B.C. couple using Manitoba sun to power their dreams

Will and Bev Eert are B.C. transplants who are building a solar-powered house about 40 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man. When complete, the timber-frame house will be completely off the grid.

Will and Bev Eert are building a house powered by solar panels in southwestern Manitoba

Will and Bev Eert stand beside their solar array. (Marcy Markusa/CBC Manitoba)

Bev and Will Eert gave up the temperate climate of Vancouver Island for Manitoba’s polar vortex, and they couldn’t be happier.

The B.C. transplants are building a very special house about 40 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man.

When complete, the timber-frame house, nestled in a crook of the Assiniboine River, will be completely off the grid.

Bev and Will Eert estimate the house, property and solar setup will cost about $410,000 when everything is finished. (Marcy Markusa / CBC Manitoba)
At the moment the couple are staying in what will eventually be their workshop. Bev says they don’t want to move into the house until it is completely finished. Something they hope to accomplish this fall.

Four years ago, at the start of the project, the Eerts wanted to build a grid-tied system, where extra electricity from the solar panels would be put back into Manitoba Hydro’s lines, but the cost would have been tens of thousands of dollars more expensive than the couple’s current setup.

What did it cost? 

  • Land - $60,000
  • Workshop - $60,000
  • Solar panels, batteries and electronics - $40,000
  • Well, fencing and greenhouse - $25,000
  • House - $225,000*

Total: $410,000

*House not yet complete. This figure is an estimate.

Forty-eight solar panels provide for the Eerts' electricity needs. The solar array is 13 metres long, 10 metres high, and will generate about 24 kilowatt hours of juice on a sunny day, or more than 700 kilowatt hours in a 30-day month — you can compare this to your own usage on your last Hydro bill.

The workshop they’re living in used six out of the possible 24 kilowatt hours the day CBC was there. Will said that was abnormally high … probably because Bev vacuumed.

According to Will, the home will have all the things Manitobans are used to, like a “vacuum, dishwasher, an electric range … everything a normal house would have.”

“[You] don’t have to be uncomfortable to do the right thing,” Bev adds. “You just have to be more mindful … wait for a bright sunny day to do some things.”

The electricity is stored in a series of large batteries until the Eerts need it. Will says when fully charged, the batteries can provide electricity for several days. If the sun is shining, and the batteries are full, the extra electricity gets shunted to the home’s heating system. Odds are, though, the home won’t need it.

Will Eert shows off his batteries -- enough to power the house for several days if the sun isn't shining. (Marcy Markusa / CBC Manitoba)

The entire south side of the home is windows, and the north/west sides of the house are built into a hill. The sunlight coming in through the windows, combined with the insulation from the earth against the side of the house, keep the building at a comfortable 20 C — even when Manitoba is at its coldest.

As a proof of concept the potted olive trees Bev keeps in front of the windows thrived this winter with just the warmth coming through the windows.

The couple says the decision to move to Manitoba had more to do with the hours of sunlight than our province’s commitment to solar power.

“When we went looking for government grants Manitoba was the worst,” says Will.

Currently Manitoba Hydro offers programs for solar hot water heaters, but not solar electricity systems. While it will credit customers who generate their own electricity and put it back into the grid, it’s at the same rate as what Hydro charges.

In Ontario customers are paid three to six times more per kilowatt hour generated than the utility charges.

Will and BevEert want their house to stand as an example to Manitobans, demonstrating that solar power is a viable and affordable alternative to hooking up to the electrical grid.

Next on the list: Will plans to build his own electric truck out of an old Datsun pickup.