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Search for health, comfort drives sales of energy-efficient homes

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'We are breathing fresh air all the time because it's so well ventilated'

Yee Chan and her husband David Wong both work at home, so their daily environment is very important to them.

When they decided to downsize, they knew exactly where they wanted to be and what they were looking for: a brand-new home on Vancouver's West Side that would fit within their budget and provide them with a healthy, comfortable and environmentally friendly place to live and work.

"We love the house," says Chan, who moved in with Wong last October. "It is very well sealed (no drafts), very bright and much quieter than our old house — you can't even hear the neighbourhood kids playing outside right now — and we are breathing fresh air all the time because it's so well ventilated.

"We wake up in the morning feeling less tired."

Power Smart incentives drive energy efficiency

The house also doesn't take a lot to heat. Chan and Wong's new home boasts an EnerGuide 88 rating from Natural Resources Canada, which means it's extremely energy efficient.

It also means that its builder — Arthur Lo of Insightful Healthy Homes Inc. — qualified for incentives from the BC Hydro Power Smart New Home Program for achieving an EnerGuide rating of 80 or higher.

Worth over $2,000, the incentives helped bring down the costs of improving the efficiency of the building envelope with such measures as triple-glazed windows. Those windows, added to other energy-savings measures such as superior insulation and air sealing, enabled Lo to install a much smaller air source heat pump than typically used for heating a house of this size.

Lo estimates that with these measures, combined with solar panels for hot water, the home will save as much as 75 per cent on heating and hot water compared to a standard home — and that means Chan and Wong will save big on their energy bills year after year after year.

"Energy efficiency saves money from the very first day," agrees Thomas Green of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), "and it helps lessen the impact of rising costs, which means you can afford to do other things."

Costs are coming down

As project manager of CMHC's EQuilibrium™ Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative, Green understands that many new home buyers are interested in the benefits of an energy-efficient house, including the health and comfort aspects, but are afraid a high-performance home will simply cost too much.

Today, however, he says, "you can get a house that requires virtually no energy at very close to the same cost. Your mortgage may be slightly higher than your neighbour's, but that's balanced by lower monthly operating costs.

"Plus, you've got the comfort of very even temperatures throughout, no cold spots near the windows, for example, and lots of natural light."

Good examples, built through the CMHC's EQuilibirium initiative, include Burnaby's Harmony House and the Kamloops Green Dream Home.

Home buyer knowledge is increasing

Doug Overholt of BC Hydro's Power Smart New Home Program says that more and more builders in B.C. are working with buyers like Yee Chan and David Wong, who are well-educated on high performance buildings and looking for very specific things in their new homes.

"They know about new energy-efficiency technologies and that upgraded insulation and good air sealing can improve a home's performance, and its comfort, without adding a lot to the initial cost of building," says Overholt. "And they want the low energy bills they know they can now get."

Something else new home buyers are becoming more aware of: Buying an energy efficient home may help them qualify for a 10 per cent discount on their mortgage loan insurance premium from CMHC.

About the Power Smart New Home Program

To qualify as a Power Smart New Home, a house must be built to achieve an EnerGuide 80 rating, for up to 30 per cent savings on the owner's monthly energy bills.