The Transformation of Our Urban Home
- Commenced: 01/09/2008
- Submitted: 26/02/2011
- Last updated: 25/11/2014
- Location: 227 Fonda Way SE, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Website: www.vergepermaculture.ca
- Climate zone: Cold Temperate
Legend of Badges
Note: The various badges displayed in people profiles are largely honesty-based self-proclamations by the individuals themselves. There are reporting functions users can use if they know of blatant misrepresentation (for both people and projects). Legitimacy, competency and reputation for all people and projects can be evidenced and/or developed through their providing regular updates on permaculture work they’re involved in, before/after photographs, etc. A spirit of objective nurturing of both people and projects through knowledge/encouragement/inspiration/resource sharing is the aim of the Worldwide Permaculture Network.
A member is a permaculturist who has never taken a PDC course. These cannot become PDC teachers. Members may be novice or highly experienced permaculturists or anywhere in between. Watch their updates for evaluation.
One of these badges will show if you select your gender and the "I'm single, looking for a permaculture partner" option in your profile.
People who claim to have taken a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course somewhere in the world.
People who have entered an email address for the teacher of their PDC course, and have had their PDC status verified by that teacher. Watch their updates for evaluation.
People who’ve taken a Permaculture Research Institute PDC somewhere in the world.
People who claim to teach some version of PDC somewhere in the world.
With the exception of the ‘Member’ who has never taken a PDC, all of the above can apply to become a PRI PDC Teacher. PRI PDC Teachers are those who the PRI recognise, through a vetting board, as determined and competent to teach the full 72-hour course as developed by Permaculture founder Bill Mollison – covering all the topics of The Designers’ Manual as well as possible (i.e. not cherry picking only aspects the teacher feels most interested or competent in). Such teachers also commit to focussing on the design science, and not including subjective spiritual/metaphysical elements. The reason these items are not included in the PDC curriculum is because they are “belief” based. Permaculture Design education concerns itself with teaching good design based on strategies and techniques which are scientifically provable.
PRI PDC Teachers may be given teaching and/or consultancy offerings as they become available as the network grows.
The individual with this badge is indicating they are, have, or would like to be involved in permaculture aid work. As such, the individual may or may not have permaculture aid worker experience. Watch their updates for evaluation.
The individual with this badge is indicating they are, have, or would like to do paid permaculture design consultancy work. As such, the individual may or may not have permaculture consultancy experience. Watch their updates for evaluation.
Community projects are projects that help develop sustainable community interaction and increase localised resiliency.
The Transformation of Our Urban Home
Project TypeUrban, Residential
Here is the story of the ongoing permaculture transformation of our urban home, in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Our goal – grow as much food as possible on this urban site, significantly reduce city water-use and retrofit the home to reduce fossil heating energy by 90%.
In August 2008, my wife Michelle and I returned to Calgary, Canada, after spending one year travelling abroad in search of sustainability solutions. With backgrounds in mechanical engineering, our “sabbatical” started off in Denmark – we were drawn there by the lure of technological solutions to energy issues. After several months of volunteering and filling our brains with information (wind energy, solar applications, passive buildings, biogas, plant oil engines... and more) we ended up back in North America prepared to explore the U.S. and Mexico in our plant-oil powered Westfalia.
We knew that something thusfar in our sustainability search was missing and were starting to suspect that the missing link might be permaculture (although we didn't really know what it was quite yet). Our travels brought us to several eco-sites, including an ecovillage near Mexico City. We stopped to do some WOOFing at a permaculture farm and then headed further south to visit the indigenous Mexicans of the Chiapas, interested to learn about their agricultural practices. An Earthship workshop and geodesic greenhouses in New Mexico and an education center and CSA project in Colorado to name a few other adventures.
And to culminate this amazing year we signed up for a Permaculture Design Course at Bullocks Homestead in Washington. The entire experience was nothing short of amazing.
Next task – put all of this information to productive use! Oh boy.
Luckily, my mother-in-law is a good sport and agreed to allow us to use her home as an outlet for ideas and a test case for a permaculture transformation project. Our goal – grow as much food as possible on this urban site and retrofit the home to reduce fossil heating energy by 90%.
Our first task was to asses the property and get productive food systems up and running. in September of 2008 we invited friends and family over for a workparty, sheet mulched the yards and planted over 100 plants in the front yard mimicing a forest ecology. As we were covering the yard with heaps of composted manure and cardboard the neighbours would slow down as they drove by in awe to see the vast quantity of materials and the number of people running around like ants building a nest. By the end of the day we had a fully sheet mulched back and front yard and a food forest ready to burst next spring.
In the spring of 2009 we decided that our garden needed to have some swales and trails – shovel in hand we got to work digging. Within a day or so we had shaped our garden beds, filled the trails with mulch from a local arborist and got ready to plant the garden once we were sure that there would be no frost. Calgary has very limited precipitation (300mm) and only about 100 frost free days so we had to be on top of the garden as soon as we were able to make sure we didn't miss and inch of rain or a day of sun. In late Spring we covered the garden with 20kg of inoculated field pea and shortly thereafter planted the rest of our garden with seedlings started earlier in the year.
With the garden progressing on its own we started on the energy retrofits. Our primary focus was on improving the thermal envelope, heating appliance and thermal mass of the building as we had been inspired by a previous visit to the German Passiv Haus Institute while in Europe. The first project was to blow-in one meter thick of cellulose insulation into the attic. Although the salesman thought I was crazy (new built homes usually have 20-30 cm), I wanted to meet the Passiv Haus Standard with an R-value of R70. Also, cellulose is relatively inexpensive and is an easy “do it yourself” project.
Next we went straight to work on siding of the house. Being that the home was built in the 70's the wall insulation was approximately 1.5” thick fiberglass insulation (R8) and leakier than a sieve. We first removed the siding, sheathing, old mouldy insulation and vapour barrier to expose the studs and plywood inner wall. Next we blew-in high density foam into the cavities between studs. To prevent thermal bridging from occuring through the studs we added a layer of 2” rigid foam sheathing before replacing the siding. And it only seemed fitting that the new siding color be green! The steps above reduced our air infiltration over 5 times and brought our net R-value from 8 up to 31.
We then installed triple glazed low emissivity & insulated fiberglass frame windows. These windows have a net R-value of R7 which means that they act as a thermal appliance and allow more energy in than energy lost per annum.
Another project we managed to squeeze in during 2009 was the basement. The basement has also always been very cold in the winter in part due to the lack of insulation in the floor. We attacked this problem by laying a subfloof or rigid insulation.
Based on these upgrades, I calculated that we could replace our 29 kW furnace for a 3 kW one. However, when researching furnace options, the smallest available on the market is a 95% efficient 15 kW. This certainly illustrates how poorly we build our homes!
The retrofit is almost done with a few minor exceptions. We'd like to install a solar hot water system to heat all of our domestic water. With the siding off earlier in the year we also took the opportunity to install connections for a future grey water system to feed our new garden.
And so, we have learnt some great lessons from our transformation project and are excited to see how the house perfoms over winter. Most exciting of all - our neighbour has requested that we extend our front yard food forest into his yard (he never did like cutting grass). Perhaps we will inspire many others in our neighborhood to do the same.
This article was originally written and posted in late 2009 on our website. I've slighty updated the article and now posted it here. There are quite a few more updates to be written - our greywater experiment, the constrction of our cob oven, the growth of our food forest and our new solar greenhouse - we'll try to get some updates up as soon as possible.