Racking up solar gains
Tartan trims energy costs by harnessing power of the sun
Tartan Homes must have special pull with the sun. Last weekend, the company launched Solar Summer at its community of Jackson Trails in Stittsville, marking Tartan as Ottawa’s first solar-ready builder.
Old sol, knowing it was his time to shine, did exactly that all weekend.
Under Tartan’s scheme, until Sept. 7 buyers of single homes will have their Energy Star-certified home upgraded for free so it’s ready for subsequent installation of a solar hot water system.
The upgrade, worth approximately $800 and available at Tartan’s Jackson Trails and Findlay Creek communities, includes bracing in the attic for roof-mounted solar panels, installation of in-wall conduit for special copper piping, and adjustments to the conventional hot-water heater.
The solar-ready homes should be ready for occupancy in spring 2009.
“It’s a corporate positioning we’ve decided to take,” says Bruce Nicol, vice-president of Tartan Homes.
Expanding green consciousness among the general public should make the solar option a natural one, says the environmental booster.
It’s hard to argue with his logic. Water heating accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of an average home’s energy consumption and powering one of those water heaters produces 600 to 700 kilogram of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Ottawa’s plentiful sunshine makes it one of Canada’s best locations for solar power, according to seminar speakers at Saturday’s launch. In this city, a solar water heater can meet roughly 60 per cent of an average home’s annual needs.
The technology is easily grasped. Solar panels on a south-facing roof use the sun’s energy to heat the glycol that passes through them. The glycol then travels down an insulated copper pipe to a suitcase-sized heat exchanger in the basement.
That exchanger then heats cold water and shunts it into a storage tank for household use. During extended cloudy periods, the conventional hot water tank kicks in. Two four-byeight-foot solar panels and a 60-gallon storage tank will meet the needs of a family of four. The panels on Tartan’s display home lie flat on the roof, hardly more noticeable than skylights.
Nicol says there was discussion at Tartan about not putting panels on street-side roofs, but the company decided its commitment to green energy outweighed esthetic concerns.
The price tag for installing a solar heating system in a Tartan solar-ready home is about $8,100. The cost is cut to roughly $5,200 thanks to Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY for Renewable Heat Program. The grant is administered through Sustainable Ottawa, a community-based energy co-operative for projects like Tartan’s. A solar system requires an energy audit to qualify for federal and provincial rebates.
“I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth it,” says Jack Jiang, following a weekend seminar on solar water heating. Jiang and his wife, Nancy Wang, are awaiting completion of their Tartan home in the Leitrim-area community of Findlay Creek and might have it solar readied even though they’ll have to pay for it themselves.
“As a homeowner, your first concern is cost. You have to be realistic. If the payback on solar is five years, then it’s worth it.”
In fact, the payback is probably closer to seven or eight years. Using terms like payback, however, is like comparing apples and oranges.
“Other heat systems will never pay back; you just keep paying to use them,” Warren Abar, president of Ottawa’s Isolara Energy Services Inc., which provides solar and other technologies, told seminar participants.
By contrast, a solar system not only pays for itself in energy bill savings over several years, but after that works for free. Well, almost free.
The glycol circulating pump in the EnerWorks system sold by Isolara uses about $9 of electricity a year, the glycol needs to be replaced every three to five years at $135, and the storage tank — worth $700 to 800 — lasts about 15 years. The panels should work for 25 years.
Tartan’s Solar Summer program is an especially good fit for the company’s Jackson Trails site. With fellow builder Tamarack Homes, the company is touting Jackson Trails as Canada’s first community of Energy Starqualified homes. Energy-saving features include double-sealed, low-e, argon windows; R-25 insulation in exterior walls; heat-recovery ventilators; and programmable thermostats.
Buyers can expect to save up to 40 per cent on their energy bills compared to conventional homes. Top that off with a solar water heater, and you are talking serious savings in cash and greenhouse gas emissions.