By Vanessa Kanji
Technological advancements through the mid to late 20th century have led to a rapid increase in carbon emissions that are having a devastating effect on our atmosphere and the environment as a whole. As seen last week during the United Nation’s Climate Summit, governments and companies alike are scrambling to figure out how to reduce carbon output and develop strategies to adapt as the impacts of our fossil fuelled mess increase. We can’t wait for government and industry to save us though. As individuals we need to take action to lessen our carbon footprints as well, or if possible, eliminate it all together. Is it possible?
Chris Weissflog believes it is, and he is building a Zero carbon home to prove it. He is a warrior scholar, intrigued with how we as individuals and a society can do the right thing. An actionist focused on researching problems and taking action to address them.
Chris served 21 years in the Canadian Forces, holds a Bachelor in Maths and Physics, Masters in Defense Technology from Cranfield University, UK and an MBA from the University of Ottawa.
In 2006 Chris read what he describes as an “earth shattering” report by Sir Nicholas Stern about the economic impacts of climate change that was commissioned by the Gordon Brown UK Labour government. Stern concluded that if rising greenhouse gasses weren’t tackled immediately the impacts would be devastating and on par with the great wars and the depression on the early twentieth century…or worse. Stern concluded his report recommending a government mandate to combat climate change, as a “pro-growth strategy” for economic powers.
“The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth. Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes. Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries. The earlier effective action is taken, the less costly it will be.”
Nicholas Stern, The Stern Review
The prospect of such devastation resonated with Chris. With the threat of economic and environmental disaster on his mind Chris decided to leave the military to set up a business to tackle the threat first hand.
In 2007 EcoGen Energy opened in Kemptville, Ontario, to help people reduce their carbon footprint through solar technology. At first, the company focussed on installing solar hot water systems, and Chris qualified as a heating system designer, working on both domestic and commercial projects alike. Later, he expanded into hydronic radiant floor heating systems, and then later Photovoltaics (PV) solar power systems. The diversification of solutions proved a natural progression in the world of energy conservation and was supported by important government initiatives such as the Ontario Feed In Tariff Program.
Seven years on, Chris and his wife Clare are taking things to the next level. After years of planning, they are integrating everything they have learned about conservation and renewable energy into the design of their new home. The building design incorporates cutting edge technology, geographic positioning and most importantly lifestyle choices such as growing and preserving their own food and driving an electric car.
Chris and Clare’s new home is based on the “hyper-efficient” Passive House techniques developed by German physicist and structural engineer Wolfgang Feist in the late 1980’s. The approach focuses on three areas: conservation, efficiency and the production of renewable energy. The house exceeds current building code standards for insulation, heat recovery and ensures an airtight seal throughout. It uses 1/5 the amount of energy used by a normal house in daily operation, and only costs 10% more to build.
The design uses multifunctional spaces, a “super sized” solar water heating system, massive thermal storage tank, windows that can dim or lighten to allow more sun in and radian floor heating that will warm up if temperatures fall too low drawing heat from a geothermal system that runs into the yard. Electricity generated through a grid tied photovoltaic system will power the LED lighting throughout the home, a pump for the well, geothermal system and circulators within the home and his electric car. In addition to the smart design and high tech solutions the house includes a garden, greenhouse and root cellar to ensure fresh veggies year round and to minimize the need for refrigeration.
Through a partnership with Carleton University, Chris is working on a mass market solution that incorporates the ideas he has incorporated into his home. Through EcoGen and Sustainable North Grenville he is also providing project management and general contractor services helping others develop and build their own low carbon dream homes.
The Weissflogs participated in this years Green Energy Doors Open, offering tours of the first stage of construction and plan to show off their finished home in 2015. If you’d like to learn more or perhaps would like help with your own project please visit http://www.ecogenbuild.ca/and for a more detailed explanation of the conservation and efficiency of the house, seehttp://cog.ca/ottawa/eco-farm-day/eco-farm-day-2013-presentations.