Affordable energy efficiency.
September 13, 2022
By Regina Gadacz
To achieve our national energy goals, we need to start looking at older housing stock.
Images courtesy of Butterwick Construction & Carpentry Ltd.
Newly built Canadian homes have been steadily increasing in energy efficiency over the years – a code-built home today is 47% more efficient than one from 1985. Still, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and its members are hard at work pursuing still greater energy efficiency innovations for voluntary adoption, while at the same time advocating that regulation wait until next levels don’t reduce affordability. But to truly address climate change in the housing sector, it is the existing housing stock that needs to be upgraded. Enter CHBA and its leading members again, as the pursuit of innovation for affordable deep energy retrofits working all the way towards net zero renovations kicks into gear.
Increasing Energy Efficiency in New and Older Homes
In new housing, industry leaders are paving the way to greater energy efficiency through voluntary programs such as the CHBA Net Zero Home Labelling Program. Founded by CHBA’s Net Zero Energy Housing Council, which is now five years old, CHBA’s leading members are providing discerning homeowners with net zero and net zero ready homes today, while working to innovate for greater affordability and increasing market penetration with each year.
But improving new homes alone won’t achieve the national goal, and it won’t help the millions of Canadians who live in older homes and want improved energy efficiency. Canada has 14 million residential residences, and approximately half of the current housing stock was built before 1985. Many of these older buildings are far behind new homes when it comes to energy efficiency. Even if all the new homes built from now until 2030 (say 200,000 per year, or 2 million total) were built to zero emissions, we still wouldn’t hit our environmental target – not even close.
Why Retrofits Are the Future
Renovating the existing housing stock is the only way for Canada to reach its greenhouse gases target in the housing industry. And with the half of our housing consuming twice as much energy as everything built since, that’s a lot of opportunity for renovators.
Canadians want their homes to be energy efficient. Maybe it’s a sense of social responsibility, uncertainty around utilities, simply a desire to reduce increasing energy bills, or a bit of each, but today’s homeowners are looking for improved energy performance. In fact, according to CHBA’s Home Buyer Preference Survey, powered by Avid Ratings Canada, nearly 90% of recent homebuyers indicated that having an energy efficient home was important to them. The survey gathers opinions of thousands of recent new homebuyers each year, and their preferences can easily be applied to renovations as well.
As Canadians seek higher levels of performance and comfort, the industry continues to innovate to strive to meet those desires in the most cost-effective fashion. And that innovation is needed to begin retrofitting older homes, which come with their own unique challenges.
Older renovated homes like this extremely efficient retrofit by Butterwick Construction & Carpentry Ltd. in Edmonton, Alta., are voluntarily paving the way to Net Zero renovations.
Setting the Stage
Drastically improving the energy efficiency of an older home requires an in-depth technical understanding of building science. And the best examples we have of that are by looking at Net Zero Homes.
A Net Zero Energy (NZE) home is one that produces the same amount of energy it uses, on an annualized basis. These homes are extremely well-built: they have very airtight, well insulated building envelopes with high-performance windows and doors. They also use efficient, right-sized mechanical systems in order to reach higher levels of energy performance. In addition to being incredibly efficient, NZE homes have built-in renewable energy generation (mostly solar panels). In some cases, they incorporate energy storage systems which allow homeowners to bank energy for future use. A Net Zero Energy Ready home (NZEr) is built to the same level of performance, but installation of the renewable energy component is left to the occupant at a future date – a popular option among NZE builders and homebuyers.
In both cases, the result is a home that delivers unrivaled levels of occupant comfort, minimum environmental impacts, and utility bills with much lower energy consumption.
CHBA is leading efforts to bring NZE and NZEr homes to market as affordably as possible. As the industry voluntarily learns new efficiencies with the technology and building practices involved, building costs are decreasing. CHBA’s aim is to share efficiencies and innovation among industry-leading CHBA members so that eventually the cost of owning a NZEr home is comparable to one built to conventional standards.
The first step was a demonstration program in 2015, backed by Owens Corning Canada and the federal government, that saw the construction of 26 such homes across Canada by five leading residential builders. Based on this success, CHBA launched its Net Zero Home Labelling Program to ensure that each participating home is qualified by a third party to meet the specified technical requirements. The program also includes training requirements for participating builder members and energy advisors.
And now, that scope involves renovations.
Bringing Net Zero Solutions to Renovations
The move to bring NZE homes and renovations to the marketplace is being spearheaded by the residential construction industry itself, through the work of CHBA’s Net Zero Energy Housing Council.
A broad collaboration involving homebuilders, manufacturers, utilities, design experts, government agencies, and service providers, the Council’s primary focus is on how to support innovation in the industry with the goal of creating a market advantage for CHBA builder and renovator members voluntarily pursuing Net Zero Energy.
Currently, they’re working to extend the Net Zero Program to renovations, so that older homes that meet the program requirements can receive the Net Zero/Ready label. To date, more than 100 new homes in Canada have received the label, which includes third-party verification. The program is growing exponentially each year as demand grows for not only energy efficiency at an affordable price point, but the comfort and health benefits that come with NZE homes.