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Twelve new demonstration houses across Canada, scheduled to open for visitors in 2008, will show off the latest in eco-friendly and energy efficient home building methods. Building teams of the 12 projects were each awarded $50,000 by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which will also provide technical and promotional support, and monitor the performance of the projects.

"These houses are designed to produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. They will be a blueprint for the next generation of housing in Canada," says Monte Solberg, the Minister responsible for CMHC. Winning designs were chosen from 72 applications.

The Net Zero Energy Healthy Housing initiative was launched in 2006, but the name was changed to EQuilibrium by the new Conservative government. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), which was involved in administering the competition, says the new name reflects the objective of balancing housing needs with the need to preserve, protect and enhance the natural environment.

"Almost half of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada come from the operation of buildings, so it stands to reason that if we deal efficiently with today's built-environment, it will have a positive impact on our future," says RAIC president Vivian Manasc. "Architects across Canada have between $40 to $45 billion worth of projects 'on the boards'. These buildings will last for 50 to 100 years. Given these facts, and as responsible Canadians, architects have been actively working to ensure further projects reduce our carbon footprint."

Manasc says the institute has "committed that by 2012, architects will design 100,000 new and renovated buildings across the country, using 50 per cent less energy than today, while creating healthy and delightful places for people."

The EQuilibrium project follows a long history of innovation in energy-efficient housing in Canada. Dating back to the early 1980s when R-2000 super energy efficient houses were introduced, Canada has worked to be on the leading edge of "green" home building. In the early 1990s, CMHC held the Healthy Housing design competition, which produced the first demonstration houses with features such as solar energy, cisterns to collect rainwater for non-potable uses such as gardening and flushing toilets, and homes that could come "off the grid" by producing their own energy.

The Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation was one of the Equilibrium winners. It is planning a community of semi-detached hones in an inner-city neighbourhood. Two of the houses will include a photovoltaic power system, and will have a combination of pitched and flat roofs so the solar panels will be snow-free in winter.

In North Battleford, Sask., The Nexus Solar and Battlefords Tribal Council won a grant for the YIPI! Project. It will also incorporate solar power, as well as innovative refrigeration and clothes drying technologies. It will be one of two factory-built demonstration homes.

The other modular home will be built in Eastman, Que. by Alouette Homes. The house will be built in a factory and shipped to the rural building site to minimize the environment impact. All of the home's water systems will be completely self-contained, and it will be connected to the electrical grid using a net-metering system, allowing the owner to "sell" excess electricity generated by the photovoltaic system.

Another demonstration home, the Team Montreal Zero project in Hudson, Que., is a single-family, detached house that will rely on passive heating and cooling techniques. Because the house is so air-tight, special attention will be paid during construction to ensure that the house has good indoor air quality. Much of the home's building lot will remain undisturbed and act as a natural wildlife habitat.

In Toronto, Ampas Architect is building three townhouses in the city's downtown Annex area. They will include ground-source heat pumps powered by electricity generated by solar panels covering the roofs of each unit. Also in Toronto, the Now House is EQuilibrium's only renovation. The project will take an existing post Second World War house and retrofit it with energy efficient windows, insulation and appliances, as well as a wastewater heat recovery system.

The Minto Manotick House, in Ottawa, will include high levels of insulation in double wall construction and triple-pane windows. The house will include an "all-off" switch -- when the homeowner leaves, he will flip the switch to turn off all the lights, plus the standby power being used by computers, cable boxes and electronic equipment.

Avalon Master Builder in Red Deer, Alta. is building Discovery III, a grid-tiled solar home with a grey-water recycling system and innovative wall and window systems. Another Red Deer house will be built by Canadian Housing Energy Sustainable Solutions, paying close attention to the issue of resource efficiency. Sixty-five per cent of the construction waste generated by the home will be recycled, and many of the materials can be reused when the house is eventually demolished.

In Calgary, the Echo Project will consist of 25 homes with a community greenhouse and a community building with guest accommodation and work-at-home office. The houses will demonstrate rain water harvesting, composting or low-flush toilets and site-sensitive orientation to maximize solar exposure. Edmonton's Riverdale project will construct a duplex in downtown Edmonton, using locally produced lumber and recycled newspaper.

The Abondance Montreal house in Verdun, Que. is a triplex that will draw energy from several sources, including a heat pump system, photovoltaic panels and solar thermal vacuum tubes.

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