Home Prices in Edmonton Edge Up

December 6th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

By Steve Randall 06 Dec 2016

Home prices for most property types in Edmonton continued higher in November even as inventory increased.

The average monthly selling price increased from a year earlier by 2.52 per cent to $373,174 for all property types with duplexes/rowhouses gaining 6.39 per cent to $353,818.

Single-family homes gained 1.76 per cent to $440,496 while condos saw a slight drop in average selling price to $241,569.

The gains in average selling prices reflect increased sales in high-end homes and overall sales for the market were down 11.41 per cent compared to November 2015.

While inventory was higher year-over-year, it declined by 10 per cent from October and Realtors Association of Edmonton chair Steve Sedgwick said “We expect to see the normal seasonal decline during the slower winter months as we head into 2017.”

Market Remains Stable Amidst Expected Seasonal “Dip”

November 23rd, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

By RE/MAX Edmonton
Economic forecasts are rampant, particularly in industry driven regions like Alberta, yet amidst the highs and lows we have seen the Edmonton real estate market remains remarkably steadfast amidst the unrest. Upon review of recent fall statistics, the EREB is cited as noting the market to be “stable” due to only “marginal dips in prices and unit sales”. This resiliency is surely a welcome reprieve for buyers and sellers trying to determine if they can weather the storm, so to speak.

Some words of assurance come to use from REALTORS® Association of Edmonton chair Steve Sedgwick,

“Alberta’s economy has been under enormous pressure for some time, but the residential real estate market in the Edmonton Census Metropolitan Area continues to hold. Prices and unit sales for all residential homes are consistent with last year, down less than 1% and 2% respectively,”

Sale prices on average have dropped only a marginal 4% in month over month comparisons but they key comparison factor, year over year statistics, remain the same as fall of 2015, levelling out at $369, 956. Single family homes reflected an identical 4% month over month percentage drop averaging out at $434, 362 (compared to last year’s $450, 362), while EREB figures show a year over year decrease of “less than 1%”. Condo prices show the same negligible year over year consistency, and a month over month decrease of only 2% to $251, 526. Finally, in the rowhouse/duplex category, residences averaged out at $344, 377 which is a year over year decrease of just 2%, and a 1% month over month drop.

A small dip was seen across residence categories in unit sales figures, with a month end total of 1,433 sales. This total reflects a 5% and 2% decrease month over month and year over year, respectively. More specifically, this total breaks down to 861 single family homes sold, 406 condominium units, and 136 duplex/rowhouses. Two categories showed a small decline in total overall sales from the year previous; a 3% drop for single family homes, 6% for condominiums. However, duplex/rowhouses which have been a popular style particularly in the 2015/2016 financial cycle showed a year over year increase of 11%.

In terms of listings, the MLS system saw 7908 available properties by month end, a small 2% decline from the previous month’s total of 8,048. Inventory this time last year fell to 7227 MLS properties, meaning we have seen a 9.4% inventory increase.

Sedgwick once again assuages buyers and sellers alike, explain how very expected these small seasonal lulls are seen to be,

“While this is one of the most active times of the year, we are seeing both listings and sales tapering off as we move into the fall months. This is standard in our local real estate cycle,” said Sedgwick. “While unit sales for condos have been impacted the most, prices remain stable. This is thanks in part to the continuing trend of unit sales of over $750,000 that are keeping average sales price of condos elevated by almost 3%.”

Finally, the days on market factor is reported by the EREB as “consistent” in year over year review. Average days on market was about 55, the same as this time last year, and one day less in month over month comparisons. Single family homes came in at 49 days, condominiums at 62 days, and duplex/rowhouses leveled out at 56 days.

50 Reasons Why Everyone Should Want More Walkable Streets

September 14th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

From making you live longer to making cities more resilient: If you want a reason to make your city more walkable, it’s in here.

As more cities try to improve walkability—from car-free “superblocks” in Barcelona to heat-protected walkways in Dubai—a new report outlines the reasons behind the shift, the actions that cities can take to move away from a car-centric world, and why walkability matters.

If someone shifts from a long commute to a walk, their happiness increases as much as if they’d fallen in love.
“The benefits of walkability are all interconnected,” says James Francisco, an urban designer and planner at Arup, the global engineering firm that created the report. “Maybe you want your local business to be enhanced by more foot traffic. But by having that benefit, other benefits are integrated. Not only do you get the economic vitality, but you get the social benefits—so people are out and having conversations and connecting—and then you get the health benefits.” A single intervention can also lead to environmental and political benefits.

The report sifted through dozens of studies to quantify 50 benefits of walkability in cities.

1. It helps people live longer
Inactivity is the fourth leading cause of mortality around the world; physical activity dropped 32% in the last four decades in the U.S., and 45% in less than two decades in China. For people over 60, walking just 15 minutes a day can reduce the risk of dying by 22%.

2. It helps people lose weight
A 30-minute walk can burn 100 calories; for every 12 blocks or so walked a day, your risk of obesity drops 4.8%.

3. It reduces the risk of chronic disease
Regular walking may reduce the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases.

4. It makes people happier
Someone with a one-hour commute in a car needs to earn 40% more to be as happy as someone with a short walk to work. On the other hand, researchers found that if someone shifts from a long commute to a walk, their happiness increases as much as if they’d fallen in love. People who walk 8.6 minutes a day are 33% more likely to report better mental health.

People who walk 8.6 minutes a day are 33% more likely to report better mental health.

5. It improves traffic safety
More than 270,000 pedestrians are killed around the world every year; better street design, and policies that reduce speed, can obviously help reduce the risk of crashes. Just shortening a long crosswalk can reduce the risk of pedestrian deaths 6%.

6. It brings back “eyes on the street”
While some countries invest in security cameras for streets—like the U.K., with 5.9 million cameras in public spaces—encouraging more people to walk is a cheaper way of increasing surveillance and making streets feel safer.

7. It reduces crime in other ways
Making streets more pleasant for walking—reducing trash, for example, or enforcing the speed limit—also has the added benefit of reducing crime. In one Kansas City neighborhood, crime dropped 74% after some streets went car-free on weekends.

8. It makes neighborhoods more vibrant
The same features that make streets more walkable, like a safer and more attractive design, make people want to spend more time in them generally, bringing vibrancy back to neighborhoods.

9. It enhances the “sense of place”
Spending time walking through a neighborhood, rather than driving, helps people have a better sense of what makes it unique—and more likely to want to help take care of it.

10. It’s a driver for creativity
If a neighborhood is walkable, it’s more likely to become home to public street art and open-air events; conversely, public art and cultural events can help draw people to streets where they might not have walked before.

In one Kansas City neighborhood, crime dropped 74% after some streets went car-free on weekends.

11. It’s universally accessible
While not everyone can afford a car or knows how to drive, walking is universally accessible, and even those who take the subway or drive also walk at some points during the day. The report makes the point that designing pedestrian infrastructure for those who are less mobile also helps make the experience of walking better for everyone.

12. It fosters social interaction
Walkable streets bring people together who might not otherwise meet. In a classic 1960s study, people who lived on streets with more car traffic were less likely to know their neighbors.

13. It strengthens community identity
As people interact more on streets, that also builds a sense of community. In Ireland, one study found that people in walkable neighborhoods had 80% more “social capital” than those living in car-dependant areas.

14. It connects people across generations
In the U.S., millennials prefer walking to driving by a 12% margin. In some areas, the elderly are also more likely to walk or take public transit. Making streets more walkable helps bring people of all ages—including children—together.

15. It builds inclusiveness
Traffic infrastructure, such as highways, can physically separate and segregate neighborhoods; better design for walkability makes the whole city more accessible to everyone. For the lowest-income people, who might lose a job if their car breaks down, it can help build a social safety net.

Biking and walking provide an estimated return on investment of $11.80 for every $1 invested.
16. It boosts the economy
Making neighborhoods more walkable increases the number of people who shop there. Pedestrians may spend as much as 65% more than drivers. It also boosts employment; in Dublin, a redesigned pedestrian-friendly neighborhood led to a 300% increase in employment. Overall, biking and walking provide an estimated return on investment of $11.80 for every $1 invested.

17. It helps local businesses
In Brooklyn, redesigning a parking lot into a pedestrian plaza boosted retail sales 172%. People who visit street markets in a city are also more likely to shop at stores nearby. The less that people drive, the more money they also have available to spend locally; an economist estimates that because people in Portland, Oregon, drive 20% less than the rest of the country, they save more than $1 billion, and much of that goes back to local businesses.

18. It helps make people more creative and productive
Research suggests that walking boosts creative output an average of 60%. You’re also more likely to be productive, improve memory, and make better decisions after exercise. Walking during work also helps: One internal study at a company found that people felt more energetic, focused, and engaged after walking meetings.

19. It improves a city’s brand and identity
Making a city more walkable and liveable can also give it a stronger identity, and make people want to visit. Barcelona, which has worked on improving public spaces and walkability since the 1980s, has seen its number of annual visitors grow 335% over the last two decades.

20. It increases tourism
For tourists, walking is one of the best ways to experience a city, and improving walkability makes more people interested in visiting. In London, Trafalgar Square saw a 300% increase in visitors after pedestrianizing.

21. It encourages more investment
After cities invest in walkable public space, it can encourage more investment in the same area. The High Line in New York led to $2 billion in private investment in the neighborhood around the park.

22. It attracts the creative class
Skilled professionals tend to migrate to walkable areas; the most walkable neighborhoods have much higher GDPs per capita, and more college graduates.

Pedestrianizing a street can make home values go up $82 a square foot.

23. It increases land and property values
When neighborhoods become safer, more accessible, and more liveable, property values rise. Pedestrianizing a street can make home values go up $82 a square foot. It’s also good for landlords, if not tenants: Rents can rise $300 per month.

24. It activates the street facade
Walkable neighborhoods are less likely to have a lot of vacant storefronts. In New York City, expanding the pedestrian space in Union Square reduced commercial vacancies 49%.

25. It shrinks the cost of traffic congestion
The more people walk and the fewer people are stuck in traffic on roads, the more that benefits the economy. In the Bay Area, for example, businesses lose $2 billion a year because employees are stuck in gridlock.

26. It saves money on construction and maintenance
While building and maintaining roads is expensive—the U.S. needs an estimated $3.6 trillion by 2020 to repair existing infrastructure—sidewalks are more affordable. Investing in sidewalks also brings health and air quality benefits worth twice as much as the cost of construction.

27. It reduces health care costs
Inactivity leads to huge health care costs. The U.S. spends $190 billion on obesity-related illnesses alone.

28. It decreases dependency on nonrenewable resources
Experts estimate that the world may only have 56 years worth of oil left; cars waste most of the gas they use. Walking, by contrast, can actually generate energy if cities install energy-harvesting sidewalk tiles.

29. It minimizes land use
Sidewalks and bike paths are more compact than roads; they also enable people to easily live in denser neighborhoods, unlike traditional car-dependant suburbs.

30. It reduces air pollution
On a single car-free day in 2015, Paris cut smog by 40% in parts of the city. Over the long term, pedestrianization can improve health as the air grows cleaner, and can help cut a city’s carbon footprint.

31. It cuts ambient noise
With fewer people driving, cities get quieter. On Paris’s first car-free day, sound levels on main roads dropped three decibels. Plants and trees—which make streets more walkable—also reduce ambient noise.

32. It helps improve urban microclimates
While paved roads contribute to the urban heat island effect, making cities hotter, shaded, plant-lined sidewalks can help cool neighborhoods down from 9 to 35 degrees.

Plant-lined sidewalks can help cool neighborhoods down from 9 to 35 degrees.
33. It can improve water management
Sidewalks designed with permeable surfaces can help suck up water during heavy rain, reducing flooding.

34. It makes cities more beautiful
Roads and sidewalks typically make up the majority of public space in cities; in Chicago, for example, they make up 70%. Making public space more walkable—with landscaping, public art, and other interventions—also makes it more attractive than a typical road.

35. It increases active use of space
In walkable neighborhoods, people are also more likely to make use of parks and public squares, and other outdoor spaces. In Copenhagen, as the city became more pedestrian-friendly over the last few decades, the number of people sitting in squares and otherwise making use of city space tripled.

36. It makes better use of space
Streets that are redesigned to become more walkable also tend to incorporate underutilized space next to roads. In New York, one study found 700 miles of underused public space under elevated structures.

37. It encourages people to drive less
When Copenhagen pedestrianized its main street, foot traffic increased 35% in the first year. In many cities, a large number of trips are only a short distance, and better design makes it more likely that people will prefer to walk or bike.

38. It also promotes public transit
People using a subway or bus to commute to work have to get there from their home—and a better walk makes it more likely that they’ll want to use public transit instead of driving.

39. It increases permeability
Walkability can also make cities more “permeable,” or easier to move around, creating a walking network that may even be easier to use than driving.

40. It bridges barriers
Pedestrian infrastructure can reconnect parts of the city that may have been disconnected by older infrastructure. In Rotterdam, a crowdfunded pedestrian bridge stretches over a busy road and old train tracks.

41. It makes cities more competitive
Walkability is directly connected to liveability. When Melbourne redesigned its center for pedestrians, it saw an 830% increase in residents, and it was recognized as The Economist’s “world’s most liveable city” five years in a row.

42. It builds political support
After the mayor of the Spanish city of Pontevedra decided to go car-free in 1999, the public loved him: He’s now in his fifth term.

Every added 10 minutes of commuting cuts community involvement 10%.
43. It builds engagement
As people spend more time outside in their neighborhoods, they’re more likely to feel attached, and to engage in improving the city in general. Crowdfunded public projects are growing in many cities.

44. It encourages more stakeholders to participate
Every added 10 minutes of commuting cuts community involvement 10%. In L.A., where commuters waste 64 hours a year in traffic, the city is building more participation by helping neighbors transform underused roads into pedestrian spaces.

45. It inspires civic responsibility
Walkability brings people together with other community members, which increases a sense of responsibility. Mexico City’s self-appointed pedestrian “superhero,” who defends pedestrians on city streets, helped build political support for the city’s new commitment to zero traffic deaths.

46. It promotes sustainable behaviors
In Canada, a study found that if people drove one less day a week, it could reduce 3.8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. As cities become more walkable, it can enable a cultural shift away from driving. Though the report doesn’t mention it, taking one sustainable action can also lead people to take others.

If people drove one less day a week, it could reduce 3.8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.
47. It helps make cities more resilient
If people can easily walk, a breakdown in mass transit, or a gas shortage, is less of a problem. Walkability makes cities more resilient in disasters.

48. It’s a tool for urban regeneration
Making neighborhoods more walkable can spark urban regeneration. In Madrid, a walkable park along the river led to investment in new sports areas, plazas, cafes, and the renovation of historic landmarks.

49. It allows for flexible micro-solutions
A car-free or walkable street is more likely to support pop-up interventions and other cheap, simple, DIY solutions.

50. It supports cultural heritage
Pedestrianization around a cultural landmark can increase the number of people who visit, and help support efforts for preservation. As Beijing quickly modernized, the city decided to pedestrianize several ancient, narrow streets—bringing new visitors and saving part of the city that otherwise might have disappeared.

Edmonton’s Gren Living Guide

June 6th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

Green Living Guide cover page

There are many ways we can help lessen our impact on the environment.

The Green Living Guide is a companion book to the Green Home Guide and features lifestyle changes to help you green your everyday life at home, at work and in the community.
Whether you own or rent, and whether you live in a house or an apartment, you’ll find some great tips that you can use to help reduce your environmental impact and maybe even save some money.
Get the complete Green Living Guide, or check out the sections that interest you.
Want to know how your carbon footprint rates? Check out the  Global Footprint Network.

Reality check: Keep on truckin’ – but hire a mover

February 5th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

ColumnistsFeb 3, 2016 0
By Larry Kruger

Back in the day you and your buddies would think nothing of moving your lava lamp and all your worldly goods on a weekend. At that time you mirrored the Bob Seger song playing in the background. You “felt like a million, felt like number one, in the height of summer you never felt so strong, like a rock.”

Moving was done in an afternoon, in between a few pints and a lot of laughs. Well, time keeps trucking on and although in your mind you are still living in the glory days, the old rock may be getting a little weathered.

Having been in the moving business for more than 30 years, I am still amazed at the number of folks my age or older who want to move their own stuff. When I hear that they are thinking of moving themselves I always feel it’s time for an intervention. The reality is, back then, you hadn’t yet amassed the stuff you have now and your back, knees and shoulders are not in the same condition they were 20 or 30 plus years ago.

Today, when you can finally afford a mover, it is just not worth doing it on your own.

Reality check #1: Your stuff is heavy

Go over and grab the end of the sofa and give it a controlled slow lift, using your legs, keeping your back straight and, oh yeah, I almost forgot, be sure to drop it before you hear a pop. Now take a look around your home. The average weight of household goods in a three-bedroom home weighs in the area of 8,000 to 10,000 lbs. Yes, four or five tons. Your stuff weighs about the same as an African bull elephant. If you’re reading this Jane, tell Tarzan there is more to this than he may remember.

Reality check #2: You wouldn’t do this at the gym

Still want to eat that elephant? Let’s break it down into bite-size pieces. That weekend move you are thinking about doing equates into 100 squats using 100 lbs. to load the truck then you have to offload, so take that to 200 reps. Think about it – 200 dead lift reps using 100 lbs. (Give that a go at the gym next Saturday just to get limbered up a little, pre-move.)

Reality check #3: It’s not just lifting

Add a little cardio. Add in a 20-yard carry taking the goods out to the truck (if you can get the truck to the door). Now double that to offload (let’s round it down) to around 5,000 plus yard carry, so call it two miles or 3.22 km. It’s not over yet. Add an incline – yes, there is a walk board at the end or beginning of every trip. To put it in perspective, strap on a 50 lb. weight and take a two mile walk going uphill and downhill every 15 yards. How are the old knees these days?

Reality check #4: Who’s going to drive the truck?

Can you drive the truck? If not, is a day with your brother-in-law or old buddy telling you how to lift things really worth it? (The guy driving the truck instantly graduates to resident expert.) You will also owe everyone who helps or who just shows up and drinks your beer and eats your pizza. Besides, what impression do you make with your new neighbours when you roll up to your new digs looking like the Beverly Hillbillies?

There is a time in your life when moving yourself was just fine and then there is now. When selling your home and right sizing I would suggest you do a reality check, get some moving estimates in advance and budget that service into the selling or buying cost.

Keep on trucking but get someone else to do the heavy lifting. It is well worth it.

Green Energy Futures

January 27th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

Have you heard the one about how renewables are too expensive and that they always need subsidies? Well, both wind and solar now compete with fossil fuel electricity generation purely on price, without subsidies.

But wind and solar aren’t just competitive and affordable options for generating electricity — in Alberta they’re actually driving prices down for consumers.

A study by our colleagues at the Pembina Institute confirms a direct relationship between wind and solar production and lower prices for consumers. And it’s all due to a couple of quirks in how Alberta’s electricity market is designed.

Solar subsidy

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet.
Alberta has the only deregulated electricity market in the country. In this market the wholesale price fluctuates hourly depending on supply and demand. Since the highest demand for power is during the day when people are working, the price for electricity is highest exactly when solar panels are producing electricity.

* The Landmark Group of Builders unveiled their 120-kilowatt solar PV array in Edmonton on Thursday, August 28. The 510 solar panels are on the roof and installed as awnings. Kyle Kasawski is the general manager of Landmark Power Solar and was key to getting this project done.
The Landmark Group of Builders unveiled their 120-kilowatt solar PV array in Edmonton on Thursday, August 28. The 510 solar panels are on the roof and installed as awnings. Kyle Kasawski is the general manager of Landmark Power Solar and was key to getting this project done.
But due to Alberta’s micro-generator regulation, small microgenerators (those producing less than 150 kilowatts) get the retail price for any electricity they produce. That retail price is lower than the daytime wholesale price and as a result small solar generators have to sell their electricity at a discounted price.

That imbalance means people with solar panels on their roof are selling their electricity with anywhere from a 1.5¢/kWh to a 6¢/kWh discount.

To learn more we talked to Kyle Kasawski, the general manager of Landmark Power Solar. Landmark is an innovative homebuilder that we’ve featured on our series before and Kyle has been selling solar systems since 2002. They’re figuring out how to mass-produce net-zero homes, and Landmark itself has installed solar panels on 137 different homes.

“Once you clue in you go, ‘that doesn’t sound right’ and you realize there’s a fundamental disconnect. I’m sure economists would get around this and say markets shouldn’t work like this. So the market in this way is a little dysfunctional,’ says Kasawski.

He also believes that if solar producers got the full value for the electricity their solar panels produce then the “economics for solar improve to the point where I think a lot more people would adopt it for purely economic reasons, because it’s not only saving them energy, but it would be earning them money for the electricity they produce.”

Solar energy in Alberta is still a tiny fraction of the total electricity mix, only five megawatts, but it’s growing. Higher prices for solar electricity would certainly accelerate the process and get more clean solar energy on the grid more quickly, also helping Alberta with one of the biggest challenges it faces — reducing emissions in our fossil fuel economy.

Windy days mean lower power prices

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Alberta was the first province to install commercial wind projects, and we’ve featured wind entrepreneurs who’ve done incredible things. More than 1,400 megawatts of wind energy is up and spinning here and it’s already lowering power prices.

* Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
Graph from Pembina Institute factsheet. Data is from Alberta’s Electric System Operator.
“The long and the short of it is, whenever it’s windy the price always comes down in Alberta, which is ultimately good for consumers, but it’s not so good for the guys operating the wind plant because they always get the lowest price,” says Tim Weis, policy director with the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Wind energy producers end up selling to the grid at prices 30 per cent below the average grid price. Wind is the cheapest type of power produced in Alberta, with an average price of 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2013. The same per kilowatt-hour figure is 7.7 cents for coal and 8.3 cents for natural gas.

That fact sheet we referenced earlier found a direct relationship between high winds and lower electricity prices. With no fuel cost, wind farm operators bid into the system at zero as it doesn’t cost them anything to produce their power. But bidding in at zero drags the price of the whole system down. As you can see from the graph, when the wind blows electricity is cheap, and when it doesn’t the price goes up.

From the consumer’s point of view, the more renewable energy on the grid, the better. Renewables are cost competitive, they bring down electricity prices for the average Joe and they help Alberta with perhaps its biggest challenge, reducing emissions.

But both energy producers and the provincial government face a larger structural challenge — put enough clean energy on the grid and nobody makes any money.

The market also doesn’t recognize the value provided by the grid as an always-on source of backup power. Even if everyone had a net-zero home you’d still need the grid to turn the lights on after the sun went down.

But we take comfort in the fact that wind and solar are only getting cheaper, that more and more clean energy is being installed in Alberta and around the world, and that — in Alberta at least — wind and solar are putting a couple more dollars in your pocket.

Green Homes Getting Cheaper

January 14th, 2016 by Chris Greidanus

The highly entertaining documentary How William Shatner Changed the World is a must-watch for any Trekkie or technology geek. In it, William Shatner hosts and narrates two hours of exploring the real-life advancements that were inspired by Star Trek.

In case after case Shatner explores the rapid pace of technological development. Things like the cell phone or communicator that were mere fantasy in the ’60s became reality only a few short decades later.

When it comes to net-zero homes it too is an idea that seems more science fiction than anything, especially in the cold climes of Edmonton, Alberta. A home that produces as much energy as it consumes — well that’s just crazy.

It took a group of 45 people more than two years to build the first net-zero home in Edmonton. Simon Knight is the CEO of C3, a social enterprise that works on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta and was there.

“The first prototype we built in Edmonton, when you went into the mechanical room it was similar to walking on the Starship Enterprise — it was very complex,” says Simon Knight who now is a director with the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition.

Built back in 2007 the Riverdale net-zero home was a 5,000 square foot duplex. It also had a complex space heating system that depended on an over-built solar thermal set-up with a lot of extra engineering bells and whistles.

Since then several other builders have tried their hand at this particular challenge.

Keep it simple

Peter Amerongen of Habitat Studio and Workshop built that first net-zero home in 2007 and he built Bob Heath’s net-zero home in south Edmonton in 2011, his third net-zero build.

The main difference? Simplicity. The mechanical room in Bob Heath’s net-zero home has an electric hot water heater and a heat recovery ventilation system hanging on the wall and not much else. This is hardly the Starship Enterprise.

“One of the reasons this house has such a simple mechanical system is because it is getting over 50 per cent of its energy just from the sun coming through those south-facing windows,” says Amerongen. “So once you reduce your total heating load it’s small enough we can get all of the energy we need from those solar panels.”

By taking advantage of passive solar energy and using a thermally massive floor Amerongen erased half of the heating bill right off the bat — all for the cost of some high quality windows and a polished concrete floor.

And while the systems and techniques have become simpler and lower cost there are rules of thumb that apply to every net-zero build.

You have to drastically reduce the energy use of the house. You do that with high levels of insulation in the roof and walls and by making the building as airtight as possible.

Then you must pay “Careful attention to thermal bridging so we make sure there are no parts of the house, not even the basement floor slab that are in contact with the ground or exterior air — so there is a complete blanket of insulation around it,” says Amerongen.

And when you have done all that the home you top it off with a solar photovoltaic system. In Bob Heath’s case he only needs a 7.5 kilowatt solar system to provide all of the energy his home requires.

It turns out Heath, who lives alone in this 1,900 square foot two-storey home is a super energy conserver because he has exported 4,000 kWh of electricity to the grid for the last two years running.

Peter Amerongen: Net-zero builderNet-zero builder and net-zero home ownerThick wallsWindowsPassive solarBob HeathSimple mechanical roomHRVBob Heath and Simon KnightFront endNet-zero homeSolar angleShadingRiverdale Net-ZeroMeter

So when is a house net-zero ready?
“You’ve got to get to an EnerGuide rating above 86 before you can call your house net zero energy ready, 89 or 90 would be better, but at that point the remaining energy that you need tit’s possible to get that energy from the sun with some kind of solar collection system – solar electric or solar hot water,” says net-zero pioneer Amerongen.

On Bob Heath’s net-zero home they left space for a solar thermal system, but they didn’t install it because solar electric made more sense at this point in time.

In the evolution of the net-zero home custom builders like Habitat Studios have come a long way and are making excellent net-zero homes. But it’s larger builders like Landmark Homes who are poised to make every new home they build net-zero ready by 2015.

“That’s when you start talking about industry transformation,” says Knight who adds builders are already looking at building net-zero communities. “You are actually talking about the kind of transition you have been working towards for a very long time.”

These particular builders are way out in front of building codes and government. If you build a house to the minimum standard of the building code you get an EnerGuide 70 home. It is expected that national building code released later this year will mandate all new construction to be Energuide 80.

Amerongen sees a real urgency to get on with producing net-zero homes because of the massive carbon footprint our housing stock has. Even if we build all new homes as net-zero energy homes it will take generations to replace the old inefficient houses.

Houses are a durable good. Even a poorly constructed, energy inefficient house lasts a long time.

Reza Nasseri of Landmark Homes is pretty optimistic. He envisions half of North America’s homes being built to net-zero standards within 20 years.

We’re not dealing with Moore’s Law but the pace of innovation in the net-zero home world just in the past six years has been breathtaking. As more builders and customers embrace the idea of a slightly more expensive home for far lower operating costs the net-zero idea will only pick up more and more steam.

By making net-zero homes simpler and more affordable trailblazers like Amerongen and Landmark Homes have started something that I hope will only get bigger and bigger.

David Dodge – Huffinton Post

6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into A New House

March 16th, 2015 by Chris Greidanus

Moving into your first home is exciting! But it also means you’ve got work to do.

1. Change the locks. You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20-$30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for plumbing leaks. Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam clean carpets. Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe out your cabinets. Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

5. Give critters the heave-ho. That includes mice, rats, bats, termites, roaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100-$300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

6. Introduce yourself to your circuit breaker box and main water valve. My first experience with electrical wiring was replacing a broken light fixture in a bathroom. After locating the breaker box, which is in my garage, I turned off the power to that bathroom so I wouldn’t electrocute myself.

It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?”

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Published: February 18, 2015
By: Courtney Craig

Hot Water Heating Questions?

November 12th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

WATER HEATING & ENERGY USE
Given that as much as 25% of household energy costs are for water heating, it makes sense to evaluate various types of water heating systems with an eye toward saving both energy and money. Here we take a look at some of the options currently available for homeowners to consider.

Storage Water Heaters
These are the most common type of water heater. In these systems, cold water flows into a tank where it is heated by gas or electric power. Once the water in the tank reaches the desired temperature, the heater will cycle on and off to maintain the temperature of the water. As hot water gets used, more cold water will enter the tank to be heated. Most of us know the phenomenon of running out of hot water after family members take one shower after another; this will occur if the tank’s storage capacity is insufficient to meet the demand. At other times of the day when relatively little or even no hot water is being used, the heater must still fire on and off to keep the contents of the tank hot. Unfortunately, it is quite inefficient to keep a tank of water hot all day even when the water isn’t needed. Adding an insulated water heater wrap can boost efficiency and energy savings – these are inexpensive and can be installed by the homeowner.

Tankless (Demand) Water Heaters
Tankless or demand water heaters are just that. Water is not stored in a tank, but is rapidly heated by gas or electricity once the faucet is turned on. For many homes, a tankless heater can be located close to the sink or shower to heat water on the spot. Because it reaches the desired temperature so quickly, much less water is wasted while waiting for hot water to flow through the faucet. Tankless heaters powered by gas are usually much more efficient than electric heaters – in fact, electricity costs can sometimes negate much of the savings a tankless system might otherwise provide. Tankless systems normally cost more than a conventional storage water heater, so homeowners should research what type, size, and location makes the most sense for them.

Solar Water Heating
The basic concept of solar water heating is that the sun’s energy is used to pre-heat water for the home. The pre-heated water then flows into a solar tank that monitors temperature. Then it is piped into the regular hot water system, usually a storage water heater. If no water is turned on within a brief period of time, the water circulates through the system again, making it unnecessary to keep a large tank of water constantly hot. The pre-heating is done by one or two solar panels, usually installed on the roof. Solar water heating is becoming more and more popular as costs for the systems continue to decrease. By some accounts, including the California Energy Commission, a typical solar water heating system can pay for itself in as little as four to seven years.

No matter what type of water heating homeowners choose, it pays to do some research first to discover the ins and outs of various types for their specific situation. With efficiency and decreased energy use as a goal, the best choice of water heater depends on what pencils out in any given home.

The Future of Transportation

October 27th, 2014 by Chris Greidanus

Cities of all sizes are reorienting their transportation priorities toward people over cars. Rebranding streets as “complete,” “shared,” or “great” reflects a turn away from automobility as the only choice for urban travel. Local transportation officials and planners now place a larger focus on offering many modes of travel and consider quality-of-life rather than simply encouraging driving everywhere. Though cars are still dominant, the era of automobility seems to have peaked. Yet continued reductions in driving require true multi-modalism: rather than relying on one mode of transportation, or expecting that most driving trips can be substituted for transit trips, people need to be able to choose from a network of options, including not traveling at all.

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The Future of Transportation
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The promise of multi-modal streets hides the fact that such a dramatic shift away from the traditional American form of auto-oriented personal urban transportation is much more difficult than just accommodating drivers everywhere. Supporting many modes requires including multiple actors in the planning process, all with different priorities and preferences. More travel choices also means private entrepreneurs will take the lead on some services normally offered by the public sector: from taxi or bus services to parking management to goods movement. And with the benefits of redefining and reallocating street space in a multi-modal system come new political problems in terms of fighting for that space, too.

Here are three of the biggest challenges cities will face as they shift away from car-reliant transportation systems and toward multi-modal ones.

1. Moving Beyond Car Vs. Transit

As the cost of driving increases through higher gas prices, tolls, and parking charges, more people will look toward alternatives. Yet less driving does not necessarily mean more transit use. When people drive less they travel by all alternatives more; they also telecommute and use home deliveries. Greater use of alternative modes to driving adds bikes, pedestrians, trucks, transit, and taxis to already crowded streets. New thinking about the design and use of street space is needed as new modes, actors, technologies, and uses change the function of public roads.

For too long, transportation options have been debated and presented as a choice between autos and transit, as though these modes are perfect substitutes. Of course they are not, which is one reason our cities have such difficulty getting drivers to abandon their cars. An example of binary thinking about cars versus transit and how complementary multi-modalism is ignored is seen in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where a new Silver Line Metro station recently opened. While it is nice that the area now has rail transit service, multi-modal concerns for reaching the station were ignored during design and construction. The usefulness and attractiveness of the Metro service is diminished through the challenge of getting to and from the station.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users shouldn’t be an afterthought. Multi-modal planning should be the norm.
While these design errors may be fixed in the future, it shouldn’t be the case that pedestrians, cyclists, taxi passengers, and other street users are an afterthought to cars and public transit. Multi-modal planning should be the norm.

2. Accommodating Public and Private Modes

Whatever clear lines once existed between public and private transport have blurred. Start-up technology companies, large corporations, and informal operators offer meaningful alternatives to driving, but also subvert the traditional public monopoly for supplying transit services. Ultimately we don’t know if private transit and app-based taxi services will succeed or improve transit ridership—that remains to be seen—but the increase in private transit operators is certainly different and affects investment and regulatory decisions.

Private firms operating on public roads present similar issues as the shifting role of public space for private activities. Mass transit and taxi medallions are set up as regulated monopolies partly due to the fact that they use public assets for their operations. From a transportation perspective, we should welcome more taxis and buses and trucks if they can help minimize wasteful driving. The public does give up some control over how their public assets are managed, though, and confrontations between public transit and private operators will increase.

The commuter tech shuttles in San Francisco are a well-known example of unresolved tension between private and public transit, as both complete for scarce curb space to pick up and drop off passengers. While publicly operated transit has legal claim on bus stops, private transit service is growing rapidly across the country and needs access to curbs, too. In any city with taxi services or app-based ride-sharing services, curb space is critical for safe passenger access, but there are few examples of multi-modal curbside management in practice. In parts of dense cities, taxis, ride-sharing, and delivery trucks can cause far more traffic congestion and dangerous conditions for pedestrians than drivers cruising for parking spaces.

Redesigning streets to reduce reliance on cars and are big steps for cities, but these efforts will fall short if they don’t welcome all travel modes.
3. Balancing Transport Networks

Beyond new challenges for management and allocation of street space, multi-modalism makes travel patterns less predictable and more difficult to anticipate for investment and maintenance. How we travel around cities changes as available alternatives increase.

One feature of planning for automobility, or really any particular travel mode, is that there is a nice symmetry to travel. If you leave your house in the morning as a driver, you are almost certainly going to make all subsequent trips for the day by car, eventually driving back to your garage. With many choices, however, we might leave home on foot to the coffee shop, then take transit to work, then cycle to the store and lug our groceries home in a taxi. For this example, one car has been replaced by four separate modes of travel, all of which represent choosing a mode for each trip based on what works best for each person.

There are two takeaways from the multi-modal travel day. First, the choice between driving and transit isn’t one or the other. To reduce automobility, many alternatives must be provided, and not as a bonus. The second takeaway is that multi-modal cities have a lot of one-way travel. For shared-travel modes, this results in large imbalances of vehicles across the networks, leaving many without the options they expect when they want to use it. The rebalancing problem is hard enough for bike-share, let alone many different types of vehicles.

In the end, multi-modal transportation options reflect the abundance of choice that make cities great. But having many choices means balancing many interests. The issues facing cities as they expand alternatives to driving are complex and should be treated as such by local officials, advocates, and transport planners. Redesigning streets to reduce reliance on cars and are big steps for cities, but these efforts will fall short if they don’t welcome all travel modes—from walking and cycling to taxis and delivery trucks—as critical functions of our streets.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ a CityLab series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

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