The typical open house is designed to sell homes. But with more and more Albertans asking tough questions about the technology that holds their homes up and makes them functional places to work and play, open houses may soon play a remarkably different role in purchase decisions.
That sense of a new purpose for the traditional open house was the idea behind a two-project open house held in Calgary's Kensington community in late May.
There, builders Ron Aesie of Del Mar Homes Ltd. and Peter Mauro of New Casa Ltd. showed two of their newest projects alongside Plasti-Fab, the company that supplied Aesie and Mauro's latest multi-family projects with the insulated concrete forms (ICF) they used to build exterior walls, partition walls and flooring.
Marketed as the Advantage ICF System, the technology consists of expanded polystyrene insulation blocks. When filled with concrete, the blocks form a monolithic concrete wall of uniform thickness From a functional perspective, ICF is "very economical and very easy to build," says Mark Weber, the structural engineer on both projects.
|Illustration courtesy of Del Mar Homes Ltd. and New Casa Ltd.|
|The Gladstone Road condominium project in Calgary's northwest will feature ICF technology.|
In addition to incredible soundproofing and a three-hour fire rating (compared to 45 minutes for a typical wood-frame home), ICF homes are built to last, improving long-term resale value.
The event began in Del Mar's newest project, Tre Viste. An upscale three-unit condo built on a 50x120-ft. RM-2 lot located at 1214 Memorial Dr., Tre Viste delivers bungalow-style living with no common walls.
Aesie has already moved into the top unit, which spans 1,900 sq. ft., plus a 200-sq.-ft. loft. The other two units also deliver 1,900 sq. ft. of space. Both sold (at $800,000-plus) before construction ended - and before marketing began, says Aesie.
The people who hold the strata title to the second floor told Aesie they'd been looking for this kind of home for 10 months and while the location across Memorial Drive from the Bow River is spectacular, it was the technology that sold the unit.
Mauro expects that also to be the case at Quattro, a condominium project he's building at 1211 Gladstone Road N.W., the second stop on the open-house tour.
Prior to these projects, he and Aesie worked together on The Villagio, also in Kensington. Completed in 2002, it was the first condo project in Western Canada to use ICF. Mauro estimates natural gas costs for Villagio owners at approximately $1,200 a year for 12 units.
But ICF isn't just for multi-family dwellings, says Darren Graff of Dabrro Homes in Edmonton. Several years ago, Dabrro decided all of its single-family homes would feature ICF construction from the basement footings to the upper-level rafters.
This year, one of its inner-city homes, a two-storey colonial-style home in historic Old Glenora, won an Edmonton SAM award for energy efficiency and a Canada Design Excellence Award Honourable Mention from the Cement Association of Canada.
The family-owned company, founded in rural Alberta about 10 years ago, comprises environmentally minded individuals whose projects all use environmentally responsible homebuilding techniques and products, including high-efficiency lighting, dual flush toilets and high-efficiency heating systems.
The same philosophy drives the company's focus on building homes that revitalize inner-city communities instead of contributing to urban sprawl. Its award-winning home, one of about a dozen the company builds each year, maintains an exterior design in step with Old Glenora.
"We had a lot of people come in from the neighbourhood and ask us if it was a renovation and that was a real compliment to us," says Graff.
On the energy efficiency side, ICF reduces consumption because it eliminates air space in exterior walls, keeping interior space cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Graff estimates that ICF costs seven to eight per cent more to build over traditional wood construction.
But it's money well spent. Plasti-Fab data shows ICF drops heating and cooling costs with an effective R-value that's 42 per cent greater that the rating for typical above-ground construction using 2x6-inch wood stud walls with R-20 batt insulation.
ICF works in conjunction with the high-efficiency heating systems that are a standard part of Dabrro Homes. Their newest showhome, in the inner-city Edmonton community of Crestwood, features a high-efficiency boiler.
The Tre Viste and Quattro developments partnered ICF with a geothermal temperature control system - another technology that's so hot, it's cool.
Visitors to the Tre Viste open house on Calgary's Memorial Drive got a chance to talk about that technology with Doug Kinch of Ground Source Energy Ltd., who spent his time in the basement room that houses the system.
Kinch, who retrofitted his own home north of Cochrane with geothermal technology several years ago (cutting his utility bills by more than half), was joined by Brad Stoesz of Brae-Tech Mechanical Services. Brae-Tech provided the air distribution system for Tre Viste and both men were kept busy answering questions about how the system works.
Geothermal uses a vertical pipe (Tre Viste's extends about 60 metres below the basement level) to pull warm air from below ground into the condominium. In the summer, the system reverses, putting warmer air back into the ground. The warmer or cooler air is then distributed through the space and at Tre Viste, each bungalow-style unit has its own controls, says Kinch.
With geothermal for space heating, the Tre Viste only uses natural gas for the gas range, barbecue and fireplace.
The technology is 350 to 400 per cent more efficient than a standard furnace (typically rated at 80-per-cent efficiency) and Kinch likes the way it cuts gas bills - and conserves gas for where it's needed.
"We need natural gas for a lot of things (including the manufacture of the plastic pipes needed for geothermal). We don't need it to heat our homes."
Stoesz, whose company also works with traditional technology, admits he likes working on geothermal projects because the technology is so interesting and, in many ways, so simple.
It has a long way to go in terms of public and builder acceptance, but geothermal is catching on, adds Kinch. With a background in oilfield drilling, Kinch got into geothermal installations about five years ago. He figures his own company installed the system in 24 homes over the last year and a steady stream of work means Ground Source skipped the most recent local homeshows, once a marketing necessity.
Like most Alberta companies dependent on knowledgeable trades, he's turning down work because his staff of six is already maxed out.
Kinch figures it costs about $25,000 to install geothermal in an average-sized home of about 2,300 sq. ft., including basement. His own home's utility bills have been cut by more than half.
A strong environmental ethic and lower utility costs drive the market and there's rising demand for geothermal technology in Calgary's luxury homes, where it's used to heat indoor swimming pools and eliminates the need for a noisy external air-conditioning system, adds Kinch.
Between ICF and geothermal, "I think the technology is here, but a lot of the big builders don't want to try," says Peter Mauro of New Casa Ltd.
It's of little consequence to builders such as Mauro and Ron Aesie, who know a good niche when they see one.
And companies such as Dabrro Homes are on the same page. The fact other builders aren't yet using technology like ICF is of little consequence to Dabrro. "We pride ourselves on being the ICF boys in Edmonton."
(Joy Gregory can be reached at email@example.com)