Engineering students turn energy advisers for Urbandale

Michael Michalak and Scott Read know what it takes to build something from the ground up. The two engineering students were part of a group that partnered with Urbandale to design new green homes of the future that reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent.(Daniel Reid Photo)

(Daniel Reid Photo)

Looks, location and price. Those are the three caveats that usually drive home sales.

With the help of new research coming out of Carleton, energy efficiency could soon be the fourth.

Engineering students have come up with what are essentially green homes of the future with solar collectors, windows positioned to optimize the use of sunlight, better building envelopes and more efficient furnaces.

Working in partnership with builder Urbandale, students came up with a plan to reduce energy consumption in standard homes by 30 per cent without increasing CO2 emissions. The designs, currently being studied by Urbandale, also consider everything from the cost of materials to the ease of installation.

“They had to think about how they could achieve these targets in a cost effective manner,” says Ian Beausoleil-Morrison, the professor overseeing the project. “Students had to consider whether it was buildable and affordable.”

To add to the challenge, all improvements had to be cost-neutral — meaning any increased home costs had to be offset by energy savings over a 25-year period.

If all goes as planned, Urbandale could be building one of these green test homes at Carleton in 2012 — there is already a plot at the north of campus just waiting for the groundbreaking and the flow of federal funds.

This hands-on test site would serve as the platform for a research facility aimed at exploring innovative ways to radically increase the use of solar energy for heating, cooling and powering Canadian homes.

It could position Carleton as a leader in green energy research, offering students an actual house to test experimental, energy-saving ideas.

Urbandale homes currently meet the national R2000 standard — a set of voluntary, performance-based technical requirements for buildings.

New innovations offered by Carleton could help the company stay ahead of the game, says Scott Read, a student who looked at the benefits of a residential-scale solar energy system.

“They want to get ahead of the curve by implementing this technology,” says Read. “The bottom line matters because people want to save money at every level.”

Consumers continue to demand homes that pollute less and reduce their utility bills.

“People want to save money and save the environment,” adds Michael Michalak, a student who studied ways Carleton could squeeze out significant energy savings from Urbandale homes.

Some of the findings — like the way builders currently install windows — were a bit surprising for the students.

“You lose a lot of heat through windows, that’s just a fact,” says Michalak, adding that a third pane — while more expensive to install — could prevent valuable heat from escaping in cold months. “When you look at it, it’s surprising it’s not (being done).”

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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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