Greg Hoffart (standing in the foreground)

THE VIEW: Sustainable homes

Greg Hoffart of Tree Construction aims to build homes that benefit the environment and the people that live in them.

When Greg Hoffart was a kid, he would venture into the yard of local builder Emile Rocher. It was the 80’s and Emile had solar panels everywhere, including walkways. “I always thought it was from the future, that he had gone in a time machine and brought some back,” Hoffart said.

With such a friend (and later work mentor), along with Hoffart’s wonderfully idealistic philosophy of helping change the world for the better, it should come as no surprise that the owner of Tree Construction does his best to build socially conscious homes.

The most visible example of his work is the duplex he built at the corner of Eighth and Downie in Revelstoke’s Southside neighbourhood. The home is designed to reduce heat loss in winter and stay cool in summer, all while minimizing energy consumption.

The homes he builds are efficient and cheap to heat. “The result is a beautiful house because being a high performance house requires attention to detail,” Hoffart says.

The idea of a sustainably developed home was first envisioned in the 1970’s in Saskatchewan, where the hope was to build a home costing very little to heat. It was revamped in the 1990’s in Germany. By 1996 a Passive House Institute was created, along with a building standard. The goal was to passively heat a home. Once built, passively heated homes (PH) have little maintenance or breakdown costs.

The extra expenses coming from building a PH depend on fuel, material and labour costs, along with the complexity of the structure. According to Passive House Economics, a case study on PH homes by Malcolm Isaacs of Construction Maison Passive Inc., in association with Olejar Architecture, four homes were built with a net extra cost from $18,000 to $39,000 to achieve the PH standard in Canada. However, it should be noted that the long term savings in energy bills ultimately saves the homeowner more money than the extra costs of building.

PHOTO: Greg Hoffart at work building a home.

“People here think PH is unattainable because our winters are not like European winters, which is incorrect,” says Hoffart. “Still, I don’t aim to build to the PH standard here, though it’s possible, but I do smaller systems that don’t break the bank, that strive towards that standard, but still utilize a fire place.”

How does Greg achieve low cost utilities homes?

“I aim to reduce upkeep costs substantially by putting together a high performance layer,” Hoffart explains. “I don’t need to design the home, but I hope home owners are willing to make simple changes that don’t cost too much and ultimately, save money.”

These simple changes include the orientation of the house to capture sunlight, higher quality windows (“You’re buying them anyways,” he points out), and much higher insulation values. “The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t need to use,” Hoffart laughs. “Passive energy allows you to use what is naturally occurring throughout the day.”

Greg builds to the R2000 Standard, which means it must meet certain levels of energy performance, indoor air quality and environmental responsibility. The standard is set by the Canadian Home Builders Association in collaboration with the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada. It’s a voluntary standard beyond the building code requirements based on how a home performs rather than how it’s constructed. Additionally, one of the most important aspects of the standard is the energy target for space and water heating.

Currently pursuing a Masters in Sustainable Design from Boston Architectural College, Hoffart is also working on The Tree Energy Company. “It’s in beta right now, but the goal is to provide people with alternative energy needs, like solar, wind and biomass solutions.”

He heaves a sigh with the term alternative energy. “It’s just energy, from a different source,” he says. “When people realize that, I hope they will embrace it.”

For more information about Tree Construction and sustainable building visit treeconstruction.ca.

 

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