Solar house on campus will allow researchers to test passive energy systems

A specially-designed solar-powered house at the sunny north end of Carleton’s campus is part of a research project known as the Urbandale Centre for Home Energy Research (CHEeR). (Justin Tang Photo)

A specially-designed solar-powered house at the sunny north end of Carleton’s campus could eventually contribute significantly to the housing industry’s efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Under construction since last fall and scheduled to be complete by the end of the summer, the Urbandale Centre for Home Energy Research (CHEeR) project is led by Ian Beausoleil-Morrison, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Energy Systems for Residential Buildings and a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Design.

“The building industry is extremely conservative,” Beausoleil-Morrison says, “but our research is a low-risk way for it to learn. We have to change the way we build houses and the way we heat and cool them. We hope some of our concepts will be commercialized, but I don’t expect it to happen in the short-term.”

Funded by Ottawa homebuilder Urbandale Construction, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund and other industry partners, the state-of-the-art research facility is supporting a multifaceted research program whose goal is to discover and to critically evaluate new concepts for increasing energy efficiency and maximizing solar energy use in single family detached housing.

Urbandale Construction, a leader in environmentally conscious construction, contributed nearly $200,000 towards the $1.5 million two-storey house. The family-run local company, whose philosophy is to use superior technologies and designs for energy efficient homes, has been working with fourth-year engineering students since 2009. Urbandale has already incorporated many of the students’ cost-effective energy efficient options in their home designs.

While Beausoleil-Morrison has been studying solar energy concepts for years, most of the research has been conducted in the laboratory and through computer simulations.

“We can only go so far with those models,” he explains. “We need to learn from doing full-scale testing, and to gather knowledge so we can improve the way we do the computer modelling.”

The house’s passive solar design will use solar collectors on the south face of the steeply pitched roof, an unusually large number of windows on the south-facing walls (and none on the north side), a radiant floor system, a heat pump and innovative heat storage systems.

One project involves a giant insulated underground sand box, through which piping can carry water heated by the solar collectors on the roof. Beausoleil-Morrison expects up to 90 per cent of winter heating requirements can be provided through this system.

Beausoleil-Morrison, who said additional research equipment and instrumentation will be installed this summer, expects the housing systems to be fully functional by the end of the summer.

“We probably have at least 10 years’ worth of ideas to pursue,” he says. “We have multiple ways of heating the house and although we cannot be sure, based on our modelling, we think our radiant floor and sandbox systems are going to work.”

This entry was written by Susan Hickman and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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