The Rundown

The project started as a 4th year engineering capstone project here at Carleton. The idea was inspired by the growing popularity of the tiny house movement, as it was noticed that most of the tiny houses were built in warm climate locations, where the weather stays relatively constant and sun exposure times during the winter isn’t an issue. Then the question arose: how far north can we put a self-sustaining tiny house? And the Northern Nomad was born.

Our goal is to push the limits of sustainable building design in Ottawa. We will be exploring ways in which new and innovative technologies can be integrated into a sustainable building. Our hope is to reduce the impact of green house gases on the built environment in response to climate change.

This project will strive to demonstrate that an Ottawa home with a small building footprint can achieve net-zero energy. This implies the home must produce enough renewable energy on site to meet or even exceed its energy needs on an annual basis. This will be achieved using good passive solar design, photovoltaic solar panels and a Telsa battery. Additionally, this ambitious project will explore the viability of an Ottawa home achieving net-zero water use by collecting enough water on site to meet the home’s water needs. Various methods of harvesting and purifying rainwater will be explored.

Unlike almost half of Canadian households, Northern Nomad will not use natural gas for heating. Heating will be provided by a combination of renewable energy sources and heat pumps which use the sun’s energy to heat air and water in the home. Heating requirements will be reduced by ensuring that the home is well insulated.

The Northern Nomad project will showcase a variety of smart home technologies and will be designed to optimize energy and water efficiency. This project will be designed with the goal of achieving the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification.

The home will be rated using the EnerGuide rating system for new homes.

The Background

The Canadian Building Industry alone is responsible for [1]:

  • 35% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • 33% of Canada’s energy consumption
  • 50% of Canada’s natural resources consumption
  • 35% of Canada’s waste going to landfill

Sustainable building practices can significantly reduce the impact that buildings have on the environment: reducing the use of energy and natural resources, as well as the limiting contribution to climate change.

Most existing research for sustainable technologies such as solar panels are completed in warmer climates. This project will push the boundaries of sustainable design in the unique Ottawa climate, which faces several challenges:

  • Extreme temperature variations
  • Snow and ice coverage
  • Seasonal variations in sun exposure

This research will demonstrate several new and innovative building technologies, and will test actual versus calculated performance to improve how sustainable technologies are implemented in Ottawa in the future.

The Benefits

Designing and building Northern Nomad will allow Carleton University engineering students to research how well different sustainable technologies work in the Ottawa climate. This will allow us, and future students, to gain invaluable experience by applying and further developing our engineering skills to address a pressing, real-world issue.

This research will demonstrate several new and innovative building technologies appropriate for cold-climates. Ultimately, this project will help lower residential impacts on the environment. It will demonstrate how Ottawa homes can be built to take advantage of the best technologies available for its unique location.

To support the project go to our Future Funder Page at

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