It’s another typical winter day in the countryside near Edmonton, – 22 C but the sun is shining. Sunlight not only lifts our spirits but generates the power that runs everything in our house as well as heating the house itself through our south facing windows.

We recently moved into our dream home, a highly energy efficient bungalow that we designed ourselves. The rolling land near Beaumont seemed a perfect habitat, given our love of nature and our goal to live with a smaller footprint.

The inspiration first took hold while attending Edmonton’s Eco Solar Tours annually starting 11 years ago. Ideas became goals a few years back when we became empty nesters and wanted to downsize. The tours spurred our enthusiasm, gave us concrete ideas and a list of builders with expertise that we could draw from. The focus was to build the envelope extremely well and have a home that was solar panel ready and as finances allowed, we would put on solar panels in the future. We knew we did not want a gas line to the house as our research had confirmed it was not necessary and therefore an added expense we could do without.

We designed our home with the assistance of a great home designer who was highly knowledgeable regarding energy efficient home features. Our home builder, Rosecrest Homes was selected on merit due to their considerable expertise in this area of home building and also because they could build our design within our budget.

It was in fact our builder who strongly encouraged us to install the solar panels immediately. The owner of Rosecrest convinced us that even if we needed to finance the additional expense of solar panels, and amortize over 25 years, they would pay for themselves immediately through cost savings in utility bills. We agreed to add panels during the build as opposed to some later time. Additional savings were realized when we installed the solar panels ourselves.

We moved into our beautiful home nine months ago. It turns out our goals have been exceeded in almost every facet. The house was rated at Energuide 96, Platinum level. The 52 solar panels power the entire home including two very small electric furnaces, Hot water tank and fireplace. We expect the panels will meet our electricity needs within one calendar year however we will not know definitively until August 2015. That would be considered Net Zero. If we don’t meet that goal, we are sure to be close. We do have additional roof space for more solar panels if required.

Because we are curious and thought it would be fun, we recently gathered all the figures and data from the bank regarding the additional cost of financing the solar panels. We also compared our current utilities to our old utilities when we lived in Edmonton. We are saving more every month in utilities (recall we have no gas line) than we are paying in extra interest to pay them off at the bank.  You could make the argument that they are nearly “free”.

To be saving money immediately is a nice bonus actually. But it really drives home the logic of building in energy efficiencies right at the time of building a home and defies the myth that building in this way is expensive or would take 20 years or more to pay for itself. It pays for itself right away. While we are saving money every month, we are doing our part to save the planet from a toxic accumulation of greenhouse gases.

By the way, being energy efficient need not be ugly. We have a stunning home with a unique blend of traditional and contemporary design elements. We utilized classical building products such as natural stone inside and out, stucco, hardwood floors and granite countertops. It has been nominated for Alberta Home Builders’ Association House of Excellence Award. We find our home to be very comfortable in all seasons and would not change anything about the house itself. We only wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.

You are invited to come see the house as part of the 16th Annual Eco-Solar Tour. Our house is number seven on Saturday’s tour. You can see all the details on our house, including the address, as well as the other houses featured on the website: http://www.ecosolar.ca. The Eco Solar Tour is running both Saturday and Sunday. We are open to the public for viewing on Saturday May 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.