Dis­con­nect­ing from the grid

So­lar and wind pro­vide power to home

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties - DONNA NEBENZAHL MONTREAL GAZETTE

Asim­ple wooden house on 1.6 hectares of land just south of Montreal is home to a back-to-the-lan­der who’s us­ing the lat­est tech­nolo­gies to make it hap­pen.

The one-and-a-half-storey gableroofe­d house — its east­ern white pine posts and beams held to­gether with pegs rather than nails — sits near the bank of a marshy river near the Chateau­guay Val­ley, sur­rounded by stands of oak, elm and maple and hand­made shelters for a win­ter’s sup­ply of logs.

Th­ese are ex­am­ples of old-fash­ioned skills, joined to the 21st cen­tury in the form of a mas­sive so­lar panel near the front door, and a windmill ris­ing be­yond the peak of the roof that can pump 400 watts of power into the house.

That — to­gether with the wattage from the so­lar pan­els — com­prise the 1,600 watts held in the eight bat­ter­ies in the home.

It’s enough to light the in­te­rior for longer than three weeks, says the home­owner, who re­quested anonymity.

He uses this en­ergy for lighting, as well as to power the pump that brings him wa­ter from the nearby well. This home­owner, of Mo­hawk de­scent, is one of a hand­ful of Que­be­cers who are ex­per­i­ment­ing with liv­ing off the grid: no gas or hy­dro­elec­tric lines.

He still has a lit­tle way to go, he ad­mits, us­ing a gas bar­be­cue to cook and pow­er­ing his stove and fridge with propane.

And he will fire up the gen­er­a­tor to power the washer and dryer, or when his 11-year-old twin sons visit, so they can watch TV.

But he prefers to be self-suf­fi­cient, col­lect­ing white ash from his prop­erty and chop­ping logs that are then air-dried in his open­sided wood­shed and fi­nally moved to the closed win­ter shed near the house. “I need to get this wood very dry to use in the Py­ro­mass stove in the house,” he says.

The house was built nearly four years ago by Hamlet Heavy Tim­ber­work in Ri­gaud, Que., a com­pany that spe­cial­izes in tim­ber frame houses, and it was con­structed with the nat­u­ral in mind.

“We used dif­fer­ent na­tive hard­woods for the knee braces, which are nat­u­rally curved and will sta­bi­lize the frame,” says Hamlet Heavy co-owner Daniel Addey-Jibb. “We used cherry, ash and oak in this constructi­on, and the base is white pine.”

Hamlet in­stalled the pegged tim­ber frame with mor­tise and tenon joints, as well as the walls and roof and the out­side sid­ing, which is vertical boards and bat­ten.

They in­su­lated the house with cel­lu­lose, which is re­cy­cled newsprint treated with a nat­u­ral preser­va­tive that keeps ro­dents out and is a fire-re­tar­dant, and also in­stalled Que­bec-made cher­ry­wood win­dows and doors for the home­owner.

“It’s very well-in­su­lated,” says Addey-Jibb: “An R-28 — and an R-40 roof — com­pared to the stan­dard R-16 to 20.”

“I was tired of be­ing in debt with all th­ese monthly bills,” says the home­owner. “I wanted, for my own health, to move ev­ery day.”

So he spends a lot of time keep­ing him­self and his house run­ning, fol­low­ing the sun­light by turn­ing his so­lar pan­els, chop­ping wood, feed­ing his stove, and putting the fin­ish­ing touches on the home’s in­te­rior.

The rough stone path, made with stones taken from the prop­erty, leads up to dou­ble glass doors that look out onto the marshy riverbed, its banks stud­ded with an­cient trees.

In­side the house, bur­nished dark oak floors are used in the kitchen and din­ing area and around the fire­place, while floors in the liv­ing area are fin­ished in a rus­tic style.

With its peaked roof and cathe­dral ceil­ing ris­ing from the main floor to the bed­room loft spa­ces on ei­ther end of the house, the house is an open plan with a cen­tral fire­place and chim­ney, de­signed to keep the heat mov­ing through­out.

“Floor­ing is solid wood, as is tim­ber fram­ing and in­te­rior walls,” says Addey-Jibb.

“He wanted non-toxic ma­te­ri­als, to be su­per in­su­lated and to live as sim­ply as pos­si­ble.”

In­side, the fo­cal point is a wood­burn­ing ma­sonry heater made by ar­ti­san Mar­cus Flynn of Py­ro­masse in Montreal.

Crafted of re­cy­cled clay brick (the bricks from a 19th-cen­tury city build­ing) in the Fin­nish style, known as a con­tra-flow heater with up­per cham­ber oven, it burns hot and quickly and will ab­sorb and ra­di­ate heat for eight to 12 hours, the home­owner says.

“The ther­mal charge will be slowly dis­si­pated up to three days,” says Flynn.

From one fire per day us­ing about 14 kilo­grams of wood, he says, the heater will be hot 24 hours a day, even without flame or ac­tive fire in the sys­tem.

The sunken hearth sur­round­ing the fire­place is sur­rounded by slate tiles, which also form the floor of the cosy hearth.

The home­owner has paid for this con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral world.

But even though he has given up his hec­tic life of a chef for a more de­lib­er­ate, home-based ac­tiv­ity of an ar­ti­san, and de­spite the $50,000 for the frame of the house and $20,000 for state-of-the-art win­dows, he is now debt-free.

“I just got here three years ago,” he says. “I suc­ceeded now in tak­ing care of the heat­ing and dry­ing the wood, and I am able to ma­chine my own lum­ber from wood taken on my land. I have red and white oak, elm and ash.”

But this life­style change means more to this home­owner than get­ting off the grid.

His plan, like the home­steader Richard Proen­neke in his favourite DVD, Alone in the Wilder­ness, is to wean him­self off all ameni­ties and go live in a cabin on the land with no elec­tric­ity, no gen­er­a­tor and no so­lar heat­ing.

“Our fore­fa­thers did it and stayed healthy for a long time,” he says.

Peter McCabe, Montreal Gazette

The cen­trally-lo­cated fire­place bricks ab­sorb the heat and ra­di­ate its warmth long af­ter the fire has been ex­tin­guished.

A windmill on the roof and a so­lar panel on the side of the house help gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity. The house is com­pletely off the grid and sur­rounded by na­ture.

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