Canadian Contractor

What will it take for home builders to embrace the Green?

National recognition and local policies may be needed to ‘push’ the industry into the future


May 16, 2017
By John Bleasby

According to several studies, the majority of home buyers want ‘sustainable’ features like energy-efficient lighting, smart technology and renewable energy in their homes. But is the residential construction industry listening? While it’s true that progress is being made towards improving the energy efficiency of homes in North America, the efforts appear to be focussed on more expensive custom homes and renovations. Kudos to developers like Reid’s Heritage Homes, and Lucchetta Homes for their efforts to bring green initiatives to mass produced housing, but for the most part, development homes are built today much like they were 15 or 20 years ago.

Some new high-end homes in developments like this one north of Toronto sell for $1 million or more. Yet their energy-efficiency features and building techniques are no more superior than many smaller homes a fraction of their price.

Money matters. Who will pay for the energy efficiencies?
Cost will always be a factor when it comes to a buyer choosing between what they want and what they can afford. While improvements in windows, and heating/energy systems can be justified through long term savings, someone has to come up with the money upfront to pay for it.

At the same time, improved insulation techniques like adding a 2 inch layer of foam board to the exterior of the building envelope can do much to boost insulation qualities, yet don’t add significantly to cost. However, few tract home builders make the effort. As the Canadian home building industry moves towards a Net Zero Energy (NZE) world over the next ten years or so, one has to wonder what it will take for the builders of today to move forward and show a serious interest in getting on board.

The CHBA has a new labeling program that will give recognition to NZEr homes and tot he builders who provide them

Leadership at the national level
The Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) is showing leadership in this regard when it recently announced a NZE labelling program to bring attention to those homes built with the future in mind and to the builders who offer them. “CHBA supports leading-edge innovation in the residential construction industry with the goal of having those innovations as a voluntary and affordable choice for consumers,” said Kevin Lee, CEO earlier this month. “The Net Zero Home Label will help to meet the energy efficient housing aspirations of Canadians, and renew Canadian industry leadership in high performance housing.”

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The CHBA also announced that Net Zero training has been developed for CHBA members to allow the necessary transfer of knowledge to accelerate the industry’s capacity to achieve Net Zero. “A national network of CHBA Net Zero Qualified Service Organizations, Energy Advisors and Trainers will work directly with the builders and renovators to design, model, test and inspect each home.”

Learn more…
Learn more about the NZE labelling Program

New luxury housing developments like this one north of Toronto start at $500,000 and go way up from there. Yet their energy-efficiency features and building techniques are no more superior than many new homes half their price.

For leadership at the local level, ‘Look West Young Man!’
Showing foresight at the local level, the City of Vancouver put new policies into effect in this month to encourage green initiatives by setting energy and emission targets for new construction on rezoned lots, using natural gas as leverage. In its statement, the City said, “Developers can choose to build new buildings with natural gas, provided they can meet the energy efficiency and emissions targets.” While targeting buildings over six stories by mandating a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in order to qualify, it’s step in the right direction. In the meantime, smaller buildings can still use natural gas for the usual household appliances like stoves, oven, dryers and hot water heaters.  These policy changes are, in the City’s view, consistent with its strategy to move towards complete renewable energy by 2050.

Karen Tam Wu , Associate Director at the Pembina Institute, salutes these changes as an important step towards recognizing changes coming to the National Building Code over the next decade. “With strong support from developers and homeowners, the city is taking a positive step towards eliminating carbon emissions from all new homes and buildings by 2030,” Tam Wu said in a statement.

Providing a ‘push’ where one is needed
It comes to the ‘push and pull’ of the marketplace, and the ‘push’ aspect is critical. Custom home building and renovation work aside, it is questionable how many builders in Canada are ready to take the green bull by the horns on their own. After all, it’s a competitive marketplace where low entry-level prices are key marketing tools. By increasing consumer awareness of green initiatives and visibly recognizing those who offer Net Zero Energy efficiencies, the CHBA is doing a little pushing of its own by informing the public. Building policies like Vancouver’s that have an eye towards 2030 are doing their part too, gently forcing builders towards incorporating green methodology into their new home offerings.

Giving financial recognition for what lies behind the drywall
On the renovation side, the Canadian industry might also make note of a new partnership in the U.S. between the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and the Appraisal Institute that is introducing a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) scoring system into new or resale home appraisals. This will recognize in dollar terms the seller’s investment in energy-efficient features through a national industry standard. “The value of energy upgrades is too often not reflected in the real estate appraisal of a home,” said RESNET Executive Director Steve Baden in an insulation industry publication. “Many of the features that make a home energy efficient are hidden behind drywall and aren’t obvious to home buyers.”

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1 Comment » for What will it take for home builders to embrace the Green?
  1. Rob says:

    Until the buyers are willing to pay the current premium costs for “green” upgrades; this will continue to be an issue.

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