the ECO Built Home

Welcome Home!

Many of us are exploring eco-friendly home solutions, but seek the map or journal of someone who has already navigated these waters successfully. If you share our passion for environmentally friendly and cost effective ideas for your next home, you’ve come to the right place.

This blog documents our family’s journey to construction of a remarkably energy efficient home just north of Toronto, Ontario in the Town of Markham. We will share some of the choices, some easy and some hard, we’ve made in selecting effective materials and systems.

Our initial aim was to discover just how feasible the concept of an ECOnomical and ECOlogical home was. At the same time, we strove for a comfortable family home with a sense of luxury. This was about changing the way homes are built without sacrificing our lifestyle.

It was an ambitious goal, but we strove for a home that generated as much energy as it consumed over the course of a year, a net-zero energy home. This was no small feat for a house this size. The energy required to keep our home toasty in Toronto’s cooler northern climate mothered innovative design elements. To the best of our knowledge, this will be the largest net-zero energy house in Canada. It will be only the third project to do so in the Greater Toronto Area (the other two being CMHC sponsored under the EQuilibrium Housing Initiative). We hope that this blog is helpful to you on your journey to an affordable, environmentally friendly home.

This house was featured in the Toronto Star on June 26, 2010 and can be found at:–statement-of-sustainability


Victor Kam

House Elevation

the Locale


The property is located in Ontario, Canada, less than 10 minutes north of the Toronto border in the City of Markham. Situated on the south side of the street, it has a frontage of 100 feet and a depth of 150 feet.  The approximate latitude is 42.8 with a longitude of -79.4.  The street is an east-west street, with approximately a 10 degree tilt toward the Northeast and Southwest.

A Solid Foundation:

The original house was a single story bungalow of approximately 1350 square feet, likely built in the 1950’s. The house’s previous owner was advanced in years and maintained their home with tender loving care, but by the time of sale to us, the house was in need of some work. A great transformation was about to occur.

Transformation to a Dream Home:

Our architectural plan was for a luxurious 4350 square foot, two story home with a full basement and a 3+1 car garage. The house includes 4 bedrooms and 3 washrooms on the upper floor in addition to a main floor ensuite (an “in-law suite,” but without the stairs), along with usual amenities including living, dining, kitchen, family and office rooms common to a house this size in the area.

the Rationale

When it comes to building our dream home, our methodology is as pragmatic as it is idealistic. We look at the incremental costs of an energy efficient option versus savings that can be generated. We determine whether the savings will be greater than the up-charge rolled into a typical 25 year mortgage. There are also choices where payback may be realised in the longer term or non-existant, but fit in to the overall home concept. Most home buyers purchase a home based on the budget they have. When a green choice can be made that generates positive cash flow in annual savings, the choice becomes much easier to make.

If cash flow is positive, it’s worth considering.

I recognize that there’s a healthy risk to myself in this approach. Most home buyers aren’t aware of the energy savings that can be realised. Worse still, a home purchasing decision is often emotional rather than purely rational. As such, there is some difficulty in recapturing portions of the additional capital investments for the energy efficient products if the home is to be sold. However, if the cost of energy in our world continues to increase, then buyers must be better educated. On one hand, I don’t look forward to a rise in energy costs around me. On the flip side, it seems like that reality is the most effective method in changing public behaviour towards becoming better stewards of our environment and resources.

The Toyota Prius is a prime example. It became the 9th best selling vehicle in the United States as gasoline rocketed to over $4USD per gallon. This was no small feat considering the initial premium over a comparable non-hybrid vehicle. As the cost of energy in our society rises in general, our behaviours change in how and to what extent we consume that energy. Building an eco-friendly home becomes a sound investment. We are building our dream on practical foundations.

the Hypocrisy

For all my efforts of trying to be as energy efficient as possible, there will always be naysayers on how construction of any new home impacts the environment, whether it’s the size or the choice of materials used. To these friendly challengers, let me clarify my objectives. This is not an attempt to be a Ghandi of the environment or about saving the world in a single effort. This is about changing our habits and choices. I want to prove that we can all begin to leave a smaller footprint on this planet without sacrificing our quality of life, no matter where you are on that scale.

We are consciously aware of the juxtaposition of building a luxury home and practice conservation at the same time. We know how large the house is, even if we will have 7 occupants in it. We are aware of the “embodied energy” that has gone to waste in the destruction of the house that sat on the property prior. But there’s the ideal, in which we all conserve to the best of our ability for the benefit of the environment, then there’s the reality in which those that are economically privledged will be unwilling to give up certain comforts. What we are out to prove is that even at this size of a house, great efficiencies are attainable using existing materials and technologies. After all, not all of us want to live in a straw bale house, having read The Three Little Pigs one too many times, right?

At the size we are building and for this segment of the market, affordability usually becomes secondary to investment. It is within the context of this market that are we trying to demonstrate that net-zero energy is achievable. There is no reason that someone commissioning a luxury home should be specifying any less in energy efficiency during their design stage, as affordability in itself is not as large a part of their equation. In the long term, the energy efficiency upgrades will pay for themselves faster than the life of the house. With the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-In Tariff Program, this house is even more economically viable and is expected to have a simple payback within 10 years with positive cash flow within a 20 year mortgage.

So, to the naysayers, let’s just agree to disagree. We are simply taking a different path to efficiency and conservation. The reality is, until we are 6 feet under ground, we will always impact the environment. Could I help by building a smaller house?  Sure, I suppose. All of us can live in a tent in the wilderness and hunt for our own food if the goal is a more extreme conservation. Perhaps each of us just needs to ask what contributions we can make, whatever station of life we are in.

the Crazy Nutter (Me)

I am Victor Kam, a happily married thirty-something year old with three young children plus parents in their seventies, all living under one roof, prior to this house was being built.  The growth of our family initiated this journey of looking for more space.

For most of my life, my background has been in Information Technology (IT) consultation, serving small businesses. As a self-employed professional, I’ve always been driven to look for ways to save money and reduce overhead, operating as efficiently as possible.  Prior to and during the construction, I had also been working as a part-time Realtor.  During this time, I gained insight into the short supply of energy efficient housing. This house is my response to the maxim, “It’s not easy being green.”

As it turns out, it is easy being green after all.

The project started as a result of the Feed In Tariff Program in Ontario. It came about because we were looking for a larger place to live. With the fairly attractive Feed In Tariff Program from the Ontario Power Authority, we decided to design the house to benefit from income generated by electricity produced with solar panels. One thing led to another, and as a result, we probably have the largest Net-Zero Energy Home in the province, if not the country. We certainly have the largest urban residential solar array in Ontario.