This blog explores changes in the energy industry from an insider’s perspective as it transitions from the old centralized utility model to the new paradigm of distributed generation.
This blog was previously called Inside the Housing Evolution and focused on energy efficient homes. Ultimately, it’s all linked. Soon, every building will have the potential to generate, store, and sell energy. Welcome to the era of the transactive grid – the greatest shift the electricity sector has seen in over 100 years!

April 5, 2011 4 Comments

Carleton University High Performance Housing Group

The Carleton University Engineering program has a 4th year design project that focuses on High Performance Housing.  The students in the course have spent the year investigating construction techniques and technologies that dramatically reduce the energy use in homes.  I’ve been very closely involved with this group of students because one of their course deliverables was to take an Urbandale model home (the Mendocino) and re-design it to reduce the energy use by 50% in a cost-effective way.  The students were also tasked with designing a net-zero home for the Solar Decathlon competition that takes place in Washington DC in 2013.  Last Friday, the students culminated their year of work with a full day of presentations on their findings in front of a panel of industry experts, including myself.

The research that these students prepared was remarkable in many ways, but what really struck me was how grounded and practical their recommendations were.  Typically, when I look at academic approaches to building science I find their recommendations don’t take into consideration the real world issues such as trade knowledge, construction costs, and market appeal.  Add to that that these are young students, so I fully expected to hear idealistic dreams of houses covered in solar panels and other cutting edge technologies that promise to be sustainable, net-zero, emission free and completely unbuildable!

The students surprised me by being very realistic.  Every option was followed with a cost breakdown, and a discussion of the construction issues that could arise from that approach.  In some cases, options that were very energy efficient were discarded because they were not practical to build, or because they were too expensive.  The students were very aware of context, and were sharp enough to recommend different approaches depending on the situation.  For example a high performance wall assembly for a production builder needs to be different than for a custom builder that can select site orientation and also different from a demonstration home that could incorporate novel though unproven technologies.  By showing an understanding of these differences and basing their recommendations on the application, the students showed a surprising maturity and engineering savvy.

Urbandale is planning on building a high-performance demonstration home that will incorporate some of the findings put forward by the Carleton Engineering students.  I’ve also invited the students to come back to visit this home while it’s under construction so that they can see how the plans take shape or get altered in a real construction environment.  I’m very proud of the work that these students have accomplished, and I believe that these types of initiatives will continue to keep Urbandale at the cutting edge of building science technology.

Posted by Matthew

4 Responses to "Carleton University High Performance Housing Group"

  1. Jonathan says:

    This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my
    social networks!

  2. Matthew Sachs says:

    Thanks Jonathan! Much appreciated. I better get to work and write some more posts!!

  3. Hello, I enjoy reading through your post.
    I wanted to write a little comment to support you.

  4. Matthew Sachs says:

    Thanks for the kind words!


Please note: Comments should be related to the above blog post.
All other comments will be removed.

Name (required)

Email Address (required - will not be published)




Matthew Sachs


  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)


Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit