All About Alumni / Spring 2006
Living off the Grid

Every day is Earth Day in the Ketchum’s custom-built sustainable home


Every day is Earth Day at Anthony and Mary Ketchum’s custom-built sustainable house in Hockley Valley, Ont., but they still enjoy celebrating April 22 by inviting visitors to tour their weekend home. More than 1,400 people have made the one-hour trip northwest of Toronto to see the residence since its completion in 1998. “It’s successful, practical, attractive and comfortable – a great demonstration of what can be done,” says Professor Dennis O’Hara, director of U of T’s Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology, who has been bringing students to the house every Earth Day for the past five years.

The Ketchums’ house is not connected to the power grid and functions entirely on sustainable energy. “I’ve always had a very strong bent towards preserving the planet,” says Anthony (MEd 1974, DEd 1979), crediting his rural upbringing outside Port Hope, Ont., for his commitment to environmental issues.

When the Ketchums decided to build a country getaway on four acres of land in the Hockley Valley, the hilly terrain seemed to present a serious obstacle, says Anthony, a retired English teacher who supervised construction of the project. Then he and Mary (BSW 1961) met Greg Allen (BASc 1970), an engineer who specializes in sustainable design. Allen looked at a particularly steep slope and saw an opportunity to use the hillside for warmth and shelter in the winter and cooling in the summer. The colder sides of the house – the north and east – are built into the hill for insulation, with two storeys below ground level.

• The sun streams through 174 square feet of triple-glazed windows on the home’s west and south sides. Krypton gas between the window panes prevents heat loss. Without any active heating, the temperature inside never falls below 10 C. In the summer, trellises of northern kiwi and grape vines shade the windows and help keep the house cool.

• For the coldest months, there is a seven-tonne masonry wood heater that extends between the main living area and kitchen. “If you get a good fire going, you only have to light it once every 24 hours, even in the dead of winter,” says Anthony. It also features a built-in bake oven.

• Seven 64-watt solar panels provide the electricity, with a 350-watt wind turbine as backup. “We’ve captured the sun’s energy in every possible way,” he says.

• Rainwater travels from two flat roofs into a 9,000-litre underground cistern, which provides water for bathing and washing. After it’s been used, this “grey water” flows into a 30-square-foot lush indoor garden of tropical plants. “Our plants just thrive on it,” says Anthony. Dry composting toilets produce fertilizer and eliminate the need for a septic system. Drinking water comes from a dug well.

• The structural walls are constructed of Durisol blocks made from recycled wood chips and cement reinforced with concrete. Roxul, a mineral wool made from waste slag from mines, provides additional insulation. Inside, brick walls and tile floors provide maximum heat absorption.

• The 1,600-square-foot home has a living room, dining room, kitchen, office and spare bedroom on the first floor, and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. There is even a radio and 12-inch TV. “It has all the comforts of home,” says Anthony. “We don’t miss a thing.”


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