Super-Insulated House Plans

Learn more about the super-insulated building technique that's popular in Saskatoon.

| May/June 1982

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    Super-insulated homes are able to withstand Saskatoon's harsh winters.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Diagram of the super-insulation.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Bay-like windows are the only noticeable physical characteristics of super-insulated homes.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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In its coverage of energy-efficient housing, this publication has generally focused on homes that rely on active or passive solar heating systems. Recently, however, MOTHER EARTH NEWS began to look into an offshoot of passive solar technology: the super-insulated house — and it seems that such structures have impressively low heating needs, even when they're situated in extremely cold areas.

To get a closer look at the specialized building techniques involved in super-insulation construction, two of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' staffers visited Saskatoon (located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan), where 14 such houses have been built as part of a regional Energy Showcase program.

Saskatoon typically experiences close to 11,000 heating degree-days annually (by comparison, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have — respectively — 4,870, 3,000 and 6,175 degree-days each year), and is therefore an almost ideal spot to test the mettle of any purported energy-efficient housing concept. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Our traveling staffers were quick to report that Saskatoon's weather can be very severe. On one day during MOTHER EARTH NEWS' February trip, for example, the temperature stood at -25 degrees Fahrenheit, a figure that didn't take into account the wind whipping across the prairie. In the course of that day's shooting, our photographer temporarily set a plastic-coated cable release on the ground . . . only to have the wire snap in two when he tried to pick it up!]  

Super-Insulated Homes: A Cooperative Venture

Back in 1980, Saskatoon's Energy Showcase — sponsored by the governments of Canada and Saskatchewan, the local branch of the Housing and Urban Development Association and the city itself — invited builders to submit plans for low-energy residences. Of these, 14 designs — which were to be built by 13 different construction companies — were chosen. In the selection process, two criteria stood above all others: The homes had to have less than 2,150 square feet of heated space, and the designs could not differ significantly in appearance from the more conventional houses already being constructed by the companies.

 



Each of the builders then received a $6,000 compensation for the additional expenses that often go hand in hand with energy-efficient construction. (It's estimated that some $5,000 — or about 6 percent — of the cost of each project home resulted from the super-insulation features. However, builders are finding, now that they've constructed a number of these houses, that this expense can be reduced.) The residences ranged in price from $65,000 to $120,000 in Canadian dollars, with the average being around $85,000 ($1.00 Canadian equals roughly 80¢ U.S.). The approximate cost per square foot was between $40 and $45 ... again, in north-of-the-border currency. All of the homes were built on speculation and are now owned privately… and the buyers of the energy-efficient dwellings received a discount on their mortgage interest rates for taking part in the program.

 

imhereforthebeer
4/4/2015 2:33:35 PM

Great Article. Any website info from the builders, or plans? This concept would be excellent in New Hampshire.







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