Home for the fu­ture

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Og­den

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.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Jef­frey Packard looks over the equip­ment in his ‘So­lar room’ at his eco-house, in Og­den.

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