Martin Holzbauer built his home with thick walls for increased insulation

Razor Efficient

Thornhill resident guns for zero emissions in building new home

Germany is a household name within the renewable energy revolution and Thornhill resident Martin Holzbauer might become a household name here for his own low footprint projects.

As a child in his native Germany, he witnessed the startling energy efficiency results his father achieved using unique construction materials.

“My father had a construction company and one of our specialties was actually an insulating stucco,” says Holzbauer. “It was a revelation to see how much more impervious to water seepage was the insulating stucco.”

From this initial ‘aha’ moment grew a lifelong dream of building an entirely carbon neutral home.

“The whole idea is, you as a person, your impact through your living is basically zero on the environment. You produce no carbon,” Holzbauer said of the design principle.

He hand-built his home in Thornhill and has only to install solar panels to make it nearly emissions free, at least a tenth the carbon footprint.

Not only is he out to help save the world from climate change destruction (“I think as a species we are killing ourselves,” he says), but a quick look at his most recent hydro bills reveals combined heating and electrical at $236 which includes powering a rental trailer located on his property, for two months.

“Everything has more than one purpose,” he says of his building philosophy. The following is a breakdown of some of those features.

Strong walls

“The whole house maintains the heat and equalizes the temperature,” says Holzbauer. Part of the way this is accomplished is through installation of 13-inch thick walls.

Top grade windows, up high

More expensive, but well worth the cost in the long run, are high quality windows. Triple-glazed panes are all rated R8 which means eight times less air gets through than a single standard window, and less noise. On top of the efficiency boost, Holzbauer said mold is less of a concern this way. To maximize the dispersion of natural light and thus decrease dependency on electrical light, he puts in windows high up on the walls.

Ventilation

Holzbauer says that all these features lead to trapping heat inside. “In the winter, my brother was cooking inside, and it was 25 degrees in here. It was 8 outside because the heat was trapped in.” An air ventilation system located in the basement brings fresh air in from outside.

Passive solar

Holzbauer created a south-facing sun room that collects heat for growing plants and also provides extra heat to spread inside the house when the door onto the living room is opened. “I start to plant in early February and it will hit 20 degrees. The ambient hot air can then be circulated into the rest of the house,” he says.

Domestic hot water recovery

“This is copper pipe wrapped with other copper pipe. As you are having your shower the warm water from the shower returns about 60 per cent of the heat and helps heat up the cold water before it goes in the tank,” he explains.

Concrete, foam, infloor

While the thought of concrete blocks might sound chilly, Holzbauer says that in fact they provide thermal mass by warming up and holding the heat. This, combined with foam insulation, forms the fundamental structure of the walls and floors. And infloor heating he says is the best. “If you feet are warm, you are comfortable.”

Tile

Holzbauer surfaced his counter with tile instead of granite which he says has less of an environmental footprint.

Safety

Backup lights on stairs show safety is also key to Hauzbauer’s plan. In the case of a power outage,  redundancy batteries kick in and there is light.