A con­cept whose time may come

Off-the-grid home stands tall, re­ally tall

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Donna Nebenzahl

IT might be just a cou­ple of feet tall, but Jean-Pierre Des­marais’ con­cept home of the fu­ture has been stop­ping peo­ple in their tracks.

That was the re­sponse from many in at­ten­dance at the re­cent Cot­tage and Coun­try Homes show in Montreal. There it stood, around the cor­ner from the new fire­places, state-of-the-art wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tems and coun­try prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, on a large ta­ble rep­re­sent­ing a coun­try set­ting of treed hill­sides and ver­dant mead­ows.

Most vis­i­tors had never seen any­thing like it: ris­ing high above the trees, a mush­room-shaped build­ing with an el­e­va­tor in its steel-framed com­pos­ite ‘stem’ and a two-storey, glass-fronted ‘cap.’

When built, the sin­gle-fam­ily home will stand 24 me­tres high, with four wind tur­bines in­te­grated into its frame and an aero­dy­namic shape to cap­ture the breezes. Be­cause of th­ese and a host of other de­sign el­e­ments, the house will be com­pletely off the grid, says in­ven­tor Des­marais, who brought the con­cept house to the homes show.

There’s an in­creased in­ter­est in waste re­duc­tion, re­cy­cling and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, say the cre­ator and his wife, Kathy Gil­dart. This sin­gle-fam­ily home, which Des­marais has named Homer­i­zon, in­te­grates a host of re­new­able and en­vi­ron­men­tal sys­tems, such as so­lar pho­to­voltaic pan­els, wind­mills, fire­place with wood pel­lets, hot wa­ter and ra­di­ant floor heat­ing by ther­mal so­lar pan­els, pas­sive so­lar de­sign, plumb­ing gen­er­a­tor (elec­tric­ity), ex­er­cise gen­er­a­tor (power gen­er­a­tor), re­cov­ery of rain­wa­ter, au­ton­o­mous drink­ing wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem, waste­water treat­ment and re­cy­cling.

But this is no back-to-the-woods con­cept. By its shape and con­fig­u­ra­tion, Des­marais says, the home of­fers in­creased se­cu­rity and com­fort.

Its en­ergy sav­ing and re­new­able sys­tems will be man­aged by au­to­ma­tion, such as power cut-off of un­used elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances, shut­ters that open to cap­ture heat, and air con­di­tion­ing and ven­ti­la­tion that ad­justs to bal­ance the cool­ness in the rooms be­ing used.

Ev­ery level ac­com­mo­dates re­cy­cling and re­new­able en­ergy use. Out­door park­ing in­cludes out­lets to recharge elec­tric ve­hi­cles. The base­ment has a geo­ther­mal heat pump, a gen­er­a­tor, a waste­water reser­voir and fil­tra­tion. On the first floor, the kitchen in­cludes re­cy­cling ap­pa­ra­tus and en­ergy ef­fi­cient ap­pli­ances, while the bath­rooms have low-flow show­ers. The next level has a pho­to­voltaic glass dome roof with light­ning-rod and com­mu­ni­ca­tion an­tenna, and room-tem­per­a­ture­op­ti­miz­ing shut­ters, while the ter­rasse fea­tures a large glass green­house and rain­wa­ter re­cov­ery gut­ters.

All of this, Des­marais says, means a ju­di­cious use of en­ergy and what he calls “a liv­ing aware­ness” of daily con­sump­tion.

And it could be yours, for any­where from $3.5 to $5 mil­lion. “That’s the ar­chi­tec­tural eval­u­a­tion,” said Des­marais, who has spent the last two years de­vel­op­ing the idea, but has yet to see a Homer­i­zon home built.

The idea for the home came to him sev­eral decades ago, but it was dur­ing a work stint as spe­cial-ef­fects tech­ni­cian on the film Mummy III that Des­marais met an il­lus­tra­tor who put his ideas on pa­per. In or­der to in­te­grate the re­new­able en­ergy sys­tems, he then went to an ar­chi­tect and de­signer.

“For many peo­ple who see it, it to­tally makes sense,” said Gil­dart. “The re­newal en­ergy tech­nolo­gies are avail­able, and we should be able to in­te­grate them into the struc­ture of our homes.”

Many of the peo­ple who have viewed the con­cept with in­ter­est have large pieces of land in se­cluded ar­eas, she says. “They’re off the grid and they want to stay that way.”

Re­new­able en­ergy has al­ways mo­ti­vated Des­marais. Nearly seven years ago, he cre­ated L’ecole des en­er­gies al­ter­na­tives in Montreal, which he left two years ago to con­cen­trate on Homer­i­zon.

Af­ter 25 years think­ing about it, his off-the-grid home is closer than ever to re­al­ity. It re­mains to be seen whether the in­ter­ested par­ties will fol­low through, but as they work to bring to­gether the money and ex­per­tise to build the first Homer­i­zon home, the cou­ple lives in the coun­try­side, where they re­cy­cle, com­post and do their own or­ganic gar­den­ing.

“Even­tu­ally, we’d like to build one of th­ese homes for our­selves,” Gil­dart said. “When we re­tire.”

— Canwest News Ser­vice

IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS COUR­TESY HOMERIZONS

The in­te­rior de­sign al­lows for cosy and comfortable ar­eas, as well as large spa­ces for en­ter­tain­ing a large num­ber of peo­ple, top. An out­door ter­race al­lows for panoramic views and con­tainer gar­den­ing, and four gen­er­a­tors gather en­ergy from the

wind at the el­e­vated level.

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