Komoka man's energy goes into Middlesex Centre's first net-zero home

·3 min read

A Komoka resident and lifelong environmentalist is building Middlesex Centre’s first net-zero energy house, hoping to spark a trend in the region.

A net-zero home minimizes energy use for heating and cooling, while producing its own energy through solar panels.

“It’s been a personal mission and passion of mine to try to educate, not to preach, and to live by example,” said Terry Keep. “Even a guy who is not a builder can do this with the right people around them.”

Keep has been building his new carbon-neutral family home amid the pandemic and expects to be finished by April. He spent years researching the process before breaking ground last fall.

The 2,300-square-foot (214-square-metre) home will feature solar panels on its steel roof, along with thicker walls for better insulation and triple-pane windows to reduce energy use.

The lumber used is all Forest Stewardship Council certified. The driveway will use permeable pavers so stormwater can drain through into the ground.

“It’s a nicer, quieter, dryer, tighter home,” Keep said.

It’s also one of few homes to feature an electric furnace — the home uses no natural gas — and a heat pump. The house is divided into three zones, each heated only when necessary.

Though net-zero homes are available in the London region — Sifton’s West Five development, for example, is geared toward sustainable living — Keep said building one independently in other neighbourhoods isn’t common.

He’s documenting the building process — he calls it a “labour of love” — on YouTube, aiming to show carbon-neutral homes can be accessible and affordable for everyday consumers, not just environmentalists.

He also wanted to prove you don’t have to move to a new neighbourhood to get a carbon-neutral house.

“It’s the desire to show people it’s a regular neighbourhood, my home will stand beside a regular, code-built home,” Keep said. “I want people to see it can be done.”

Walk through Keep’s house in progress, and it looks like any other mid-century modern home — with hints of Frank Lloyd Wright — not something out of The Jetsons.

About 20 per cent of the average home's carbon footprint comes from household energy consumption.

It takes about seven years for a solar-powered house to recoup the investment costs.

But Keep has faced many hurdles getting his environmentally sustainable house off the ground, even without pandemic hiccups, such as labour and supply shortages.

Finding architects, builders and tradespeople with knowledge and experience in developing net-zero houses was a challenge, Keep said, and getting them to commit to a single house even harder.

“It’s been a really interesting ride,” said the home's builder, Frank Oosterhoff, who owns Great Lakes Construction.

Keep said Middlesex Centre is a progressive area in terms of sustainability, citing the newly built net-zero firehall, and the community centre’s solar panels.

Once his own house is finished, Keep plans to pursue building a row of affordable, net-zero townhouses.

“The next generation is starting to realize there's value in that,” he said. “If everyone can afford one, they’ll buy it — if they can’t afford one, they won’t.”

Keep drives a plug-in hybrid vehicle and is also a vegetarian. He was a founding member of EnviroWestern, a group at Western University that promotes sustainability.

“We make small steps to get to a big impact over our life,” Keep said. “It doesn’t happen over a short period.”

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Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press