Home for the future
Appearances can be deceiving. The lakeside home of Buffy and Jeffrey Packard, in Ogden, looks just like other ‘central gable’ farmhouses built in that area in the late 1800’s, however, the similarity ends there. Their home, built in 2008, is an
‘eco-house’: a solar-powered home built with ‘green’ technologies and materials.
A retirement home for the couple who grew up in Montreal and later moved to Calgary, it was built on the shore of Lake Memphremagog, just a few feet from the spot where Mr. Packard’s great-grandfather, Judge Robert Stanley Weir, wrote the words to “O Canada”. “My great grandfather bought the Cedarville Hotel that was once here and turned it into a summer home, calling it ‘Cedarhurst’,” said Mr. Packard in an interview that began inside the comfortably cool home, with its sixteen inch thick, superinsulated ‘ecostud’ walls, last week when the summer heat would have had many people cranking up their air conditioners.
“With this house, we wanted to marry sustainable design with the look of an old farmhouse. The one and a half story central gable design uses less material and it’s very open. Those old farmers knew what they were doing,” explained Mr. Packard, adding: “But they wouldn’t have had walls sixteen inches thick.”
Because all of the building’s electricity is supplied by two solar panel arrays, one on the roof and another at the side of the lake, the installation of energy-efficient appliances was mandatory. “We have a very efficient fridge – three times more efficient than the average energy star fridge. And we’ve found that the fruits and vegetables last longer,” said Mrs. Packard in the kitchen where beautiful, earthfriendly granite countertops steal the show. “We used local products whenever we could, like this ‘Stanstead White’ or ‘Beverley’ granite. It’s named after Beverley Haselton who owned the Haselton Quarry, where it came from.”
A masonry heater, which resembles a fireplace inserted into a very wide brick chimney, is strategically located at the center of the house. “The key to this heating system is threefold: it is central; it’s made with lots of bricks; and it’s equipped with a Finnish, contraflow masonry heater. We build only one fire a day, in the morning, and the next day there is still heat radiating from the bricks.”
If it’s hard to tell that you’re in an eco-house on the upper floors, (unless you catch sight of the composting toilet in the bathroom which is usually a dead give-away), in the basement it is obvious. Odorless, toilet waste composters in one corner, a kitchen compost chute against another wall, a grey water treatment system that Mr. Packard, a geologist by profession, devised himself, and a ‘solar room’ that houses a control panel, the DC converter and large bank of batteries, make it quite apparent that Buffy and Jeffrey Packard are serious about living sustainably and they’re figuring out how to do it.
Although the couple admitted that the challenges in building their home have been many, one they didn’t expect came in the form of a petition signed by about forty Ogden residents who were opposed to the Packards’ plan of erecting an array of solar panels lakeside. “Some people were concerned about the proliferation of solar panels around the lake,” said Mrs. Packard. “Philosophically, that would be great. But it won’t happen for two reasons: HydroQuebec charges between fifteen and forty cents per kilowatt hour and it’s costing me about $1.35 per kilowatt hour, so there’s no incentive there. The second reason is you need an east-west shoreline, and most of the lake is north-south,” explained Mr. Packard.
The Packards’ adventure in sustainable living began almost by accident, when they began summering in a caboose that they bought and set up in the woods, in Ogden, in the 1990’s. “We bought a composting toilet and then solar panels. We were economically driven, at first, but then we began to appreciate that low-impact lifestyle. It dawned on us that reducing consumption should be the first priority,” said Mr. Packard, who continued: “Working as a geologist in the wilderness of the high Arctic, I could be walking where no-one had been before, and then come across a weather balloon, a piece of garbage. In even the remotest of places, I’ve seen plastic tubing all over the beaches.”
It was back in Calgary where the couple first came across a state-of-the-art home of the future. “We took a tour of an ecohouse in Calgary, a zero energy house designed by the architect Jorg Ostrowski. He invented the ecostud wall system. That visit piqued our interest,” said Mrs. Packard. “It was a real eye opener,” added her husband. That same architect would eventually visit the Packards’ building site on the shore of Lake Massawippi and help design their new home, which they eventually dubbed “Solarhurst”.
Now that this daring couple has almost completed their special home, learning much and overcoming obstacles along the way, I asked them how they felt about the experience. “There’s a quiet self-satisfaction, a sense that we’re trying our best, doing our part,” said Mr. Packard. “I just find that living like this, and in the country, is more restful. I walk the dog, do gardening, and watch Jeff wrestling with the water recovery system,” said Buffy. “It’s about building the better mousetrap,” added Jeff.
Buffy and Jeffrey Packard would like to share what they’ve learned about living sustainably by holding a tour of their remarkable home. “Anyone interested in the concept of green living or others who are already doing it would probably enjoy the tour. We’re looking forward to exchanging ideas. It won’t only be interesting for builders, but also for people who want to learn more about all the small things you can do. Someone even suggested we should do tours with school kids!”
The free tour of the Packards’ eco-house, located at 105 Descente 20, in Ogden, is taking place on Saturday, August 31st, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Because of limited parking, visitors should park their vehicles at Weir Memorial Park and walk up (5 minutes). Much more information about their project can be found on their website at www.solarhurst.ca.
Jeffrey Packard looks over the equipment in his ‘Solar room’ at his eco-house, in Ogden.