- Thermal Audit
Solar Heating for Homes in
Newfoundland and Labrador
Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador spend $300 or more per month (equal billing) for electric heat. This is $36,000 over the next ten years and possibly much more if electric rates rise.
Switching to cheaper fuels such as wood pellets, or more efficient electric heat (heat pumps) can reduce these costs but a far better solution is to design new homes so that this purchased heat isn't needed. Why spend money to cut heating costs by 25% to 50% when you could permanently eliminate the expense with better design?
Homes that can be heated from sunshine do have increased construction costs due to the extra insulation required, but this is a one time investment that is far cheaper than buying fuel forever.
Solar passive homes warm up significantly during the sunny days and store some of the excess heat in cement floors and masonry. At night, heat is released from walls and floors limiting the temperature drop. If there is enough insulation in a home and North facing windows are eliminated, the heating needs during cloudy weeks can be provided by occupants,and activities like cooking, waste heat from lights and small supplemental heaters.
The video below takes this solar home concept one step forward with seasonal storage. Excess heat from the Alaskan summer is stored and used to heat the home during the dark winter months.
Path to Net Zero Energy Series -- Alaska's first Net Zero Homes
Anyone planning to build a new home would be well advised to spend two hours to watch this. The typical construction methods used for new homes in Newfoundland and Labrador are primitive and ill conceived from an operating cost perspective. For those of you with limited time, here are some highlights:
- Homes can be heated with sunshine all year long - even in Alaska during months of winter darkness. Northern Labrador clearly wouldn't be a problem.
- The insulation required is several times more than Canadian building codes require and would fill a tractor trailer. The appropriate insulation in NL would be wood fiber, an industry that could coexist with wood pellet production.
- A masonry heater is used for to generate extra heat for domestic hot water. Masonry heaters look like stone bread ovens.
- A very large water tank is used to store summer heat for the winter season. NL has 10 day periods of cloud cover in the winter months so the water tank could be downsized. Alaska is like Nunavut - many areas have months of darkness.
- Numerous design details are presented that violate or ignore our current antiquated building codes. These include using plywood as the vapor barrier instead of polyethylene and vacuum breakers to replace sewer vents that penetrate the roof.
There is no reason we cannot build homes like this in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it should be government policy to mandate this kind of construction. A housing stock (moving forward) that dispenses with heating costs not only enriches the population (e.g. $300 extra spending money or alternatively, not being miserable when you cannot afford heating oil) but also allows the province to live of the existing hydroelectric resources. The small amounts of electrical power required for LED lighting, refrigerators and electronics could be provided with a small solar array.
The wall section in the video is described here in great detail: Sub Arctic Passive House Case Study - A superinsulation foundation and Vapor Diffusion open walls - Cold Climate Housing Research Center.
- Construct model buildings (such as community halls or low income housing) using solar passive techniques. Publish the blueprints and lessons learned.
- Use locally made fiber insulation and promote insulation fiber production along with wood pellet manufacturing.
- Amend building codes to permit and to give guidance for these building techniques.