Eco Solar Tour celebrates 25 years of highlighting energy efficiency

Find out how others have made their homes save energy or reach net zero on this weekend’s free tour.

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Twenty-five years later, Edmonton’s Eco Solar Tour is still shining a light on environmentally friendly technology for your home.

With its 2024 tour kicking off this weekend, the 25th annual tour — technically, it is the 24th since there was no tour in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — will highlight some of the latest in energy efficiency with examples of deep energy residential retrofits, geothermal practices and solar arrays, among other sustainable options. It runs Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2.

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“Lots has changed over the years,” said Andrew Mills, Eco Solar Tour Society president.

In those first years, said Mills, compact fluorescent light bulbs were a big thing and so was putting a brick in your toilet to cut down water usage.

“You can save a brick’s worth of water in the older style toilets,” said Mills, but noted that over time it would interfere with being able to properly flush the bowl. “Remember, an old style toilet would use 23 litres to flush the toilet and current toilets now use six litres to flush.”

For this weekend’s event, which shows how technology has dramatically improved since 2000, the tour is offering 15 sites in greater Edmonton — one is in Sturgeon County, one is in St. Albert, while the rest are in the city.

There are four sites using a pre-fabricated panel system, where homes essentially get panels that wrap around the exterior, sort of like wrapping your home in an energy-efficient sweater. Geothermal is also front and centre, with both residential and commercial examples. A Thorncliffe home, meanwhile, provides an example of a straw bale addition while other homes focus on achieving net zero — generating as much energy as they consume. Also expect to find a newer focus of the tour: homeowners who are into food forests, where they try to grow as much food themselves — ranging from fruit to vegetables.

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“The homes we show on the tour, its homeowners that have found something that they’re interested in and that they want to show,” said Mills. “Whether it’s a different way of insulating, whether it’s a different technology to make heat, whether it’s a different way to grow their garden, people have found something they’re passionate about and they’ve joined the tour to show that to other people.”

Suburban Net Zero

It was time for Audric Moses and his family to find a better home, not just one that would work better for their family but also one that would be more environmentally friendly.

The plan was to find a lot not owned by a traditional builder and instead work with a builder that specialized in a self-sustaining, ultra-efficient and non-toxic home.

“We were looking around for where we could possibly build a house like this,” said Moses, adding that for solar it would be ideal if the back of the roof faced south. “So, we were looking for a yard or a lot that would have that and we also wanted to really have a big vegetable garden to grow a lot of food for ourselves.”

But Moses and his family soon found out that lots with those criteria are quite difficult to come by, especially in newer communities in newer parts of the city where they wanted to stay because of their kids and their schools.

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So Moses did the next best thing. The family picked out the best lot that would work for them and then went to the builder it was tied to — Augusta Fine Homes — and told them what they wanted to do, that they wanted to reach net zero using a variety of lower-cost strategies. They were pleasantly surprised to find Augusta was receptive and willing to work with them.

Moses, who had taken the Eco Solar Tour for about three years prior to his family moving forward with the build in 2015 in Langdale in Windermere (in southwest Edmonton), said he also consulted with Carbon Busters, which specializes in and builds net zero homes, and used the consultation’s findings to help guide themselves and Augusta through the home-building process.

“I think that a lot of people are interested in things like this, both to reduce their carbon footprint but also to reduce costs because energy is quite expensive these days,” said Moses. “If you don’t really have much familiarity with this, it can be quite overwhelming, so I think that showcasing how we did it and talking to people directly can be really helpful for them.”

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To take part in the 2024 Edmonton Eco Solar Tour, head to the website to find out about the homes/sites and select the ones to visit. The tour, Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2, is a free event. Hours are noon to 5 p.m., but there are exceptions.

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