Saturday, November 15, 2014

Albertan Family Paving the Way for Sustainable Homes

Dawn Kinney describes herself as the typical recycling suburban housewife – at least prior to her new venture. The mother of six grown children and never less than four dogs has been married for thirty-two years, and now her family is embarking on a new journey: Building a self-sustaining home in the Alberta prairies. The Earthship, as it’s called, will collect its own drinking water, treat its own waste and generate its own electricity. Quite an environmentally-conscious feat for someone who has worked in the oil and gas industry until this year.

The Kinney’s off-the-grid, solar-powered home is being built with recycled materials near Vulcan, AB. Forty volunteers have joined the New Mexico-based company, Earthship Biotecture, hailing from various places around the world such as Quebec, California and Australia. The Earthship will use cisterns to collect rain and snow melt before filtering drinking water, large south-facing windows to collect sunlight and heat – and it will even have its own sewage system. For those who feel concerned for the Kinney’s wellbeing during our -30 degree winters, never fear: They already have that taken care of by ensuring their new home has lots of insulation and a wood stove.

Dawn says her son, Duncan Kinney, the Editor and Production Manager for Green Energy Futures, planted the seed in her husband’s mind six years ago, and from there the family started to make the idea a reality. The price was even about the same as it would be to purchase a conventional house: $300,000 - $400,000.

While this adventurous Edmontonian is confident her new home will supply her with everything she needs, she’s still getting used to the thought of putting down roots far away from civilization.

“I was and am a little concerned with the isolated nature of the location,” says Dawn. “And I have some concerns as to where to acquire the necessary assistance if the systems don't work properly. But other than that, I can see I’ll have all the necessary twenty-first century amenities, and this gives me great comfort.”

In order to be sure that this was something they could stick to long term, Dawn and her husband even went so far as to rent out another Earthship in Taos, New Mexico, before they had their own designed.

“I needed to reassure myself that an Earthship was a comfortable home,” says Dawn. “I enjoyed my stay very much and had no problem signing on.”

But this begs to ask the question: How comfortable exactly can an Earthship be? Will it dramatically change a typical North American is used to living?

“I don't see a huge change in the way I’ll live,” says Dawn. “I'll have a TV and the Internet, and lovely bathrooms with flushing toilets.”

Even though Dawn will be staying in solitude on an Earthship, she confirms that it won’t stop her from achieving any future dreams.

“I recently trained to be a butcher at SAIT, but with the build I have been too busy to acquire employment in my new field,” says Dawn. “I'm hoping to get on that this fall.”

The past oil and gas worker is certainly breaking barriers for “typical recycling suburban housewives” everywhere. While she may be eager to start a career with the traditional I-love-Alberta-beef mindset, she’s even more focused on taking a green living approach at home where she can get back to the earth and what it can supply her.

“I’m looking forward to growing and eating from my greenhouse year round,” says Dawn.

But for those who aren’t able to ship their entire lives to an Earthship like Dawn and her husband, what can eco-conscious Edmontonians do if they’re interested in creating a greener space inside their own homes?

While more people are taking steps such as focusing on recycling, composting and reusing materials, using less electricity, water and heat and growing and eating from their own garden, a choice that is becoming increasingly popular and has a larger impact on reducing global warming is for home owners to install solar panels.

This isn’t just a trend. News outlets such as the Edmonton Journal and CTV Edmonton are picking up on the fact that this is the perfect time for Edmontonians to take advantage of its untapped solar resource. In The Journal, David Howell writes that electricity demand is rising and solar-electricity equipment is falling. As he quotes CanSIA president John Gorman: “Alberta has the best solar resource in Canada.” That’s not something you’d expect to hear about the oil and gas capital.

What does this mean for home owners who want to contribute to a cleaner environment? Well, alongside all the other things you may or may not already doing, installing solar panels can save you some major bucks in the long run.

For those interested in pursuing the untapped solar resource in this province, you don’t need to look as far as New Mexico like Dawn Kinney and her family did. Grid Works Energy, an Edmonton-based company, has been working to install solar panels right in your backyard. Involved in projects throughout Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan, the North West Territories and even the United States, they’re Western Canada’s leading solar contractor.

Grid Works Energy’s mission is just what eco-friendly Edmontonians are looking for: “We want to make it simple for our clients to switch to grid-connected photovoltaics and to save money on their electricity bills.”

So while not everyone can move into an Earthship like Dawn Kinney, there are still lots of various options for greening your home, big and small. Whether it’s simply sorting the recycling better, building a greenhouse or installing solar panels like many other Edmonton families, they don’t have to be extreme or even out of your price range.

For more information on saving thousands of dollars on solar panels, call Grid Works Energy at 780-868-6952 or visit them at

Published in the July/August 2014 Issue of Edmonton Woman Magazine.

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