Energy-efficient Houses

Saskatchewan Conservation House, Regina, ca. 1977.
Regina Leader-Post

An energy-efficient home built in northwest Regina in 1977 is believed to be one of the first conservation demonstration houses constructed in North America. Over the years, more than 30,000 people toured the two-storey structure, roughly cubicle in shape, airtight, and equipped with a heat recycling system. It had no furnace; instead, the house was heated with a solar heating system designed specifically for Saskatchewan’s extreme climate. The Saskatchewan Research Council was the project manager for this conservation home; other partners included the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, the National Research Council’s division of building research, and the engineering faculties at the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan. Land was provided by the city of Regina.

Energy consumption was 85% less than it would have been if conservation techniques had not been applied. The house was designed to expose a minimum amount of exterior surface area per square foot of floor space; there was no basement. The exterior finish was dark-brown cedar siding: as dark colours absorb heat from the sun, this enabled the house to act as a giant solar collector. The landscaping was also designed to increase thermal efficiency: deciduous trees on the south side of the house provided shade in summer and allowed solar heat to enter the windows in the winter. There were energy-efficient kitchen appliances and a water-conserving toilet. Hot water was recycled with an experimental heat recovery system consisting of three basic parts: solar collects, which collected radiation from the sun and converted it to heat; a large storage tank which stored the heat in water; and a distribution system which utilized the stored heat to provide warm air and hot water as required.

After the initial scientific monitoring period ended, the house was sold and a family moved in. A garage was added at the back of the property, and the solar thermal collectors were removed because the manufacturer was no longer providing servicing. The Regina energy-efficient house had a large impact on the house-building community: the Canadian R-2000 program now has a requirement for air tightness that recognizes this important technique as demonstrated in the 1977 home. The use of an air-to-air heat exchanger for ventilation was a pioneering effort: these types of heat exchangers are now produced in the tens of thousands each year in North America. In addition, the use of passive solar heating has become incorporated into the mainstream of construction techniques by advanced designers. Higher levels of insulation have virtually doubled to 140 mm from the 62 mm common in the late 1970s; however, this is still less than half the amount of wall insulation (300 mm) applied to the Regina house.

Joe Ralko