Green Home: How to Make your Home Energy Efficient using Mainstream and Green Building Techniques

Former Canadian municipal councilor and current building design consultant David Braden, has built himself a green home using current building techniques that doesn’t even require a furnace.

We’ll be able to heat our entire house with a common hairdryer, Dave boasts.   No furnace even in the extreme Southern Ontario weather.

Braden is not the first to promote taking one’s home off the grid, but he is trying to do it in a way that utilizes common building techniques and architectural devices (i.e. not with flushless toilets, buried geothermal lines, and other techniques that are available, but that most observers associate with “treehuggers”). According to Braden

I don’t want to be conveyed as a hippie. I want to get the message to the mainstream. People need to know that in fact there is a great solution sitting right in front of us.

Most homes tend to lose significant amounts of heat due to air exchange. So, the more airtight you can make your home, the more energy efficient it becomes. To overcome “sick home” syndrome, and just to get fresh air, off-the-grid homes do need to have air exchangers (basically, a device that provides air circulation with the outdoors while ensuring that heat stays inside).

The key to Braden’s success at creating a green house is his utilization of the vapour barrier. Rather than putting it near the drywall, he’s located it as close as possible to the inner walls. This avoids puncturing the vapour barrier with drywall screws, fuse boxes, and all sorts of other necessary devices to run a home!

Photos of his home demonstrate the various techniques that he used to ensure minimal heat loss throughout:

  • Roof overhangs shade windows along the house, keeping it from overheating in summer while allowing winter sunlight in.
  • A heat-recovery air exchanger that allows for fresh air to enter the house while preventing heat loss to the outdoors.
  • Home electricity is generated by a wind turbine and solar panels
  • Electricity is stored in 16 batteries, providing electricity during the nighttime, as well as on cloudy, windless days
  • An on-demand water heater that provides hot water when it is needed, rather than keeping water hot all day long

Image Credit: home heat loss by thingermejig via Flickr’s Creative Commons

  1. Bobby B.

    What was his initial investment for this energy efficient home? And since most greens talk in terms of money and carbon footprints, I would like to know if it really passes the most stringent of green evaluations. The captions stated that the walls are thirty inches thick and filled with fiberglass insulation that are encapsulated in double-layered vapor barrier (plastic) and sealed with caulk. He had to have used much more lumber than the average builder, which would have yielded more costs in dollars and carbon than a “normal” home. The processes of producing fiberglass, vapor barrier materials and caulk are energy intensive, and he used much more than the average home builder. That also means more dollars and a bigger carbon footprint than a typical home. Producing PV cells is expensive and energy intensive but I have heard that the newest ones do generate a return on investment in about a decade, which is much faster than the old style panels. However, one does not get them cheap in terms of money and carbon. Batteries may not seem all that expensive but their three to five year lifespan means frequent replacement, which increases costs in dollars and carbon. Lastly, the propane water heater sort of keeps him “on grid” since it is relies on others to drill, refine and transport the gas.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I think his efforts are commendable and the house is a fine example of how to save energy downstream of the building process. However, in terms of dollars and the dreaded carbon footprint, the project had to have been very front-end loaded. In terms of dollars, when will the technology pay back the money spent on the capital outlay? Chances are the next owners will reap more monetary savings than he will. In terms of carbon, if everyone followed this example and used such an abundance of energy intensive materials, how long will it take for the planet to deal with the extra carbon? Are we not paying for our past excesses now? How much larger will the price be if billions of people start excessively front loading their building projects?

    BTW, I was surprised to see the batteries just sitting on wood floors and surrounded by wood walls. If a battery leaks or explodes, the acid will damage the wood considerably; maybe to the point of replacement (more money and carbon). If the current load causes the batteries to overheat (a greater risk as the batteries age), the battery’s off-gases could combust and a fire could spread to all that wood. I would have also liked to have seen a picture of the exterior. What type of shingles did he put on the house? I noticed in the photographs that he had insulation touching the back side of the roof decking in the attic. That’s forbidden where I live, because the extreme summer heat gets trapped in the insulation and causes the shingles to degrade.

  2. DaveK

    “The captions stated that the walls are thirty inches thick”

    I had to go look at the pictures after I read that. “Holy Cow!” I thought, “30 frakin’ inches!” I was trying to imagine what sort of wood frame construction one might use for that.

    Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to only be 30 cm walls, just one foot thick. That would be expensive, but not much more than double the cost of typical 6 inch exterior walls (which are of course more pricey than the usual 4 inch walls like in my new house).

    I think I still prefer straw bales and/or cob.

  3. Amiel Blajchman


    You raise some great points, and I unfortunately don’t have really good answers for you. Without a doubt his costs were front-end loaded, and there may be quite a few places where he could “improve” on things.


  4. Bobby B.


    I am by no means a professional at this blogging thing. I will admit to being opinionated and do enjoy sharing my views, but I would not claim to know all the rules of debate. However, there are two rules that I believe all bloggers and blog respondents should follow. First, be as polite as possible when making your statements. Passion in writing is allowed, but one should avoid crossing the line into being offensive (i.e. strong language) or derogatory (i.e. name calling). The second rule – and nearly as important – is to be able to defend your post. When you respond to a detractor with “I unfortunately don’t have really good answers for you”, it ultimately derails your initial post. If you believed the topic of your initial post warranted the investment of your time, then it surely must be important enough to invest a bit more time to its defense. Taking part in a healthy debate can lead to increased understanding for both parties and possibly collaboration. Of course, it can just as easily lead to an agreement to disagree, but the effort will be educational if nothing else. Saying “I don’t know” is a defeatist position that ultimately yields nothing. I personally believe that choosing not to respond can be more effective than responding in the manner you chose above.

    With all that being said, I did enjoy your initial post and felt it was well done. Take care and keep up the good work.

  5. Amiel Blajchman


    Thanks for your comment. And you’re right (and maybe wrong). Saying I don’t know is similar to shrugging my shoulders… saying I don’t know, and trying to follow up, is not so much. I didn’t state that I would try to find out more, because I like to under-promise, and over-deliver. So, I’ll make a qualified: I’ll try to look into it, and find out more.

    I will say this though: I’m pretty happy to see that you follow your first rule. Debate is great, being rude and offensive, is not.


  6. Dave Braden

    Further comments:
    We have ben building extremely energy efficient houses since 1980. Our first house, monitored independently by Ontario Hydro heated for less than $40 for a year. We say to perspective clients that our costs are about 8 – 10 per cent more than minimum standard houses. In our case our 1,500 square foot house cost an extra 12 – 15 thousand dollars. The consequence is absolutely no need for air conditioning and heat savings of 90 – 95 %.
    The wall system is as follows:
    .house wrap
    .1/4″ chipboard
    .2×4 wall c/w R-14
    . a 5 1/2″ cavity with a R-22 batt
    .1/4″ chipboard
    .6 mil poly caulked perfectly
    .2×4″ wall c/w R-14 after services installed

    Basement slabs and walls are uniquely built.
    Our batteries are in a sealed box, elevated above the basement floor, and vented directly to outside.While they are guaranteed for 6 years , experience in my family with these exact batteries suggests that they will last 10 – 11 years. They are Canadian – called Rolls or Surettes (from the Maritimes).
    The picture of the attic shows where two rooflines join. We generally have at least three layers of batt insulation and a minimum of a 6″ air space to avoid overheating in summer.
    By the way we like the economics of two 2×4 walls. 2×6’s are too expensive for us as is foam board. As a guide, batt insulation is 1/3 the cost of foam board.
    We provide regular free house tours to help educate the public and promote discussion and education. Over 1,500 people have been through so far. Tours are arranged by Environment Hamilton 905 549-0900. People
    leave with an understanding of the fundamental problems of conventional houses and see how we have addressed these by affordable and understandable means. If there was a better way, we’d try it, but having tried many alternatives which involve cutting corners we know our methods solve the heating problem. I encourage interested parties to sign up for a tour.
    David Braden

  7. edit

    I’m glad that I find a forum discussing energy efficient house. I heard a lot’s of good things from Canadian projects. I think the best combination is super insulated foundation, a R-22+ outside walls, solar panels and a geoterm system. Sure basic construction price higher then conventional or stick build but in the long run homeowner will benefit. Especially this days when several tax credit available.

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