The Casa Verde Project - Thinking About Greening Your Home?

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Never has there been an easier time to consider making environmentally friendly products and choices part of your life than now. These are exciting times for the industry, and with new technology being developed exponentially, what was once a new frontier being explored as possibilities, green energy has now become mainstream with many options available to the every-day consumer.

Rudy Reger, owner and founder of Energy Smart Canada in Lethbridge since 1988, has always been in the forefront introducing environmentally friendly products to Southern Alberta. This family owned company includes his wife, Stella, with two of their daughters, Jackie and Alana also working alongside. Growing up in Germany, Rudy was familiar with energy-efficient, products that have been used for decades in Europe. He began in Lethbridge with a small shop that introduced on-demand hot water heaters and low-flush toilets while gradually expanding to include geo-thermal heating and air-conditioning as well as solar power. A large part of his company also developed as he took on becoming a dealer for Arctic Spas, which are in line with his energy efficient mandate. His company has won “Dealer of the Year” for several years with Arctic Spas, due large in part to his overall passion for energy efficiency.

It’s been a long journey for Rudy, as most people until recently, had no knowledge of the benefits of this technology and it was very foreign to them. It’s Rudy’s passion and belief in lowering our carbon footprint that kept him going through the early years and he has never given up on the idea that sustainable technology would become something people would eventually embrace.  That day is now, and Rudy is once again on the forefront of this cutting-edge technology with the building of Lethbridge’s first net-zero, off-grid home. This home is the culmination of over 20 years of research and development and a great source of pride for the Reger family.

In this article, we will explore what the terms net zero and off grid mean and follow the construction process of Casa Verde (Spanish for “green home”), the name the Regers have given this exciting project and future home.

These terms have become more common in recent years, but what does it mean to be “off-grid” or “net zero”?  Net-zero means that in a one-year term, a home produces the same amount or more energy than consumed. Literally, you “net” zero usage electric when balanced at the end of the year with the grid electric power. Now, how do you qualify a zero energy building? By definition, every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity you import to the site has to be offset by an equal number of kilowatt-hours produced on-site and exported to the grid. Likewise, if you burn natural gas on-site for heat, for example, all the BTUs you burn would have to be offset with an equivalent number of BTUs produced in the renewable energy production system on-site. There is no means of offsetting BTU’s at this time to “net zero”, however, a home isn’t considered net zero if there is a gas line running to the house.

 Although to some, imagining “off-grid” living conjures a picture of people moving to the mountains away from it all and living off the land, off-grid simply means there is no grid used at all, and no balancing with grid power at the end of the year. The home is equipped with batteries that store energy generated by solar panels with this energy being used to power the home, rather than that power coming from “grid” power lines.

After nearly 20 years of selling renewable energy products, Rudy and Stella decided to go all in and showcase the variety of product they sell and install by building their own home that will feature most every aspect of green technology available to date. This exciting project will provide a venue, essentially an off-site showroom, for people to come view and see first hand
how these products work synergistically to create a healthy, sustainable, functional and beautiful environment to live in.

The ultimate “green home” goes far beyond simply becoming net zero. Every aspect of this home strives to use the most energy efficient means possible from the ground up.

For nearly 14 years, Rudy and Stella have had geothermal in their current home rather than natural gas, and their family has followed suit. “Two of my daughters built new houses, both with geothermal, solar and many of the products we offer. My brother built a house implementing geothermal and solar as well. I’ve convinced most of my friends and family this is the way to go’ Rudy says.  Besides being clean energy, with geothermal, there is no air conditioner or furnace noise; only quiet, comfortable breathable surroundings.

Geothermal energy is the heat from the earth. Reservoirs of hot water can be tapped to generate electricity or to heat and cool buildings directly. Geothermal energy has been used for thousands of years in some countries for cooking and heating. It is simply power derived from the Earth's internal heat.

Rudy shares,“To me, geothermal is the best way of heating and cooling the house. I wouldn’t want a house without it. I believe it’s nicer, safer, better and more economical way to operate.”

Casa Verde’s walls are being built using a special process that has never been done before. This method of construction will provide an R50 rating, a rating previously unheard of in the industry. In fact, most industry wall charts only display up to an R30 rating. For colder climates, an attic requires a minimum of an R-49 rating. Casa Verde will have a R100 rating, over twice the required amount. These wall structures are part of what is termed “the envelope”, or air barrier, one of the most important elements in achieving net.

  Air sealing a home is generally considered the most cost-effective way to reduce heating and cooling energy use. It also improves comfort and indoor air quality. Achieving a high level of air tightness requires more than just filling visible holes. High-performance homes have a continuous air barrier. The key word here is continuous.
House orientation, or the way in which the house faces is also very important in order help maximize the sun’s energy, and. Casa Verde will have windows on the south side for passive solar.

The house will be built beyond traditional standards and will include a pond in the backyard for geothermal heating and cooling purposes and for when the house goes off-grid.

“We’re going to utilize the pond for drinking water and will purify our own water. It will also be used for heating and cooling. With geothermal, we can achieve in-floor heating, forced air and air conditioner all on one unit,” Rudy says, adding that the in-floor heating will be in the garage and the forced air will be used for the rest of the house.

As for the rest of the house’s gizmos and gadgets, Rudy explains they will be using the same heat pump ground source to preheat the domestic water, as well as an air source water heater from Germany, which is the most efficient way of heating domestic water. For water heating, there will be virtually no cost to run.

Casa Verde will also have an air source solar panel for the daytime heater to heat the mechanical room and circulate the house, plus an air source solar panel into the garage.

The house will also have grey water heat recovery. Every time somebody showers, all the heat that normally goes into the sewer can be captured and sent back into the tank with this system.

As for the rest of the house, the highest standard and most efficient of appliances will be used, and LED lights will be installed throughout the home. Each room in the house will be tracked for power consumption. The tracking will determine how much power is consumed by each appliance in the house. “I will know how much each appliance will cost to run,” Rudy says.

Because there won’t be any gas present in the new home, Rudy and Stella will also be using a wood pellet barbecue instead of a gas barbecue outdoors.

“The hook-ups we are going to have are power at the moment. To call it off-grid ready, means we’re going to have some certain components already pre-done, so in the future we can be off-grid when ready.

Rudy and Stella also drive electric cars, which will be charged via solar power. “The whole house will have enough solar production at the end of the year we will be producing more energy than we consume. That’s why we call it net-zero: because there’s no gas, no water hook-up, no phone line hook-up — there’s nothing hooked up to the building except power for now,” he said.
Right now, the struggle of going off-grid is purchasing an affordable battery.  Batteries are cost prohibitive, but once the battery packs become affordable, Rudy and Stella will say goodbye to their monthly power bill, as well.

“Our goal is to invest the money now and never worry about it again. Beyond the benefits of a cleaner more environmentally sound home, there will be no worries about fluctuating energy bills. I would rather have a smaller house and no utilities, than a bigger house to show and have utilities. The two-bedroom house will have no basement — its measurements will include a 1,200 square foot main floor and a 1,400 square foot second floor, which is being built above the garage.’ Rudy says.

“The garage is just about as big as the house. You have to have some room for your toys,” Rudy joked. “For me, it’s more about functionality, comfort and something steady.”

“With geothermal we can accomplish a very steady, non- fluctuating temperature in the house, summer or winter. It’s more natural and there’s no burner inside. With no gas, there is no risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning, therefore no need for carbon-monoxide detectors in the home. If you go with geothermal, the solar can do your heating and cooling”.

Rudy adds that when possible, they purchase products and services locally, which in turn takes less travel and has less of an environmental impact as well as supports the local economy and community. Not only has Energy Smart Canada helped local residents with their renewable energy needs, the business has also been involved in helping out the community in various ways including working with Bridges of Hope, Woods Homes and the local business pitches in around the city by donating to numerous causes and events.

Rudy believes part of being a successful business is giving back to the community.
“We like to be part of that,” he says. “The business is very important for me, but I always believe being involved in the community is more important than just the money or the business. We’ve been very blessed with having a lot of good people supporting us.”
Permit-wise, similar to building any house, Casa Verde needs to have installations CSA approved, but no other special permits are required.

Once nestled into the new home, Rudy and Stella plan to take baby steps to go off-grid. One approach they will be considering is to take appliances off power one at a time.

Casa Verde will not be the first net-zero house in Lethbridge, but it will be the first net-zero home for Rudy and Stella, and the first home scheduled to go beyond net-zero to become off-grid.

Once the home is completed, Casa Verde will be on display as a show home for two years. Appointments can be set up for those interested in viewing the new home once its finished, which is scheduled this September. The show home process will allow Rudy and other stakeholders to monitor the home, collect data and follow how the home functions.

Rudy invites southern Albertans to schedule appointments to check out their new home, or just to visit Energy Smart Canada to chat about new and innovative renewable energy products on the market. One thing is for sure, you will always find Rudy shopping the world in order to bring Southern Alberta the best and most innovative ideas in renewable technology. He enjoys sharing his passion for a greener more sustainable future, and it is most rewarding to him when he can assist others on their way to creating a home environment that helps make their lives better and more enjoyable.