Hydro holiday: Minto unveils net-zero energy townhouses in Kanata

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The residents of four newly built Ottawa townhouses will be a bit of an enviable position – they won’t have any energy costs.

By Jacob Serebrin

The four townhouses in Kanata, unveiled by developer the Minto Group on Thursday, are the first net-zero energy townhouses in the Ottawa area.

“Effectively, a net-zero home is one that produces as much energy as it consumes,” says Derek Hickson, the manager of sustainable developments at Minto.

He says they’re able to accomplish net-zero energy consumption through a mixture of energy savings and energy production.

“We put a lot of technology into the home to reduce the consumption, so better mechanical equipment, much better walls, much better attic insulation and more energy-efficient lights, appliances and that sort of thing,” Mr. Hickson says.

The houses also have “solar panels on the back that produce energy, and over the course of the year those panels will produce as much energy as the home uses,” he says.

He says Minto has been working with partners such as Natural Resources Canada and insulation maker Owens Corning to bring down the cost of net-zero energy homes.

Since Minto built its first net-zero energy home almost a decade ago, he says the cost has dropped by more than half and he expects that trend to continue.

“The trend is for these to get more and more cost-effective, and then if you compare that to utility prices continuing to increase, we’re hitting a really nice cross-point now where these will become advantageous for a homeowner to have,” he says.

The smallest of the four Kanata townhouses is selling for $352,900.

“The plan is to sell them and then monitor the homeowners’ feedback,” he says, “so that we can iterate one more time.”

Mr. Hickson says it’s not just getting cheaper to build these sorts of homes, it’s also getting easier.

“The technology has come such a long way,” he says.

Heat pumps have improved and are increasingly built for the cold winters of Canada.

“That can really save you quite a bit of energy,” he says.

Solar panels are also coming down in price, he adds. For more than a decade, prices have fallen between 10 and 15 per cent every year.

There are other benefits to living in a net-zero energy home as well, Mr. Hickson says.

“Because more extra attention to detail has been put into the construction, you get a lot of comfort benefits,” he says. “You don’t get cold spots, it’s easier to heat and cool, so you get more uniform temperatures across the home. So all in all, it’s a better home.”

For Minto, building net-zero energy homes is a way to stay on top of a growing trend.

“Minto has always prided itself on both being a leader and being aware of the environmental impact of our product, and this is where the industry is going, there’s no question in our mind,” Mr. Hickson says. “For us, it’s about staying ahead of the curve, learning everything we can, and being proactive to the market rather than being reactive.”