Home sweet 'net-zero' home

What if net-zero living wasn't as far-fetched as we might think? As more smart devices take centre stage, technology is allowing homes to be designed and constructed in such a way that they work to achieve zero energy usage.

To date, there have been more than 450 homes labelled under the Canadian Home Builders Association’s Net Zero Home Labelling Program. Their target is to hit 500 homes by the end of the year, and add another 500 certified net-zero homes in 2021.

So, what does net-zero actually mean? In short, it’s the ability for your home to produce as much energy as it consumes – perhaps even creating an energy surplus that you’re able to feed back into the grid. Research shows that these homes are up to 80 per cent more energy efficient than a typical new home.

Currently, Canadian homes and buildings (combined with the electricity generated to power them) release 111 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year. However, to be fair, according to Natural Resources Canada, “Canadians use more energy due to our extreme temperatures, vast landscape and dispersed population.” A closer look shows that about 82 per cent of emissions originate from our energy use.

Recognizing our role to evolve and provide innovative solutions for our customers, we recently announced our partnership with Zibi and Kruger Products to introduce zero-carbon thermal district energy to the 34-acre site of the Zibi community with the formation of the Zibi Community Utility; expected to come online in 2021. This will make Zibi the region’s first zero-carbon-emission community, and the first in North America to use post-industrial waste recovery in a master-planned neighbourhood.

The role of the Canadian Home Builders Association

“Whenever I hear someone say, “Oh, they sure don't build houses like they used to,” I always respond: "Well, thank goodness!"” says Kevin Lee, CEO of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA). “New houses today are 50 per cent more energy efficient than they were just 25 years ago.”

The CHBA represents builders, renovators and developers all across Canada, as well as the suppliers, trades and services that support residential construction. In particular, CHBA works to improve the performance of houses and advocates for housing affordability; a particularly challenging goal given today’s housing market.

As climate change and environmental concerns have grown, the CHBA has overseen an industry of continuous improvement within Canada to advance home energy efficiency and energy performance overall. “Net-zero is an ultimate goal, but it can’t come at the cost of affordability,” says Lee. “I will say that we can definitely get every house in Canada to net-zero at some point, but it’s really about doing that in a way that isn’t too expensive for homeowners.”

Higher standards

It’s fair to say that net-zero homes are still in their infancy, but as their popularity grows and the market demands it, the goal is to reduce costs associated with achieving net-zero standards. For context, some net-zero standards include moving from double-pane windows to triple-pane windows, building fatter walls with increased insulation, and integrating clean energy generation such as solar to power a home all year long. These costs are compounded by the design features you select and the size of your home.

So, how are new homes typically built to higher energy-efficiency standards today? “It depends on what the baseline construction standard is of your builder,” says Lee. “Some builders add their energy-efficiency measures according to the building code, and that's still a very good home, while others build to voluntary standards like the ENERGY STAR program, which is higher. For people who are looking to stay in their home a long time and are conscious about climate change and the environment, a net-zero home could be the right investment for them despite the higher upfront costs.”

What about older homes?

With new housing already very efficient, the CHBA is also focused on making older homes as energy efficient as possible with its RenoMarkTM renovators. To help guide homeowners, the CHBA is expanding its Net Zero Home Labelling program to renovations based on the Government of Canada’s EnerGuide energy-rating system. With energy advisors trained and certified by the Government of Canada, a point system is used to grade how much energy a home uses. So far, more than a million existing homes in the country have been labelled under the EnerGuide energy-rating system, and CHBA is looking to have more and more of them reach net-zero levels in the future.

“The system provides the homeowner with a full report on where they can go with their house to make it energy efficient,” says Lee. “It puts you on a path, which we think is really important because you can't always afford to do everything on a renovation at the same time. But the EnerGuide system allows you to plan over a few years to achieve your goals.”

So, what path will you choose? Do you see net-zero in your future?

To learn more about net-zero homes and the Canadian Home Builders Association, check out our ThinkEnergy podcast episode, “There’s No Place Like a Net-Zero Home,” featuring our in-depth interview with Kevin Lee.

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