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Research and Innovation


ZEROHouse is a unique collaboration of research in action

Project on display at EDIT DX expo this week


ZEROHouse, shown here, is being assembled with pre-fabricated panels that use carbon sequestering materials. Photo provided by ECOstudio.

Building a home where all the categories of carbon footprint, toxins, waste, net energy and fossil fuels added up to zero, seems like an impossible dream, but Ryerson’s ECOstudio believes it can be done and the ZEROHouse project illustrates how.

On display at EDIT DX Expo for Design, Innovation and Technology until Oct. 8, ZEROHouse brought together architecture, business, environmental science and engineering students to create a sustainable modular home that can be used as a single family dwelling or can be adapted for infill housing and used as stacked townhomes. Professor of architecture, Cheryl Atkinson, professor of engineering Alan Fung and professor of entrepreneurship and strategy Philip Walsh have formed a collaborative research cluster dubbed ECOstudio. Their mission is to address the need for affordable, sustainable, mid-rise urban housing through research, design and prototyping. The end goal is to create a marketable housing product. They partnered with the not-for-profit agency, the Endeavour Centre, which teaches and promotes sustainable design and construction in order to create the pre-fabricated home that was assembled in one week for EDIT DX, an expo for design innovation and technology. The three-month prefabrication build by students happened under a tent in Peterborough, powered entirely by 4 solar panels. Only 3 bags of waste were produced that couldn’t be recycled. Professor Fung’s expertise in creating sustainable heating and cooling systems brought the engineering and architecture students together and his hybrid building integrated solar photo voltaic/thermal (BIPV/T) based energy system research will be featured in a future iteration of the project at the Kortright Centre. Professor Walsh is looking at ways with the design and construction team to make the endeavor a viable commercial operation.

ZEROHouse is an airtight, densely insulated home. Its shape, orientation, and construction promote passive solar heating and ventilation, dramatically decreasing the need for mechanical heating and cooling. Using eco-friendly materials such as straw bale for insulation, cellulose fibre insulation and “peel and stick” solar panels, the home is created with many efficiencies. The wood flooring is from ash, trees that are being taken down due to infestation by the emerald ash borer. High-tech interior and exterior membranes are both breathable and weather-tight.  By using an abundance of organic materials like wood and straw bale, the home actually “sequesters” 25 metric tons of carbon, whereas a similar sized home would emit 45 tons into the atmosphere through the materials used.

The home is presented to solve the problem of the “missing middle”, a term coined to represent the lack of diversity in housing between high rise condos and the coveted single-family detached home in a way that addresses the large carbon foot print borne by construction, but often overlooked.

“Most high rises are too small for families and extremely costly both economically and environmentally,” said Cheryl. “There is lots of affordable land available still for infill housing in our existing low-rise inner city neighbourhoods along underdeveloped mainstreets, that can maintain and reinforce the character, and connection to grade and community that draws young families to them.” Cheryl believes Zero House has all the key features of being ecologically sound, reinforcing healthy walkable urban communities, while also being aesthetically pleasing and attractive to the market of young home buyers.

To see the ZEROHouse, visit EDIT DX before Oct. 8.  

Following the display at EDIT DX, the technology in the Zero House will be used in a prototype stacked townhouse to be built at the BRE Innovation Park at the Kortright Centre in Vaughan. 

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Sylvia Kavanagh
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416-979-5000 ext. 2795