P.E.I. passive house owner shares 'amazing' results

A P.E.I. teacher is sharing her family's experience building — and now living in — an environmentally conscious home that's cost them just $20 to heat since February.

Heating bill just $20 since February at environmentally conscious home

Beth Peters is able to get real-time energy data from the home. (Nancy Russell/CBC)
Beth Peters is happy to brag that she's paid just $20 for heat since February after moving into a super green, environmentally conscious home in Long River, P.E.I.

Peters, a high school math teacher in Summerside, chronicled her family's journey in a blog, describing in detail how they built their passive house. She now posts monthly energy data.
We want people to see that this can work— Beth Peters

"One of the biggest things was to be able to save money on our heating costs," explained Peters.

"Probably the bigger reason, though, was the fact that my husband and I are a very environmentally conscious couple and we wanted to do whatever we could to reduce our footprint on this world plus teach our four kids."

A passive house is built to a rigorous set of standards developed in Germany.

"A passive house would basically be a super-sealed, super airtight, super insulated energy-efficient home," said Peters.

But there are very few passive houses so far in Canada.

The Peters had to build their passive house facing south and imported extra large, thick windows from Ireland to meet passive house standards. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Walls are 24 inches thick

Peters said the up-front cost of building the passive house was about 20 per cent more than a standard home would have cost.

"The construction process was quite different, mostly because of the wall construction," she said.

The exterior walls are 24 inches thick, with 75 pounds of densely packed cellulose insulation between each stud. The house has five large south-facing triple-paned windows imported from Ireland.  

She compares the home's doors to a bank vault in the way they seal. The house is too airtight to have a clothes dryer, and features a special air exchange system that helps prevent moisture accumulation and mould, and captures 85 per cent of the heat in the air leaving the house.

One small electric heater is their sole source of heat.

"A blow dryer is 1500 watts," explained Peters. "So we basically have a heater the size of a blow dryer heating a 2,000 square foot house."

The passive house has walls that are 24 inches thick and the windows have special seals. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

'It's possible'

The family installed an energy monitoring system called TED (The Energy Detective) and Peters has been posting monthly updates.

Since February, their heating bill has been just under $20. Their biggest cost so far for heat in a single day? Just $1.

"One of the reasons we wanted to post that information to the blog was because we didn't know if people would believe us unless we had the proof for them ... We want people to see that this can work," Peters said.

"Even though it's something different, and it's not something that people are used to around here, that it's possible, and we can do it in our climate and have fantastic results."

Peters and her husband decided not to have the house certified because of the $7,000 cost, but she said they have collected data so it could eventually be certified.

The door of the Peters' passive house is so heavy that it needs five hinges and must be properly sealed to lock. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Sharing her passion

Peters has also been spreading the word at presentations across P.E.I., and said she has talked to several Island couples who are in the planning stages of building a passive house.

Blair Arsenault, an instructor with Holland College's energy systems engineering department, plans to take his students to tour the house.

"I think the blog is excellent," said Arsenault. "I use it in class any time I'm trying to say, 'Here's what a green home can do for you.'"

Peters plans to continue to post updates on the blog, and give tours and talks about the house.

"It was a long process planning and designing the home and getting in here," said Peters.

"Now it's just time to settle down and enjoy living in our home."


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