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.
Sonja Winkelmann, Senior Director for Net Zero Energy Housing at the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA), shares her tips on how to build an energy efficient home.
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 percent less energy when compared to a home built to the current Model National Building Code, and a renewable 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 a number of key 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 vapour barrier
- Double- or triple-paned windows
- Thermal exterior doors
- Energy efficient lighting such as Square D switches and receptacles
- Energy Star-rated appliances
- A home energy monitoring system such as Wiser Energy
- “Right sized” and energy efficient HVAC equipment
- Solar panels and battery storage
Whatever rating program you’re following, the basic components are the same.
“An airtight building envelope with higher levels of insulation and high-performance windows will make a home more energy efficient,” says Winkelmann. 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 vapour 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. And because energy efficient homes are more airtight, mechanical ventilation to ensure filtered fresh air is coming into the home is required for indoor air quality and occupant health.
Winkelmann also points out that the CHBA’s Net Zero program is “performance based rather than proscriptive” 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 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, if your home buyer wants to have a Net Zero Home, a renewable energy system – typically, incorporating solar panels mounted on the roof, is needed. Where possible, orient the roof to be south- or west-facing to maximize solar gains. 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. This is called “PV Ready”.
How Schneider Electric Can Help
In addition to the Wiser Energy Smart Home Monitor, Schneider Electric has a number of products that can help improve the energy efficiency of a home.
Dimmers are a simple way to provide energy savings by offering full illumination when needed and subtle lighting for a more ambient feel. Schneider Electric also has a full line of stylish Square D™ X Series Z-Wave and Wi-Fi-enabled switches that put even more control and monitoring capabilities into the hands of homeowners.
With voice commands or control via the app, owners can remotely operate appliances and fixtures, create custom lighting scenes, monitor energy use at the plug level, and much more.
Space-saving features include single switches that can control a fan switch, humidity sensor, and occupancy sensor all in one.
When choosing outlets and switches, look for the Green Premium label, Schneider Electric’s best-in-class environmental performance products.
“A home will only run as efficiently as the owners operate and maintain it,” points out Winkelmann. That’s why homeowner education must be part of the handover process for your clients. Start by reiterating all the measures you took to make their home as energy efficient as possible. Then make sure they understand how to use their Wiser Energy Home Energy Monitor and offer advice on how they can adjust their lifestyle to reduce their energy consumption.
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.