LEED Spotlight: Edelweiss House in Wakefield, QC, first LEED v4 certified project in Canada

In October 2015, Ecohome's Edelweiss House project, a passively heated, cold climate demonstration home located in Wakefield, Quebec, became the first project in Canada to earn LEED v4 certification. Notably, Edelweiss was not only the first project in Canada to be certified under LEED v4, but it also earned the highest level possible – Platinum – making it only the second LEED v4 home in the world to reach LEED's most rigorous level.

Given this achievement and the growth CaGBC is now seeing in LEED v4 registrations in Canada, we wanted to talk to Mike Reynolds, co-designer and co-builder of the project, to find out what designing and building to LEED v4 really means, and what advice he has for those looking to earn LEED v4 certification this year.

A super-efficient home that sets the bar high for LEED v4 projects to follow

The Edelweiss House is a super-insulated, passively heated, single story slab-on-grade home of 1,450 interior square feet. Energy modeling says the heating demand should be about 1/10th that of other homes its size and it was built for less than the average square footage cost.

In terms of targeting specific performance standards, Mike says that passive heating and cooling define their design philosophy and performance goals. "We wanted to build a house that would get most of its heat from the sun, and this one does. The laws of diminishing returns say that at some point you'll not recoup the energy or money needed to produce and add more insulation, we wanted to find that sweet spot. it is impossible to indentify exactly, but we are very happy with the balance we arrived in terms of how much we invested in  heat retention and how much in heat generation. We won't know for sure until we run it for a winter, but energy modeling says we should be heating this house for under $150 annually."

Showcasing LEED v4

"Someone had to get the ball rolling, it might as well have been us. We were quite confident we could get Platinum, and the fact that it had yet to be achieved in Canada made us even more motivated."

As to the reasons why those chose LEED, and specifically LEED v4? "It just made the most sense to us," says Mike. "We wanted to build something really noteworthy and the new v4 system was a good way to showcase it. Getting platinum is no easy feat, especially away from the city where there are more points to be had. We hit Passive House levels of thermal performance, which brought a lot of LEED points but it wasn't going to get us Platinum. In order to do that we needed to knock the energy consumption way down, which we did. So in a way it was the most realistic, but also the most challenging."

They also decided to try LEED v4 because they had extensive experience in LEED 2009 and figured "Someone had to get the ball rolling, it might as well have been us. We were quite confident we could get Platinum, and the fact that it had yet to be achieved in Canada made us even more motivated."

Teaching others to build green

While they don't really build much anymore, Ecohome focuses on teaching others how to build green and showcasing projects on their website (www.ecohome.net). It was natural then that they determined there was no better way to teach others how to build green than to put into practice the kind of performance they have been talking about in their courses. Ecohome and its French partner Écohabitation have long believed that houses can be built to a much greater standard of performance and still kept within an average budget.

"As a society, we need to address building performance for energy and climate concerns, and the first step to making that happen is proving to homeowners that it is in their financial best interest, this house proves that without a doubt," says Mike. "It's hard to convince someone to do something if they've never seen it happen successfully, so building a super efficient home and achieving LEED v4 Platinum was important for Ecohome because it shows that these houses are within reach,  even with a moderate budget. On a larger scale, rating systems make people take notice that there is something better available, and when the market demands it, change will come."

Home built with occupant health top of mind

While the Edelweiss project doesn't yet have specific metrics on how the house is performing (largely due to the fact that no one is currently living in the home full-time), they say the health benefits that were built into the design of the home are clear.

"It's all above grade with huge windows facing south, so it's very good for mental health in winter. We specifically sourced non-toxic building materials like formaldehyde-free cabinets, Zero VOC paints,  natural stone and wood products, so the air quality is top notch. And one thing people don't often realize with a high performance house, is they are much more comfortable. Better thermal performance means you don't get cold sitting by exterior walls and windows, and the house never feels drafty no matter where you are."

Building green helps dispel myths for potential green homebuyers

The project team of Edelweiss hopes that this project will help show skeptics that green building has a far distant payback period for building better houses, because they believe that just isn't the case.

"Added money on a building mortgage can be offset instantly by lower utility bills, so it doesn't actually cost more to live in a house like this, with some foresight in design it can be cheaper from the moment you move in. As for the long term big picture, its more durable and therefore more valuable, it will also save home owners tens of thousands of dollars over even a moderate life cycle. Building better houses would be good for everyone - home owners would actually save money, more money goes into the local economy for product and labour, and it would help us meet provincial and national emission targets."

We couldn't have said it better than that.

Project Team

Project Owner/Developer Emmanuel Cosgrove
Architect Designed by the Ecohome team
LEED Consultant Most of us
Mechanical Engineer Denis Boyer
Structural Engineer Kott Lumber
Project Manager Mike Reynolds
Contractor/Builder Emmanuel Cosgrove