Energy Use Summary for 2021

Summer Afternoon over WTF

As of January 2022, we’ve lived a full year in our new house, the Birches @ WTF. With a year’s worth of data, I’ve taken the opportunity to analyze our overall energy use.

The house uses propane for radiant heating and domestic hot water and electricity for air conditioning and heat recovery ventilation. The radiant heating and domestic hot water both use some electricity when they run but, for now, I’ve included that in the electricity base load. We also run the air distribution system all year round as it helps to even the temperature differences out in the house; this too will be reflected in the electricity base load. In the future, I may get an electrical monitoring system (something like a Sense system) to do a more precise allocation of electricity.

To start, here’s our total monthly energy usage for 2021:

Monthly Propane and Electricity Use (kWh)
(right-click and select “Open Image in New Tab” to see a full-size version)

I used a factor of 7.0859 kWh/litre to convert the propane usage to kWh. It is clear that the house uses more energy for heating than cooling.

Computing Energy Base Loads

My next step was to determine the non-heating and non-cooling base loads for propane and electricity respectively.

For the propane base load, we did not run the radiant heat system in June, July, August and September. Therefore, our propane use over that period was entirely for domestic hot water. I averaged our usage over these four months and got 18.4 kWh/d. It is in line with what I would expect for our household size of 5 people.

Calculating the base load for electricity proved more challenging as we had some big one-off electricity users in the spring of 2021 (specifically, electric heaters in our workshop and greenhouse). After removing these months, I was able to use parts of May, June and October as well as all of November and December data to compute the electric base load. The final average was 34.8 kWh/d.

Using this information, I was able to refine the first chart into the following:

Monthly Propane and Electricity Use (kWh) – Base Loads Split Out
(right-click and select “Open Image in New Tab” to see a full-size version)

You can clearly see the Other (E) electricity usage in January through May. It surprised me that those workshop and greenhouse heaters used in total 2.5 times more energy than the house used for air conditioning in 2021.

Annual Heating and Cooling Energy Demands

With these splits done, I could now sum up our annual heating demand (14,020 kWh) and cooling demand (950 kWh) for 2021.

So is that performance any good? The gold standard for low energy building design is the international PassivHouse standard. Although we did not explicitly design the house to PassivHouse standards, we did implement many of the PassivHouse ideas into our design:

  • Triple-glazing on all windows and doors;
  • Heat-recovery ventilation designed into the air circulation system;
  • Explicit solar designed to let winter heat in while blocking summer heat;
  • Concrete floors and subfloors to retain solar heat, especially in winter;
  • Very tight construction which yielded a Air Changes per Hour under 1.0;
  • No fireplace or gas stove.

The PassivHouse standard takes into account the livable surface area of the building. For our house, the livable surface area is 347 m2, which yields the following:

Passivhaus StandardPHI Low Energy Building StandardThe Birches @ WTF in 2021
Heating15 kWh/m2/a30 kWh/m2/a40 kWh/m2/a
Cooling15 kWh/m2/a15 kWh/m2/a3 kWh/m2/a

From these numbers, we can see that the performance of the house is very good, especially if you consider the house sits exposed in the middle of a field with only a small treed windbreak to the northwest of the house and exposed in all other directions.

Here’s another way to look at the house’s energy performance: our 40 KWh/m2/a is well below the expected performance of a modern house:

More Detailed Modeling for Heating and Cooling Energy Use

An useful website for energy performance monitoring is DegreeDays.net. From their website:

“Buildings require more heating in colder weather, and more air-conditioning in hotter weather. DegreeDays.net provides the data to quantify this and help monitor, manage, and reduce energy consumption in millions of buildings around the world.”

Using their free service, you simply identify for a local reliable weather station and request the degree-day calculations for the time period of interest. The closest reliable weather station to White Tree Farm is the London Ontario International Airport (CYXU).

Other than the weather station selection, the other key parameter in the degree-day calculation is the base temperature. In layman’s terms, the base temperature is the ambient temperature at which the building requires heating or cooling. For example, a building that can store passive solar energy will be able to go to lower ambient temperatures before heating is needed. For example, as I write this on a cold but sunny winter’s afternoon, it is -10 deg C outside. And yet, it is 25 deg C throughout the house despite the radiant heating last running 10 hours ago.

Heating and cooling have different base temperatures and they are not the temperatures you run on your thermostats.

Determining what base temperature you should use is really only something you can do after you have a year’s worth of data. DegreeDays.net provides a regression tool to allow you to find the best Heating and Cooling base temperatures for further analysis. For the Birches @ WTF, the regression tool suggested that the heating base temperature (HDD) should be 11.0 deg C and the cooling base temperature 22.0 deg C. Our actual experience with the house aligns with these numbers. The house retains heat well and we are comfortable in spring and fall with no heating. On the other hand, because the house retains heat so well, the ambient temperature does not have to go much above 22 deg C and we feel we need to run the air conditioning.

Predicting Energy Use from HDD and CDD

As well as finding the best HDD and CDD base temperatures, the regression tool generates a fitted model relating the daily HDD and CDD to the expected energy usage.

  • Heating: Daily Demand (kWh) = 7.423*HDD_11
  • Cooling: Daily Demand (kWh) = 7.456*CDD_22

These equations allow a prediction of heating and cooling demand if the daily HDD_11 and/or CDD_22 is known.

Summary

I am pretty pleased with the performance of the house. It is a comfortable living space and the energy use requirements are very much in line with a high performance, energy efficient house. There are a number of changes we could make over time to further optimize the house’s performance.

Trails at WTF

One of our high-priority tasks at WTF was to build a set of trails around the edges of the property.

Although I did a lot of reading on trail construction, making the trails has been straightforward. To start, I used the rotary cutter on our John Deere tractor to clear the trails of the small brush that grew up since the fields were last farmed. The clay soil on the property makes a good foundation for the trails and we’ve not had to dress them with gravel or other ground material. In 2020 and 2021, we’ve been able to maintain the trails by cutting them every three weeks or so with our ride-on lawnmower set at a 3-4″ cut. There is only one small length of trail that is prone to washing out/staying muddy; I could put a small walkway there but for now we’ll live with it.

The Trails at WTF circa 2021

Naming the Trails

We’ve had a lot of fun naming the trails:

Blackberry Trail

The east side of the property is covered with blackberry plants, so the name was pretty obvious. Blackberry Trail starts at the bridge we built in 2020 and ends at a log bench where you can look out over Lake Erie (as seen in the title photo). Blackberry Trail also gives the best views of the trees we had planted in 2016. In the future, the trail will sit between two rows of oak trees for much of its length.

Deerfoot Trail

We’ve seen a lot of deer moving across the farm right at the cliff’s edge. I think it was Becky who said “Look. Deer on Deerfoot Trail.” The name is also an ode to Calgary since everyone except Lily lived there for quite a few years.

Turkey Run Trail

In the early days owning the farm, we would most often see wild turkeys on the west side of the property, so we choose to name this trail after them. Turkey Run Trail also runs through the forested area in the northwest corner of the property; this stretch is probably my favorite part of all the trails.

Centre Trail

Centre Trail runs down the middle of the property following the old gravel road for part of the way. It is the main access route for getting our tractor into the south part of the farm.

Construction Completion Update Q2 2021

An Aerial Photo of the House at White Tree Farm - April 24, 2021

June 24, 2021 marks the six-month anniversary of us obtaining the occupancy permit for the house, marking the completion of the main construction activities for the house. We’ve been super busy since then and it has taken me until now to find some time to write up an update.

After Garrison Creek spent a couple of weeks tidying up a number of small items, we moved into the house on January 24, 2021, a few days after our daughter, her husband and our granddaughter moved in. We’ve been full-time here since, selling our condo in Port Stanley proper at the end of April 2021.

We’ve been really happy with almost all of the major choices we’ve made during the build; there isn’t much we would have done differently. I expect to write up a number of posts over the next few months describing the design decisions we made and how those decisions have turned out. I will also summarize the current energy usage for the house and discuss how that relates to the assumptions we made at the beginning.

With Thanks

Robin and I would like to thank all of the people who have been involved in this project over the years to get us to the point of main construction completion:

Building System

BONE Structure
Anne MacGregor, Ioana Bogdan, Magalie St-Georges, Blair Anderson

General Construction Contractor

Garrison Creek Construction
Kyle McDonald, Fraser Newton, Di Niu, Todd Gates, Chris Hill, Dave Austin

Interior Design

Finishing Touches Designers
Julie Williams, Laura Hallett

Trades

Deker Electric (electric)
Koolen Electric (radiant heating, domestic hot water, air conditioning)
Best Plumbing and Drainage (plumbing)
Concrete Floor Tek (concrete floors)
Seiling’s Floors (tiling)
Bergeron Drywall and Painting (drywall and painting)
Stair Haus (stair design and construction)
Dmitri Belichenko (stair tread staining)
Federal Elevator (elevator)

Kitchen Design and Cabinetry

GCW Kitchens and Cabinetry
Dave Gilmore

Satellite Internet

Elgin SAT Services
Lloyd Stirling, Kim Stirling

Financing

Flanagan Financial
Bruce Flanagan

Insurance

Andrew Crichton Insurance & Financial Services Inc.
Lynda Pasma, Jamie Levesque

Broker Link
Julie Long, Patty-Anne Pappas

Legal

Gloin, Hall and Shields
Vidya Ramcharitar-Gomes

House Build Progress Q4 2020

Garrison Creek has pushed hard in Q3 /Q4 to get the house completed for us. Drywall started to go up in late August after the electricians, plumbers and tilers did their rough installations. Paint and trim soon followed as well as the kitchen and bathroom cabinet installations.

All of it came together on December 23, 2020 when we received our occupancy permit (Merry Christmas to us!).

Thanks to Kyle and Fraser at Garrison and the many tradespeople who help us get to this point, despite a crazy year due to COVID-19.

What’s Ahead

We move in!

House Build Progress Q3 2020

Garrison Creek has pushed hard in Q3 to get the house completed for us. Drywall started to go up in late August after the electricians, plumbers and tilers did their rough installations. Paint and trim soon followed as well as the kitchen and bathroom cabinet installations.

What’s Ahead

Hopefully we’ll take occupancy in the next few weeks and move in.

The Corona Bridge: a COVID-19 Project

When we started construction on our new house, it became pretty clear that we needed to manage the flow of water coming off the fields from swamping the house. At the suggestion of our general contractor, we had a swale cut on the east side of the house that diverts the water north towards the main road. While this has helped the water management tremendously, it has left us with a three-foot ditch that prevents us from accessing the east fields directly with our lawn mower. The lockdown around the COVID-19 outbreak gave us a lot of free time on our hands and Robin suggested building a bridge over the swale. She sketched out a plan and secured the building materials (which at the time there was still plenty available).

We decided to build as much as we could in our workshop rather at the site. The workshop has a nice flat floor and was pretty warm in comparison to the outside temperature.

The next weekend, we prepared the footings for the bridge. Then we used our John Deere 1025R tractor to move the finished sections to the final location.

Once in position, we joined the two halves together and installed the planks and the caps on the posts.

Both Robin and I are really happy with the way it turned out and access to the east side trails is now straightforward.

House Build Progress Q1/Q2 2020

Work on the house was progressing well up until March 2020 when the various construction site restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak kicked in. A skeleton crew continued to work over this period but progress slowed considerably.

Several big items did get finished: the pouring and finishing the concrete floor throughout the house, the rough plumbing, the garage door and the elevator. Externally, the majority of the siding was installed.

What’s Ahead

We are hoping with restrictions easing in Ontario that the house can be completed so we can take occupancy in September. Electrical and HVAC rough-ins need to be completed before the interior finishing (drywall, painting, kitchen and bathroom installations) can start.

House Build Progress Q4 2019

Getting the house sealed up so the inside work could start was the big activity for Q4. Firstly, the roof and windows were installed. Then the ground floor concrete slab was poured. Finally a temporary front door was installed and a portable propane heater was used to bring the inside temperature up to a comfortable level.

What’s Ahead

Getting the plans together for the HVAC systems is the main focus for early Q1 2020.

House Build Progress Q3 2019

Lots of activity on the house in Q3. The most obvious from the photo above is the application of the insulating foam both inside and on the outside of the house. There has also been a lot of work in running the water and electrical services from the front of the property to the house. Although not shown in the photo, we’ve also had the septic system installed on the southeast corner of the house.

What’s Ahead

Garrison Creek is moving quickly to complete the outside of the house so that work can continue inside. Roofing, siding and window installation are all coming up soon.

2019 Freeman Family Picnic

Sunday September 15 marked the third year in a row that we hosted Robin’s mother’s family at White Tree Farm for their annual reunion picnic. We once again had a great turnout and took many people through the construction of our new house.