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EcoStudio: Zero Energy Housing for the Future

September 18, 2017
The ZeroHouse team at Ryerson

Photo: (from left to right) Matthew Ferguson, Chris Magwood, Cheryl Atkinson, Shane MacInnes.

The ZeroHousing project suggests a new typology for holistic mid-rise housing design. Alternative construction materials, prefabricated construction, and building integrated solar panels make architecture part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.

Architecture professor Cheryl Atkinson, one of four Ryerson faculty members behind Ecostudio, partnered with the Endeavour Centre, external link, opens in new window to design and build a 1100 square foot sustainable prototype called Zero House. Reassembled onsite for EDITdx, you can tour this net-zero energy, stacked townhouse from September 28th to October 8th, 2017 at the Unilever 21 Don Roadway Toronto.

As an alternative to low- and high-rise sprawl, the team has aimed to address the need for affordable, sustainable, mid-rise urban housing through research, design, and prototyping. Students from Ryerson, the Endeavour Centre, Seneca, and Ted Rogers worked together to design a toxin-free, carbon-neutral, all-natural housing unit using recycled materials.

Midrise Solar: The Big Picture

While there are various freestanding net-zero houses built recently in Canada, there are virtually no local precedents for energy-neutral midrise housing. By integrating innovative peel and stick solar collectors on both their south facing façades and roofs, the lower units of midrise buildings can also be solar powered. In high latitude countries like Canada, vertically oriented solar collectors on facades can collect adequate low altitude solar energy.

In a city that is growing at a rate of 100,000 newcomers a year, commercial development has offered mostly high-rise towers or suburban sprawl. ECOstudio is designing and developing options for the something in-between, midrise stacked townhouses over retail that allows for the affordability and sustainability of pre-fab wood construction. By building on arterials within existing communities, this project reinforces existing social and physical services including schools, jobs, transit, water, sewers and infrastructure for sustainable housing at all scales.

There is definitely a “Missing Middle” of mid-rise housing. Mid-rise housing is already significantly more energy efficient that single family homes and wood-frame construction has a significantly lower carbon footprint than high-rises.

Cheryl Atkinson

Reducing Energy Load

Rendering of the ZeroHouse
The interior of the ZeroHouse

High energy efficiency has been achieved by utilizing a highly-insulated, airtight yet breathable envelope of all-natural, sustainably sourced, carbon-sequestering materials, energy efficient appliances, fixtures, and air source heat pumps. The Endeavour Centre has experimented with a variety of ‘natural’ construction materials like strawbale, blown-in cellulose, recycled wood, paper cartons, wool, and like mycelium board derived from mushrooms; to eliminate toxins as well as GHG emissions.

This project is a prototype build exploring a variety of systems, materials, and techniques, and will be a tool to create public awareness and assess the market potential of the concepts. A larger, more elaborated version of this unit, the solarBLOCK, will be developed for permanent display and research at the BRE (Building Research Establishment) Innovation Park, external link, opens in new window at the Living Campus at the Kortright Centre, Kleinberg Ontario, where it will be one of seven test ‘homes.’

The Team

The architectural design was supervised by Architect and Associate Professor Cheryl Atkinson of Ryerson, Department of Architectural Science. The mechanical and solar system design is supervised by Professional Engineer and Associate Professor Dr. Alan Fung of Ryerson, Mechanical Engineering, in collaboration with Kyle Valdock of Seneca College, Engineering Technology department. Business development is supervised by Associate Professor Dr. Philip Walsh of Ryerson, Ted Rogers School of Management. Construction methods, Natural Building science and research and material sourcing is led by Chris Magwood of the Endeavour Centre with design and construction instructors Shane MacInnes and Jen Feigin.

The lead student members of the Ryerson team are:

  • Jamie Fine, Ph.D. Candidate – Project Management
  • Matthew Ferguson, MArch Student – Architecture
  • Danilo Yu, Ph.D. Candidate – Mechanical, Electrical, and Controls Systems
  • Brandon Wilbur, MASc Student – Mechanical Systems
  • Joshua Goodfield, MASc Student – Sponsorship
  • Tamoril-Dembeck Kerekes, MASc Student – Building Science
  • Cristina Mazza – Corporate Secretary

We would also like to thank the following independent design consultants:

  • Roland Romcohlthoff, Principal, RAW Architects
  • Paul Dowsette, Sustainable TO Architects
  • Julian Battiston, Oben Flats Development
  • Jack Keays, Principal, Vortex Fire Consulting Inc.
  • David Moses, Principal, Moses Structures