Rural home is net-zero for annual energy consumption

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It sounds like a tall order — a home that is self-sufficient, environmentally friendly and with enough room outside for three kids to roam freely. But Christy Cuku and her husband Dennis were able to achieve all three.

The Cukus moved into their green home 15 months ago in Parkland County. This 4,000-sq.-ft. family home uses some of the most advanced renewable and energy-efficient technologies to produce as much energy as it uses. There’s no gas line — it’s completely solar powered.

“You don’t need to sacrifice comfort, style or luxury to be green,” said Cuku.

The Cuku home was the first LEED Platinum certified (a North American standard for low energy) home in the capital region and only the second in Alberta. It was one of 12 featured in the Eco-Solar Home Tour this summer. In its 13th year of operation, the tour is perennially popular. Eco-Solar is a non-profit group in Edmonton that promotes green building practices. The couple had done their own home tours previously as they began to explore the idea of creating their own green home.

“Some of the highly efficient homes we had visited tended to be small or lacking in modern-day conveniences,” said Cuku. “We were adamant to find a way to have our cake and eat it too. We spent tons of time researching and it was a steep learning curve,” said Cuku.

Now they feel compelled to share what they’ve learned. Together with the private tours they’ve hosted, she figures that more than 1,000 people have visited their home.

Cuku said the cost to build a green home is about 10 per cent more than a conventional home, not including the solar panels. Two arrays of a total of 60 solar panels are concealed in a meadow near the home. They feed the house its electricity during the day and the surplus goes back into the grid. At night, the home pulls the power back off the grid. On a net annual basis, the home consumes zero energy.

Sustainable materials

Those polished concrete floors look contemporary but, their thermal mass helps save energy because they can store daytime heat from the sun during the winter, but stay cooler in the summer.

All stains and construction materials are free of volatile organic compounds. The wood in the house is sustainable bamboo, or salvaged from the property or logged environmentally, Cuku said. The walls are 16 inches thick and stuffed with shredded newspaper for insulation for an R value of 56. The ceilings and attic are R90.

All the heating in the house is electric. A boiler not much larger than a breadbox circulates heated water through pipes embedded in the concrete floors, zone by zone. The house is also built for passive heating and cooling. Because of the design of the roof and alignment of the house, the southern wall of windows gets little sun during peak summer months when the sun is high — and all kinds of sun during winter.

Two different cisterns with a total capacity of 5,500 gallons are used to collect rainwater from the roofs. One is used for waste water (toilet flushing); the other for irrigating the garden. Fresh water comes from an on-site well. Water for landscaping was reduced by using local and drought-tolerant plants and limiting grass areas.

“The payback is easily within the life of your mortgage,” said Cuku. “It’s almost a no-brainer.”

Rural home builders have an advantage, says Cuku, in that they usually have more latitude in site location. If the house is oriented due south, you can collect as much of the sun’s energy as possible. “We collect almost 50 per cent of our heating requirements through our windows so solar energy dramatically reduces the need for other energy sources,” she said. Another advantage afforded in a rural site are larger roofs to mount solar panels.

Looking into the future, Cuku said they have considered aging grandparents, so their new home includes an elevator shaft and wheelchair-width halls. The 2,000-sq.-ft. lower level is home to a complete apartment.

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