A home with a tight seal will lack fresh air unless a system is installed to push out the stale air. The builders installed a heat recovery ventilator that circulates fresh air constantly. Keeping the air flowing also results in greater temperature and water vapour control, making the home a healthier and more comfortable environment to live in.

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz.)

8. Install Low-Flow, High-Performance Fixtures
Low-flow shower heads and faucets and dual-flush toilets lower water bills. A tankless on-demand water heater efficiently delivers a ready supply of hot water without using a storage tank.

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz.)

9. Don’t Forget the Home’s Exterior
For potential homebuyers who want to take energy efficiency to the next level, Lighthouse Studios made the roof of the south unit solar-panel ready. Tough, drought-tolerant plants, turf and permeable decks work year-round in Calgary’s extreme weather, while water-efficient, low-impact landscaping thrives even with minimal rainfall. Rain barrels and rain gardens collect water for irrigation.

Some Notes on Aesthetics…

While the energy and green component of the home was one consideration, these builders naturally wanted their project to sell. (It did.) Here are some of the things they kept in mind when they were building the duplex and putting it on the market. Perhaps they will be worth noting if you plan to build your own spec home, whether you seek a green footprint or not.

10. Make the Floor Plan Open and Inviting 
In its quest to build a green home in a cold climate, Lighthouse Studios didn’t sacrifice aesthetics for efficiency. The designers made the duplex bright, spacious, open and sunny. “This is what the first impression is,” Kelsall says.

(Photo: Zoon Media, original photo on Houzz .)

11. Install Long-Lasting, Sustainable Materials
Engineered hardwood floors, door and window casings, and baseboards are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC sets standards for forestry and supply-chain management, making these wood products more eco-friendly from start to finish. Lighthouse Studios also insisted on using highly durable materials. “Saying ‘green’ isn’t good enough anymore,” Kelsall says. “You’ll also live with high-quality materials that will last a long time.”

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