When you step inside any number of custom homes located in Oakville, Ont., it’s hard not to marvel at all the fine details and many hours that would have been spent putting together such a beautiful home. They are beautiful, in light neutrals, clean lines, whispers of comfort, designer linens, quilts, sumptuous lighting, generous windows, artistic furnishings, soundless carpets, marble foyers, and big walk-in closets.
I had the privilege of visiting one of these homes in Oakville. The house was built by a team led by Fil Capuano. He established Chatsworth Homes in 1980, which is a homage to Chatsworth House—an estate in the English countryside where members of British society have lived for centuries.
The house in Oakville is about 5,700 sq. ft. and is heated and cooled by what Capuano calls a dual fuel system, meaning it has both a gas furnace and a heat pump/energy recovery ventilator combination. It has a high-performance envelope, well-sealed ductwork, and qualifies as net-zero-ready under a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation program.
“My customers are happy to do something about emissions,” says Capuano. “It’s just common sense. Why would you build a home that is obsolete? This house will still meet the code in 2032. When we explain that net-zero is a research-based environmental program based on building science, they want to know more.”
Chatsworth has completed three net-zero homes in Oakville in the last couple of years, including a similar one at 4,400 sq. ft. There are plans for one that may move even closer to Passive House levels of insulation. Regarding the completed projects he says “Customers get healthy and very comfortable systems that save money on utilities. There’s a two to four per cent increase in upfront construction cost and the payback is five to seven years. The equipment life is 15-20 years or more.”
Aeroseal ductwork system
It has been identified in recent reports by building scientists that proper sealing of ductwork is key and often overlooked in terms of energy vulnerability.
According to Victor Dotsenko, project manager for Aeroseal Canada, duct sealing typically saves 10 to 30 per cent on energy. His team performs four to six hour sealing operations, then rebalances the airflow. “That house was leaking 460.5 cubic feet per minute (CFM), which equates to more than 27,000 cubic feet per hour.” After the treatment, total leakage was measured at 9.5 CFM, which implies 98 per cent sealing effectiveness.
This house has drain water heat recovery, a tankless water heater, low flow plumbing, Energy Star appliances, double pane windows, R60 insulation in the ceiling, and R25 in the walls.
It’s modelled to use 42 per cent more electricity than an equivalent code-built home, but 83 per cent less gas energy for a net energy reduction on water and HVAC systems of about 58 per cent. This cuts by about half the number of solar panels that will be added to hit net-zero.
It adds up to potentially a 73 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “When we set it up, we usually make the heat pump the primary heat source and the gas furnace the secondary,” says Gord Cooke of Building Knowledge, who did energy modelling for this and other Chatsworth projects.
“It can be a challenge because heat pumps might be 400 per cent more efficient but using electricity in this area is sometimes still three times as expensive. Still, as long as it’s comfortable in the basement and the shower is hot, these clients are usually open to using the heat pump as much as possible. One client said, ‘Just tell me, what is the right thing to do?’”
According to Cooke, a new controller is coming out from BRK Energy that figures out when it makes sense to run the heat pump and when to use gas according to the weather.
“So, the homeowner doesn’t worry about it… the more efficient you make the building enclosure, the more heat pumps make sense. As time goes by, they will put the solar on the roof and that will make electricity less expensive,” explains Cooke.
High performance building market projections
The Zero Energy Project is celebrating a huge ramp-up of zero energy projects in Canada and the US. According to the non-profit, this past February 28,000 have been built with more than 30,000 in the planning stages.
The organization cites a Grand View Research forecast that predicts $78.8 billion of growth in the global zero energy building market by 2025 and that much of it is driven by building codes and developers that want to get out in front.
Capuano maintained a cool, understated demeanour, but when asked about geothermal or passive house his excitement showed. “It just makes so much sense. We have limited resources and we shouldn’t waste them.” He grew up in the 1970s in England when the coal strikes were on, and the economy was difficult. “Sometimes we only heated one room at a time.”
He learned custom home building from his father and uncle, and after his parents immigrated to Canada, he attended Ryerson University and studied architecture and engineering. Eventually, he established Chatsworth with a partner and has survived many ups and downs.
Zero energy homes in places like Oakville have fabulous and clever kitchens, intelligent and sophisticated security and entertainment, perfect yards, patios and more. Clean energy systems are just smart choices.