In the minds of many, Canada is a nation of snow and ice year around. Of course, that’s not true—except in the farthest reaches of the Nunavut and Northern Territories—but they do have some cold weather. Because of that, energy efficiency in their houses is a concern and they have been exploring ways to make those homes both weatherproof and efficient.
Sonja Winkelmann is senior director for Net Zero Energy Housing at the CHBA (Canadian Home Builders’ Assn.). In an interview, she shared tips on how to build an energy efficient home just as they recommend in the Great North. Her ideas are easily applied to new construction in the Lower 48 as well as Alaska, even in Hawaii as the concept of energy efficiency isn’t dependent on the weather.
Winkelmann: “There are many reasons why you should build the most energy efficient home you can. For one, it shows that you are a progressive builder who is keen to work with the latest technology and information available to you. Homeowners appreciate the consistent comfort throughout their house and the long-term savings on their energy bills. Overall, building energy efficient homes has the dual benefit of conserving energy and helping Canada meet its collective climate change goals.”
Energy Efficient Homes
“The most energy efficient homes built in Canada today are Net Zero homes. That means that the building generates at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of the year. Net Zero Homes are built so efficiently that they consume up to 80% less energy when compared to a home built to the current Model National Building Code, and a renewabl-energy system provides the remaining energy needed.
“To achieve energy efficient homes, builders need to focus on two areas: the building envelope and the mechanical systems. If Net Zero is the goal, you’ll also need a renewable energy system.
“Whichever energy efficiency program you’re following (Net Zero, LEED, Energy Star, R-2000, Built Green, Passive House, etc.), there are many materials you can use to achieve your goals including:
- Exterior house wrap sealed at the seams
- Insulation that exceeds current building code requirements
- Interior sealed vapor barrier
- Double or triple-paned windows
- Thermal exterior doors
- Energy efficient lighting
- Energy Star-rated appliances
- A home energy monitoring system
- “Right sized” and energy efficient HVAC equipment
- Solar panels and battery storage
“Whatever rating program you’re following, the basic components are the same.”
Building the Sustainable Building
“Those components include:
“An airtight building envelope with higher levels of insulation and high-performance windows will make a home more energy efficient. Not only do these measures help keep the heat in during the colder months – meaning less energy is used for heating, in the warmer months they help keep the heat out, reducing the need for air conditioning.
“The materials used to make a home airtight include external house wraps that are sealed at all the seams, insulation that exceeds current building code requirements, a sealed interior vapor barrier, and efficient windows and exterior doors. Depending on which region of the country you’re building in you’ll want to use double- or triple-paned windows.
“Next is the building’s mechanical systems, including the HVAC system and water heating. With the building envelop properly sealed and insulated, “the mechanical systems can be ‘right sized’ to each home, so they perform better,” says Winkelmann. Combined, the sealed envelope and right sized and energy efficient HVAC systems improve comfort throughout the house.
“The CHBA’s Net Zero program is ‘performance based rather than prescriptive’ giving builders the ability to customize the design and construction of each home. This means builders have a variety of options and components at their disposal to achieve their goals in the most cost-effective way.
“Appliances, lights, and other electronics in the home should also be Energy Star-rated models. LED lights, smart bulbs, smart switches, and dimmers all help reduce the amount of energy used for illumination.
“An essential piece of equipment is a home-energy monitoring system, such as Schneider Electric’s Wiser Energy. This tool measures precisely how much energy a home is using, and helps owners identify ways they can reduce their energy usage. As the builder, you’ll need to help educate your client on how to minimize the amount of energy they consume and make any necessary adjustments based on the feedback their home energy monitoring system provides.
“Finally, a Net Zero home has a renewable energy system – typically, incorporating solar panels mounted on the roof. Where possible, orient the roof to capture south- or west-facing views to maximize the system’s peak load. If your client isn’t ready to commit to a fully Net Zero home, you can install the required rough-ins for potential installation down the road.”
Help is available
For builders interested in following Ms. Winkelmann’s suggestions, many vendors have energy efficient products available to help both in new construction and for owners to create the level of efficiency they want or need. Among them is Schneider Electric, a major developer of energy monitoring and controlling gear that Ms. Winkelmann mentioned. In addition to the Wiser Energy Smart Home Monitor, Schneider Electric has products that can help improve the energy efficiency of a home.
Whether it’s a desire to do your part to help reduce the impacts of climate change, energy independence or long-term financial savings, there are number of reasons why you should be building energy efficient homes for your clients.
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