Net zero

The Courtyard Project: YWCA’s sustainable answer to affordable housing


The Courtyard Project: YWCA’s sustainable answer to affordable housing

Stephen Crotty believes affordable housing should be as safe and healthy as other homes.

“Even though you’re in a housing project, it doesn’t mean it can’t be held to a really high standard, and be efficient in the long run,” said Crotty, chief operating officer on the Courtyard Project, the YWCA’s latest sustainable response to Banff’s chronic housing shortage.

Funded in part by the provincial government, as well as the federal government’s National Housing Strategy’s Housing Innovation Fund, the Courtyard Project will expand the Banff YWCA’s affordable rental housing inventory by creating a net-zero neighbourhood – where the amount of energy used on an annual basis is roughly equivalent to the amount of renewable energy generated on site – within its existing land footprint. 

A 2012 Banff Housing Study identified an estimated shortage of 440 to 730 units in the town, with the lack of available lands being a key challenge in overcoming the shortage. Since the Town of Banff is in a national park, there are construction limitations to building projects, including height and space restrictions. 

The Courtyard Project will piggyback off the YWCA’s current 80 affordable housing units in Banff, but with a common kitchen and only a handful of private bathrooms, Crotty said the existing units aren’t conducive to families, single parent homes and people with accessibility needs.

Once complete, the YWCA’s three-story project will add 33 self-contained units to the combined inventory.  

Floor plan of the Courtyard Project

Floor plan of the Courtyard Project

To achieve a net-zero energy footprint, the Courtyard Project spent years researching housing innovations to come up with a sustainable strategy that will work in Banff.

First, the build will focus on an active, modular design using shipping containers with high functionality and livability standards.

According to Crotty, not only do the shipping containers have a robust building envelope able to maintain a high thermal rating throughout the seasonal fluctuations, they’re also fire resistant and useful for longevity.

Further, they have a lower impact on the building site and a shorter construction period, meaning the units will get to market quicker than a standard build, which will help keep rental costs down.

In addition, the project will use energy-efficient windows, solar panels on the roof of the building and access the YWCA’s low-pressure steam system from the existing units to help power the project.

The Courtyard Project is also adhering to the  WELL Building Standard, a global rating system which focuses on implementing criteria  that enhance tenants’ quality of life.

According to Crotty, sustainable and high-quality construction elements are normally the first things cut when building an affordable housing complex, but the project is placing an importance on creating a safe and healthy community. 

Some of the WELL standard’s criteria that will make the projects more liveable include improved air and water quality, the amount of green space, efficient building materials and high-quality cleaning supplies. 

By adding a net-zero component to its project, Crotty said the YWCA will be able to build an energy-efficient building that will benefit future tenants.

We’re on the cusp of something innovative as a YWCA,” he said. “If we can accomplish this in Banff, there is no reason why you can’t replicate this in rural communities across the country.
— Stephen Crotty, COO of the Courtyard Project

During his time with the YWCA, rents have increased three times – each due to a significant spike in energy rates and consumption. By building a net-zero project, Crotty said rent rates will be more consistent and controllable.

“To us, net zero means we have a viable, sustainable project where we can have consistent, affordable rates for our users,” said Crotty.

Although the up-front capital costs are significantly higher when building a net-zero project, Crotty said there is long-term gain. In fact, the project should see a return on investment within ten years.

“We keep passing on the cost of operational energy consumption to our users,” said Crotty. “These people are vulnerable and the least able to afford the increase.”

“Yes, we are going to pay more up front, but we are not going to pass that on to our affordable hosing residents.”

The YWCA is hoping to accept residents by June of next year. While none of the sustainable elements that they’re incorporating are new, Crotty said they’re generally not part of an affordable housing model design.

“We’re on the cusp of something innovative as a YWCA,” he said. “If we can accomplish this in Banff, there is no reason why you can’t replicate this in rural communities across the country.”

World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer


World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer

Garrett Scott doesn’t believe in wasting energy.

So, when an opportunity came for the owner of Scott Subaru to build the world’s first passive-house compliant car dealership in Red Deer, he jumped at the chance.  

“I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it,” said Scott. “We’re building something more robust and really unique that’s never been done before.”

I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it.”
— Garrett Scott, Owner, Scott Subaru

Passive House is an international energy-based standard that aims to reduce a building’s ecological footprint by adhering to strict energy-efficient design elements and construction requirements.

Scott knew that building a passive dealership would be a long and expensive undertaking, but he’s confident the up-front costs will pay off down the line. Not only will the stronger building construction last longer than a traditional dealership, but the energy-efficient features are expected to eliminate 80 per cent of the building’s heating and cooling costs. 

Passive house elements

Prior to beginning construction in 2017, Scott and the building team spent two years studying aspects of traditional dealerships to learn how to incorporate design and construction elements that would adhere to the Passive House standards.

“Because we are a franchise car dealership, there were certain image requirement from the manufacturer we had to adhere to,” said Scott, who pointed out this was a huge factor during the construction process.

“There were obviously some challenges during construction,” said Scott. “There were people we hired who’ve build passive houses before, but never car dealerships with specific design requirements.”

The exterior walls are one of the most important features of the 14,000 square-feet passive dealership. Three-feet thick, they’re built with three layers of insulation, which create an impenetrable seal around the building to help control the temperature inside and minimize air loss.

The floor-to ceiling windows – a design element synonymous with car dealerships – are triple-paned, energy-efficient glass equipped with automated blinds that control the amount of sunlight entering the building.

Further, a moss bed underneath the porous concrete parking lot will collect and control the water and help eliminate mold and mildew.


Inside the building, energy-efficient air circulation systems eliminate the need for central air, furnaces or air conditioning units.

“Because we’ve built the building so robustly with a thick exterior shell, heating isn’t really a challenge,” said Scott.

A heat recovery ventilation system pulls wasted heat from appliances, lighting and body heat to help circulate the air inside the building and regulate the temperature. The exterior seal around the building also helps regulate the indoor temperature since it greatly reduces the amount of air escaping the building, which means it’s easier to keep a constant temperature, even during the hot summers and old winters.

However, Scott said one of their biggest challenges was figuring out how account for the large service doors that open and close many times throughout the day.

During the two-year planning stage of the project, they ran simulations for an entire year to determine how many times a day the bay doors opened or closed, and how many people entered and left the building.

“There was a lot of planning with building something that is a first,” said Scott. “We learned a lot about how much we could save if we took the time to get it right.”

As well as building a space that is more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient, Scott said he’s also looking forward to the extra-benefits of a passive house construction.

The air is fresher and cleaner, which will improve employee productivity and decrease the likelihood of headaches and air-borne illnesses, like the common cold.

Scott also said the extra-thick exterior walls not only keep it quiet on the inside, but they will also eliminate noise-pollution escaping from the car shops.

“I live my life off a waste-not-want-not kind of philosophy,” said Scott, who hopes this project will set the standard for future dealership builds.

“If we don’t have to consume all of the energy we do now, why should we?”

Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Model it. Showcase it. Train in it.

This is the philosophy behind Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Lab, the college’s latest investment in the alternative energy space.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems,” said Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC. “They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”

The Alternative Energy Lab is a 5,274 square foot virtual and physical space where students can learn about alternative energy systems by experimenting with and researching different technologies, and conducting simulations of working energy systems. Approximately 1,000 students from programs like engineering and instrumentation technology, carpentry and electrician will benefit from the new lab space each year.

“It is a teaching and learning space where students have hands-on learning experience to build familiarity and confidence with alternative energy systems that they will likely to encounter in their careers,” said Ward.

In 2017, Red Deer College received – and later matched – a $5 million grant from the federal government’s Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund, which allowed them to begin construction on the building.

The lab has been designed to simulate systems associated with alternative energy production – such as small-scale solar or combined heat and power units – giving students a chance to install, operate and maintain various systems in a real-world setting.

For example, solar panels installed on the roof of the lab allow students to collect data, compare panel technologies and determine the most efficient, clean energy solutions for communities.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems. They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”
— Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC

According to Ward, the research gathered in the lab will have far-reaching benefits. It will function as an impartial resource for alternative energy information in central Alberta and increase awareness around some of the latest technologies, while using findings to educate and support communities and businesses interested in investing in alternative energy solutions.

“Many of the businesses are looking for alternative energy [technologies] in their own industry, but they aren’t quite sure what it is and what the return on their investment will be,” said Ward, who added they are currently doing a study on the angles of solar panels to optimize for the sun in central Alberta.

Ward said the college has also designed the lab as a flexible space, because technology in the alternative energy space is constantly evolving. Much of the equipment in the lab is on wheels, which gives them the ability to adapt to new systems as they emerge, and ensures any teaching and learning within the lab stays current.

Further, RDC partners with experts in the field to facilitate public forums, as well as education for businesses and members of the community around some of the more sustainable energy options available.

These forums will help answer common questions, such as what happens when snow accumulates on solar panels and the return-on-investment if businesses decide to move away from fossil fuels and into clean energy.

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Initiative

The Alternative Energy Lab is just one component of Red Deer College’s greater Alternative Energy Initiative, which supports a five-year goal to become a net-zero campus powered by sustainable resources.

“We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond, not just for demonstrating these new technologies, but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years,” said Ward.

To reach that goal, the college is tapping into three key technologies.

First, RDC has installed a natural-gas powered combined heat and power unit that produces hot water to generate electricity. The extra heat produced is then tied into the existing hot water distribution system to heat various locations on campus.

Second, the college has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada, according to Ward.

Third, RDC has replaced its low efficiency lighting with high efficiency LED lighting, reducing its electricity consumption.

We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond,
not just for demonstrating these new technologies,
but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years.
— Joel Ward, Red Deer College president and CEO

Through these programs, according to Ward, the college is already offsetting almost 2/3 of its electricity demands, creating its own 9,200-megawatt hours per year in electricity savings, and decreasing its heat and power costs by almost $1 million.

Because RDC often produces more energy than it can use, the college is also looking to incorporate battery storage technology in order to store the energy until it’s needed.

Additionally, the college has begun working with Calgary-based Eco-Growth Environmental to enable them to convert organic waste into biomass fuel, which will assist in powering the campus’s gasification boiler systems.

“We believe it is a moral imperative to support the diversification initiative of our province and the world we are leaving our kids,” said Ward.

“This ongoing conservation strategy not only saves money, but it demonstrates that we are serious about alternative energy and supporting strategies to mitigate climate change.”

Submit your new energy story here.

Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30


Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30

When you step into the Brookfield Symons Gate Passive House in Calgary, Alta., the front door closes with a sound that makes you feel like you have just entered an airtight vault. And then you are greeted by the sounds of silence.

The sounds of the outside world vanish within the heavily insulated walls of this gorgeous, 2,400 square home. You don’t even hear the hum of a fan, because there’s no furnace.

The walls are solid cross-laminated wood, the basement floor feels like it’s heated, and the windows are triple-glazed energy-efficient Austrian models that tilt and swing open.

This is the Tesla of passive homes

“Passive house takes advantage of one of the most abundant resources that Alberta has, which is the sun,” says Doug Owens, senior director of strategic development and regulatory affairs with Brookfield Residential, North America’s sixth largest developer.

This ultra-efficient house uses 90 per cent less energy than a conventional home. An eight-kilowatt solar system on the roof provides nearly all of the energy required to power and heat the home. It has no gas connection.

“And the giant window in the middle is actually the furnace for the house,” says Owens, pointing to the massive, south-facing window that lets the passive solar heat stream in. The window’s R7-rated triple glazing helps trap the warmth inside.

“Air tightness is critical,” says Owens, but even though this home is rated as super airtight–just 0.5 air exchanges per hour–it gets plenty of fresh, clean, filtered air.

Instead of a furnace, the home has a heat recovery ventilator—a fancy name for an air exchange system that recovers 86 per cent of the heat from the outgoing air. Built into the ventilation system is a 3,000-watt electric heater—but it only kicks in on the coldest, darkest days of winter.

This Zender ventilator is actually called an energy recovery ventilator because it also has an active bypass system that stops scavenging warm air on hot summer days, helping cool the home.

When you head downstairs, most people ask if the floor is heated—it has eight inches of insulation beneath it and it feels quite warm. The mechanical room is nearly empty, with just the air exchange system and a super energy efficient electric water heater.

Sixteen-inch walls – No furnace!

This minimalistic system is made possible thanks to out-of-this-world levels of insulation in the home.

“It’s incredibly well insulated,” explains Owens. “The windows are R7 and typical windows are about R2; the wall systems are R45 compared to an effective R18 that is required, and the roof system is R55 compared to a cathedral ceiling which we’re required to have R10.”

Add the thickly insulated basement floor, and you have an unbroken envelope of insulation blanketing the home.

Brookfield viewed the Symons Passive House as a chance to innovate. You could use thick double-stud walls for the insulation, but Dean Guidolin (design manager at Brookfield) says they opted to use solid cross-laminated timber (CLT). The custom walls were built in a special panelization factory in Germany.

Matt Arsenault of Sawback Builders shows the super-insulated 16-inch wall system. Photo David Dodge,

Solid wood walls

Brookfield designer Dean Guidolin says CLT is environmentally friendly. Behind him is the large window that is a key part of the passive house design. Photo David Dodge,

CLT is a great, sustainable resource, says Guidolin. “The wood fiberboard on the outside is a byproduct of the manufacturing process for the CLT. Ultimately you get another good environmental story out of that.”

Matt Arsenault, president of Sawbuck Builders (the company that assembled this unique home) describes the CLT system in detail. “It is four inches thick timber that’s been glued and laminated together and it creates the structure of the wall,” says Arsenault. Then add 9.5 inches of solid wood fiber insulation and another 1.5-inch layer of wood-based insulation and you have 16-inch thick walls that lose almost no heat.

Arsenault says the pre-built walls, floors, and ceilings came in a sea container along with some IKEA-like instructions in German to put it all together.

“I learned a lot about how the energy loss happens in a typical house, through air leakage and things like that. And this method of construction really eliminates a lot of the opportunity for outside cold air to come in and cool down the house,” says Arsenault.

Beautiful research – into an energy efficient future

Master bedroom in the Symonds Passive House. Photo David Dodge,

Owens says Brookfield didn’t aim for an inexpensive passive home, but rather chose to explore new systems and build a truly great home. “I was just thrilled to see people walk in, and when they open it open the door their jaw drops at how beautiful the home is,” says Owens.

Before tackling the project, Owens himself took a course in passive house building. He believes code changes are coming, and homes may have to be net-zero-ready as early as 2030. He wants to keep Brookfield ahead of the trend.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alberta, Canada or North America,” says Owens. “Globally, there’s a conversation around energy efficiency, resiliency, and conservation. There’s a tremendous amount of momentum behind it.”

Push for quality and performance

The components of this solid CLT home were built in a panelization factory. Photo Brookfield Residential

Owens says public attitudes are also pushing the shift. “I think people are starting to think about the environment more.” Where yesterday’s customers may have been fixated on granite counters and hardwood floors, many home buyers today have questions about energy efficiency.

Brookfield’s first passive home was not cheap to build, but Owens says they learned a lot. He believes the move toward prefabrication will help ease labour shortages, increase quality, and meet higher efficiency standards.

“I think that’s really going to drive down prices and then they will become commonplace,” says Owens.

If you think this home would be a sight to see, we have good news: you can see it. “It’s going to open through 2019 for booked tours,” says Owens. “We’re going to try to have it open the first Friday of every month. We want to get as many professionals, industry partners, and government folks through.”

Brookfield clearly aims to be an active force in passive technology.


This story was originally published on Green Energy Futures.

Learn more about Brookfield’s passive house, here.

For more information on energy efficiency in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

4. Landmark Homes.jpg

The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

Welcome to the future, a time when your home is energy self-sufficient and produces almost no utility bills.

Landmark Homes of Edmonton has announced a net-zero home that sells for just under $400,000. This new price point means the goal of making all new homes net-zero by 2030 is now a potential reality.

With plenty of natural light and its own garage, The Pisa is a beautiful 2-storey, 1,230 sq. foot home built to specifications beyond the building code.

Leading a tour of the home, Tanya Rumak, Landmark’s sustainability manager, places her hand on the basement floor and suggests we do the same. It’s warm to the touch.

“Insulation under the floor,” Remak says. Yup, foam insulation encases the home.

“We have an R80 attic insulation. We have an R27 above grade exterior wall, and that includes exterior rigid insulation that minimizes thermal bridging. And in the basement, we have R36, which is a fiberglass and mineral wool combination. And then underneath the basement floor, we have two inches of insulation which is R8,” explains Rumak. All that insulation does a great job of keeping heat and air from leaking.

To provide fresh air the home uses a heat recovery ventilator that recovers 75% of the heat in the air before exhausting stale air outside. A similar system recovers heat from water exiting the home.

As you shower, hot water goes down the drain. The solution is heat-recovering copper tubes that retain up to 15 degrees C from hot water.

The Pisa is so efficient it requires 60% less energy than a code-built home. In fact, it doesn’t even need gas for heating.

“We don’t have gas coming to this home. This is an electrically-powered home that is run off the solar panels on the roof,” says Rumak.

The heat-pump furnace, heat-pump hot water heater and ventilation system all run on solar power. So, no gas bill.

The only bill you get is for power. “For the majority of that year, you may actually even be running on credits, which means you’re not paying anything. But there may be those few months out of the year in the winter where you have a small bill,” says Rumak.

A net-zero home has no drafts, no cold spots, is super quiet and very comfortable. And there is another kind of comfort. “It’s the comfort of mind that I’m talking about, not having to worry about what’s going happen to my bill next month,” says Mananni.

The timing of Landmark’s affordable net-zero couldn’t be better. In Edmonton, work has begun on Blatchford, the city’s carbon-neutral neighbourhood. It will someday be home to 30,000 people.

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

Learn more about this project on the Emissions Reduction Alberta website here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.