Off-grid and Green

Energy-friendly habits come naturally in a log home

Photos by 1867 Confederation Log & Timber Frame


If teenagers hear the words “family meeting” they might think it’s time to discuss homework, computer use or chores. But when Derek Zoldy and his wife Casey sat their two sons down for a group discussion, there was a lot more than that on the table.
The Newmarket, Ontario family planned to take their new 1867 Confederation Log & Timber Frame vacation home ‘off-grid’ and they needed to know everyone was on board.

“You really have to have the mindset that you are going to live with the choices you make,” says Zoldy, a professional engineer and Canadian Ski Patrol volunteer. “A few habits had to be reformed but in the end, the savings are tremendous.”

The Zoldys’ log home is their dream cottage at the base of Sir Sam’s Ski Hill in Haliburton, Ontario, with access to Eagle Lake. Logs were the family’s first choice of building material not only because wood blends in with the natural beauty of the land, but also because of the high level of energy efficiency of 1867 Confederation construction.

They designed a custom 1,400-square-foot floor plan that includes vaulted ceilings on the main level, a walkout basement and a loft.
From an environmental standpoint, the Zoldys favoured Confederation because the company uses carefully harvested FSC-certified logs that are air dried on-site at the Bobcaygeon, Ontario, manufacturing facility, and any unused wood is recycled.

Rick Kinsman, owner of Confederation describes some of the company’s eco-wise practices. “Our entire production facility is totally green and waste free. Our cut-offs are used as firewood, scrap logs are used for boat blocks at local marinas and even our sawdust is donated to a local farmer for animal bedding.”

The family also appreciated the fact that the company is experienced building Energy Star-rated log and timber frame homes. In light of these details, taking their home off-grid seemed like a logical next step. “I saw the potential right away,” Zoldy says. “It made a lot of financial sense right out of the gate.”

For about $30,000 – representing a $10,000 savings on the cost to clear the right of way and bring hydroelectricity to their six-acre property – the Zoldys installed a starter solar system that includes a backup propane generator. Using four roof-mounted solar panels from Sharp, they currently generate one kilowatt of energy that is stored in a DC battery bank and then converted to AC for consumption as required. This summer, they plan to add another four panels for a total of two kilowatts.

Primary heat during the winter months comes from a wood-burning fireplace in the great room and is supplemented by a propane stove in the basement. Water is pumped from a deep rock well using a highly efficient 110-volt pump that consumes less energy on start-up than a 220-volt pump yet supplies the same amount of water.

“Even if we were on-grid, the lower voltage pump would have made the most sense in terms of energy conservation,” Zoldy says.
Even with the savings they are now realizing – the Zoldys only receive one bill for consumption of propane which Derek considers a clean and efficient fuel – the choice to go off-grid wasn’t necessarily an easy one.

“At first we were getting some complaints from the boys,” Zoldy says. “But what it really boiled down to was equipment issues.”

For example, the Zoldys have a rule at their cottage that phones and computers can’t be recharged at night or on days when there’s no sunlight. That means they need to rely on batteries and one son, who was in the habit of leaving his computer plugged in all the time, found that he wasn’t getting enough battery life.

“He had to get in the habit of only plugging in when his battery is low, but now he’s even doing it at home in Newmarket,” says Zoldy.

Other new habits include making sure lights are off and that the toilets have finished their flush cycle before they leave the bathroom – a small price to pay for the satisfaction of being green.

“We’re all very comfortable with the choices we’ve made,” says Zoldy. “Even my wife is now talking about moving up here permanently as soon as she retires.”