Breaking Earth

Beautiful southern exposure, a view of train trestles set against the river valley and surrounded by a thick patch of deciduous trees. It doesn't take imagination to wonder why this site was chosen for Central Alberta's first contemporary Passive, Net Zero (NZE) home. 

This project will be a designated demo site for Central Albertan's in order to experience what the opportunities are in building an environmentally friendly, off-grid (potentially) Passive House in the Canadian climate.

This home build faces numerous challenges, just like any green builds, but it also has its unique opportunities. First, the elevation and orientation of the footprint create an interesting mix of seclusion and exposure. The site sits within a wide "trench" where the northern field slopes toward the southern valley, but before it descends further, it slants upward forming a hill. This hill is where the house will be built into. A vision of a walkout basement to the North, and ground-level access to the south from the main living areas was manifested through design adaption of another Passive House. Traditionally, one would want to utilize as much southern passive solar radiation in order to reduce heating requirements, but in this case, the basement's access is backward.

However, this doesn't necessarily cause too much of a concern so long as the framed side of the basement is well insulated and the window sizing, glazing and placement is considered. The benefit of this design is the insulating factor of being below ground on the south-side.  Being a basement, natural light is also an important factor, as is the comfort levels of the rooms (two bedrooms, living area, bathroom and laundry) so there must be a careful balance between function and comfort. 

Because the home is surrounded by deciduous trees, passive solar energy gain will be maximized during the wintertime, and the home will be shaded from the sun during the summer. 

A warm October allowed for us to break ground, completing the excavation process and adjusting the site for drainage. As well, we were able to develop the road, which partially winds through 1/4 miles of forested land. 

 Prepping for the foundation 

Prepping for the foundation 

 Foundation complete

Foundation complete

 Putting the finishing touches on the foundation sealant 

Putting the finishing touches on the foundation sealant 

 4" EPS insulation on the interior & exterior frost wall

4" EPS insulation on the interior & exterior frost wall

 West elevation: walkout basement on the left side, ground-level access for main floor living areas on the right (with deck)

West elevation: walkout basement on the left side, ground-level access for main floor living areas on the right (with deck)

 Initial design for north-facing elevation. Adjustments may be needed in order to reduce heat loss through the windows.

Initial design for north-facing elevation. Adjustments may be needed in order to reduce heat loss through the windows.

 Framing the foundation

Framing the foundation

The foundation pour came next, as did meticulous waterproofing to ensure all water wicked away from the foundation wall by using dimpled membrane.

 Dimple wrap installation complete

Dimple wrap installation complete

Next, 4" rigid insulation (Halo Subterra) was installed on the interior of the frost wall with an additional 2" layer on the exterior frost wall. The foundation contractor installed 2" insulation already, so we just beefed it up a bit. This was done to ensure we have very little thermal bridges, removing the chances of heat loss from the interior. 

4" of rigid insulation will be installed onto the interior of the foundation walls once the weather gets a bit warmer, with 5" under the basement slab. 

 

A septic tank was installed, as were lines for water, sewage and electricity (dug from the house to the garage, which will hold the solar system components: battery packs, inverter, and back up diesel generator). 

EnerGuide modelling is coming down the pipes in order to ensure the best decisions are being made with regard to insulation options, windows specs, and heating types. 

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 Looking out from the field to the job site, facing south

Looking out from the field to the job site, facing south