I’ve always been interested in sustainable technologies. The idea of using free, sustainable, readily available resources to power your own home fascinated me ever since my grade 9 science fair project on Wind Turbines. In my adolescent idealized naivety it seemed like the ultimate no brainer – ‘free energy’ that also helps the environment.
My interest only gained more momentum as my husband and I became homeowners. Trying to have our hard earned dollar stretch as far as possible meant to either make more money or reduce our expenses. With 3 young children at home, there is never enough hours in the day to work more, so saving was always a priority. Utility bills being such a necessary evil, they were the bane of my penny pinching existence. Eating up such a large portion of my budget but also mostly unescapable. When we were finally able to purchase our current home in 2018, I was giddily day dreaming about paint colors and furniture placement. Yet a another quiet, reserved goal was developing in the back of my mind; of going solar… even if I didn’t know how or when.
Fast forward to 2020 when my then 7 year old son is at home studying about climate change and the melting ice caps. His large empathetic heart was breaking for the adorable polar bears that were losing their homes. He would ask me what steps our family was doing to save the polar bears with such earnest and innocence. Beyond the rhetoric I was taught as a student in the 90s about reduce, reuse, recycle – I was guilty of not having have much of an answer for him. So armed with some basic concepts I acquired from my addiction to home renovation shows, I dove into the internet. With the little self taught “googled” information I had, I encouraged my parents to contact a contractor to install Aerobarrier on a home I was helping renovate for them. Aerobarrier is product that increases the air tightness of ones house by releasing a sealant into the air of a pressurized building to fill all the tiny and sometimes hidden holes in the walls that separate the inside from the outside. Given that the residence was unoccupied at the time during renovations – it seemed like no time like the present to give it a try. Not only to protect their investment, but to help reduce their future electricity bills.
When the contractors from Aerobarrier Alberta showed up, I was excited and enthusiastically enamored. As primarily a DIY’er myself, watching how professionals did their jobs “the professional way” impressed me. Only to be topped by the fact that the company owner and project lead onsite a was fellow a woman – a rarity that I hadn’t experienced within the home building world up until this point. During an Aerobarrier install, there is a lot of waiting around while the pressurized sealant does its job of sealing the home. This granted me lots of time to hang off of every word this Construction gladiatrices spoke. Amelie was about to install Aerobarrier on her own newly purchased home as a part of a case study she was developing for Net Zero retrofits of established homes. I offered her my photography and videography services, mainly as a ruse to be able to observe the whole process first hand. To my surprise she eagerly accepted my offer.
This fluke introduction that was the pure definition of happenstance evolved to me following Amelie, her team and her own home’s transformation over the next 18 months. I became a sustainability devotee. I attended industry conferences, award ceremonies, and accepted invitation to privately tour SAIT’s building sciences lab. I applied for and won a grant to turn Amelie’s footage into a documentary with Telus STORYHIVE. I was talking to everyone that would accommodate my unquenchable obsession with all things home sustainability, all while eyeing up my own home’s potential.
It wasn’t until February of this year when just weeks before spring, Alberta hurled one last deep freeze over our community. Our orginal 1980’s natural gas furnace had finally seen it’s last battle against old man winter, and seized. That was the catalyst we needed to turn all of these sustainability ideas and second hand knowledge into an actionable plan. I called Amelie who is an distinguished Building Envelope Scientist in her own right on top of all of her entrepreneurial pursuits. I pleaded for her advice and asked for her help. She was more then generous to steer me to the right introductions as I reached out to Geothermal teams, HVAC specialists, Solar Installers, and our Utility suppliers. With an approved Greener homes loan application, and newly acquired funds gained from refinancing our mortgage – there was nothing stopping us from attempting to do what seemed like a distant unrealistic dream just 5 years earlier.
We are going to renovate this home to as close to Net Zero as possible. We aim to completely disconnect from the Natural Gas grid and offset or reduce as much of our electricity usage as possible. Armed with not much more then an internet connection and a passion, I’m the primary project manager. I’m coordinating all of the individual sub contractors, permits, utility providers, all on my own aside from many many reassuring e-mails with Amelie.
With the Live Net Zero Challenge you get to follow along with me, a typical middle class Canadian home owner, as I tackle the biggest renovation of my life. Along the way maybe you’ll find your own inspiration to take on your own sustainability challenge yourself.