UBC, BCIT, Light House and Us

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

We can’t do this alone.

There has to be people who know how to take an existing home and make it energy efficient without tearing it down and wasting all that energy and resources. It’s not rocket science.

With the climate changing and everyone aware of why and even what we have to do about it, why do most contractors still stare at you blankly when you say you want to insulate beyond what is required by the building code?

These are questions I asked myself when we started to plan the renovation and retrofit of our house.

I took this quote from DesmogCanada:

“Frankly, we need an army of carpenters, electricians and contractors going out to plug leaky buildings,” federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May said during the August 6 leaders debate. “Thirty per cent of carbon pollution comes from the energy we waste and the money we waste heating the outdoors in the winter and cooling it in the summer.”

and she is 100% right except that we needed it 30 years ago.

However, if you take a few years to work up to your renovation and you connect with people like Lorraine Gauthier of the Now House Project and Monte Paulsen of City Green Energy Solutions, you start to not only meet people who know how to do this, but a few who are willing to help you do it.

I told you about our relationship with the BCIT Building Sciences Centre of Excellence who put sensors in the house for a year to analyze the indoor air quality. One student wrote a report using three months of the data which you can read in a series of Hammond Forever House posts here.

I also told you about the design charrette we held in Maple Ridge to hash out a plan for a community home energy retrofit project (hey, if our government won’t do it, I guess we have to). With insufficient support, the project has been shelved pending the completion of our own retrofit which I hope will set an example.

2013 Now House

One of the participants at the charrette, Light House Sustainable Building Centre, has made it possible for more students to get involved in our humble little Forever House. These ones are 4th-year Environmental Science Students at the University of British Columbia who will put what they have been studying to practical use.

With UBC involved, BCIT has agreed to help with the post-retrofit air quality analysis so that students will be able to study the practical effect of the water and energy saving measures we are able to implement. I love this idea because, although the techniques are not new, we need more people out there who know them and we need to get the word out about what is possible for ordinary homes.

Here is the synopsis that Light House put together. They are taking the lead.

Hammond Forever House: Carbon Neutral Retrofit
UBC Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences
ENVR 400 2015/2016 Community Partner Project
Date: July 27, 2015


Project Concept:
Retrofit a 1923 Part 9 residential building, Hammond Forever House, with heritage designation in Maple Ridge, BC to near net zero or carbon neutral. Conduct pre and post-retrofit analysis, which will include on-site testing & insulation installation:
• Energy consumption
• Water consumption
• Airtightness
• Temperature
• Humidity
• CO2 concentrations

Compile a case study describing Hammond Forever House’s pre and post-retrofit conditions, regulatory, financial and logistical barriers to carbon neutral retrofits, successful project outcomes and resources for other homeowners wishing to retrofit their homes. Case study appendices should include construction photographs and copies of all reports and associated analysis. The final case study will be provided to the homeowner, published on the Light House website and distributed via a webinar and at conferences, as opportunities arise.

Project Background:
In BC, residential buildings represent 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs); in Vancouver, the figure is 55%1. In response to climate impacts, federal and provincial governments have identified GHG emission reduction targets for BC building stock, including the following:
• Energy Efficiency Act: 17% reduction in GHGs below 2005 levels by 2020.
• BC Climate Action Plan: 33% GHG reduction below 2007 levels by 202 and 80% by 2050.
• BC Energy Efficient Building Strategy: Average 20% energy demand reduction per home by 2020.
• BC Climate Action Charter: Carbon neutral corporate operations by 2012.

In August 2015 Light House released the results of a multi-year, multi-stakeholder engagement process with industry, government and utilities titled: Towards Carbon Neutral & Near Net Zero Energy Residential Buildings, a Roadmap for British Columbia. Our Roadmap identifies major actions which can move existing residential buildings towards retrofits which result in carbon neutrality. We recognize the significant impact of carbon neutral pilot projects across a wide range of home sizes, ages and regions, and are therefore pleased to partner with this homeowner to deliver a carbon neutral pilot project in Maple Ridge, BC.

One of the key things that interests me is the inclusion of “regulatory, financial and logistical barriers to carbon neutral retrofits” in the study. This speaks to the fact that we have the technology and expertise necessary to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of our existing buildings, we just have to work together and do it. It was Now House who helped me understand that it is not a technical problem, it is a social engineering problem. [For more details on their involvement in Maple Ridge, check out the news page on the Now House website.]

It is my hope that by telling our story, warts and all, we can be part of the shift of our economy from doomed to renewable by getting the word out.

And that’s why I’m very happy with the snazzy new sign outside celebrating our key partners.


It turns out that our contractor, Ridgewater Homes, is very talented at making signs. As part of our heritage agreement, we are required to post a sign explaining that this is a Heritage Site and the fine for any vandalism, etc. Ridgewater was able to add the logos of some of our supporters and even leave room for a few more, if any suppliers would like to sponsor the project and attach their name to it.

The portable toilet is not designated heritage.


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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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