When I reach Wanda Martin, it is -47 with wind chill, and her Passive House is warm and comfortable. And she has no gas bill! Greater Sudbury’s plan to reach net zero carbon emissions aims for all new homes to be Passive Houses by 2030. Sounds great to me!
Wanda lives in Radiance Cohousing in Saskatoon, built to Passive House standards. “The experience has been amazing,” she says. “When we first moved to Saskatoon we lived in a house built in 1949 that had never had new windows or insulation. The furnace was loud, drafts everywhere, the cat was always cuddled next to the hot air vent, and dust everywhere. Our new place has a few noises when the heat pump is running, but it is so quiet. The windows are not cold and the light is so lovely. The air quality is good too. We have a cost savings on the overall bills, where we used to pay for natural gas and electricity, now we just pay electricity.”
Shannon Dyck and Michael Nemeth co-founded Radiance Cohousing. “We knew that much of the research that led to the International Passive House standard was conducted at the University of Saskatchewan in the 1970s, and "proof of concept" examples exist in our province. So we knew that this wasn't just a standard for moderate climates, but that it could be applied to our Saskatchewan climate as well.”
Shannon and Michael’s motivation was to live sustainably, but they also enjoy the improved living conditions. “Comfort wise, it's a noticeable difference from our last home, which was drafty, dry, and either too hot or too cold. Our new home has been extremely cozy over the winter. My succulents and fruit trees even thrive along our inside window sills because the windows don't get cold or iced up. The unit is also much quieter inside because of the extra insulation and air tightness,” Shannon shared. “Living in a Passive House also offers peace of mind. If the power were to go out during one of Saskatoon's cold spells (and we have plenty of those!) our homes would retain their heat for much longer than a conventional home and are unlikely to drop below freezing before power comes back on. In a pinch, our units warm up quite quickly on a sunny day and even having guests over can help increase the indoor temperature simply through body heat,” she added.
Beyond energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions, there are many ways residents of Radiance Cohousing can live more sustainably. Shannon explains. “Cohousing has allowed us to do things that we'd be unable to do on our own. For example, our yard has a 9,000L underground rainwater tank, multiple fruit trees, native plants, and individual vegetable gardens for each unit. I love having a huge, productive yard like this, but it would not be practical, affordable, or manageable for Mike and I if we lived in a single-family home and had to manage it on our own.
We also have a shared electric car that's parked in Radiance's visitor parking spot, which is used regularly by some of our members. Personally, it has allowed Mike and I to avoid the purchase of a second vehicle. For one of our neighbours, it has allowed her to avoid owning a vehicle all together. The car is also bookable by any member of the Saskatoon Car Share Coop, so it's available to other community members as well.
Living in a townhouse style housing development also results in lower energy use because our units have shared interior walls. Having shared walls is one of the easiest ways to lower the energy use of a building.
We have also gone in on bulk purchases (e.g. we buy coffee in bulk from a local supplier, which saves packaging and reduces costs), we share tools and equipment which means that not everyone needs to own their own, and we share workload (i.e. yard work, shoveling, maintenance, etc.).
Having a Common House (shared indoor space) also allowed us to design our homes to be smaller in size. For example, rather than needing extra guestrooms in each of our own homes, we can all access the guestroom in the Common House for friends and family. Or, if we need extra space to host certain types of events, we can use the main floor of the Common House instead of hosting in our own home. Building smaller homes, but with more functional uses, reduces our environmental (and physical) footprint significantly.
From a climate change resiliency perspective, our cohousing group looks out for one another and supports one another. In the case of an emergency, having close-knit neighbours is one of your best safeguards. We are also currently developing an emergency response manual for our group (e.g. in case of a fire, flooding, or other emergency).”
Living and collaborating closely with their neighbours also has social benefits. “Living in cohousing provides a certain peace of mind, comfort, and friendship,” says Shannon.