Developing technology being used by Okotoks to reduce homes’ carbon footprint
As the holiday season approaches and homes light up like Santa’s workshop, energy costs will spiral to top of mind for budget-conscious homeowners.
“Certainly, energy efficiency is always on the radar, but even more so during this economy and at this time of year,” said Dawn Smith, sustainability co-ordinator for the Town of Okotoks.
The good news is hope is on the way for homeowners who want to manage their energy costs thanks to ongoing research at the University of Calgary.
Led by Geoffrey Hay, an associate professor in the faculty of Geography, MyHEAT.co is a geomatics start-up designed to help residents visualize and quantify the amount and location of invisible waste heat (i.e. thermal energy) leaving their homes, communities and cities.
The technology utilizes infrared images of homes and buildings taken while flying over an area. The images are then fed into a computer algorithm, which then translates the information into understandable images and information.
At the time of Hay’s initial research publication in 2012, the innovation was still in its infancy – although it was far enough along to generate international buzz, including recognition by MIT.
Since then, two local engineers have taken the concept and run with it, streamlining the technology to work in sync with a user-friendly online format.
“MyHEAT is really the commercialization of the research that Dr. Geoffrey Hay conducted,” said Taylor, president of MyHEAT.
Offered in “digestible” bits, the newly tweaked technology and resulting information is easy to understand. Homeowners can visit the MyHEAT site, gather some great tips, be introduced to local suppliers and view a series of high-resolution thermal images of their home – images that through colour differentiation, pinpoint energy hot spots and leaks.
In the end, homes will be presented will a MyHEAT efficiency score. A home that scores high is thus more thermally efficient.
Taylor said that the technology brings tangibility to heat loss.
“Much like a WalkScore is indicative of walkability, a home’s MyHEAT score is indicative of the amount of energy escaping out of the structure,” he said, noting the data utilizes Google Maps to allow visitors to toggle through a city, accessing thermal energy information on homes and communities.
The service isn’t cheap, however. The cost of a flyover ranges around $50,000.
The Town of Okotoks has recently chosen to take the plunge as a test municipality, and offered a soft launch of the technology to its residents in November, using thermal data retrieved from the initial 2012 flyover.
Residents are able to log on to the MyHEAT website and essentially “fly” around the site, checking their own heat score as well as their neighbours.
Homeowners will also be able to access a square-footage efficiency score and observe through thermal images exactly where their home is leaking heat.
“It is really important for people to understand that larger houses have a larger greenhouse gas footprint,” said Smith. “And one of the benefits is that I can do an analysis for the community.”
In January, residents of Okotoks will have access to 2015 flyover data, in addition to the 2012 numbers.
“People will be able to toggle between 2012 and 2015 data to see any differences that improvements to their home have made,” said Smith.
Okotoks is no stranger environmental stewardship, becoming recognized internationally for its award-winning Drake Landing solar community. The town has also put into place a water rebate program based on consumption.
“Conservation benefits everyone from both an environmental standpoint and a fiscal standpoint. Okotoks has saved millions of dollars because of this program,” Smith said of the water rebate program. “The less water people use the less we have to produce and move through our infrastructure, so it is a direct benefit.”
Until now, the Town had not been able to crack the community-wide energy efficiency and consumption nut due to the fact that, unlike its water resources, it doesn’t own and operate its energy utilities.
“The ramifications and future implications of MyHEAT are huge when it comes to town planning,” said Smith, adding the technology may influence future building code regulations.
The technology’s tentacles could extend well beyond community and town planning and into the general marketplace.
With heat scores available at the click of the mouse, could a home’s energy efficiency soon become akin to walkability when it comes to real estate sales? Smith and Taylor think so.
“You can see a home’s energy footprint at the touch of button,” said Smith. “I definitely think people will pop on the site when they are buying a home. The cost of energy is one of the biggest bills homeowner’s pay.”
Taylor said plans are in the works to roll out the technology across Alberta and the rest Canada in the New Year.