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Energy efficient home-building is catching on, and getting easier

Martin Schenk (left) of Eagle Pacific Developments and Mike Young (right) of City Green
Martin Schenk (left) of Eagle Pacific Developments chats with Mike Young of City Green, a non-profit provider of energy efficiency services on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

Energy advisors helping spread word that efficient homes are a better investment

Spotting a trend can be a challenge, especially when your gig is home building. Technology has developed rapidly, and buyer preferences shift over time.

But it seems one trend — the increasing interest in energy efficient new homes — is on a steady rise.

"We have definitely seen an increase in demand, both among homeowners who are working with a builder, as well as builders who are building larger complexes of homes," says Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions.

City Green is a non-profit provider of energy efficiency services on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, since 2002. As a licensed service organization for Natural Resources Canada, it acts as liaison between the EnerGuide home rating program and certified energy advisors (CEAs) who implement it.

Energy advisors offer wider range of services, from design to marketing

Traditionally, CEAs were involved in a fairly limited range of services with home builders in B.C., predominantly to administer the blower-door test required for EnerGuide certification.

But that has changed, says Sundberg, as a much wider scope of services is offered: design phase advice, thermal imaging and blower door tests done mid-construction to identify problems, and even marketing.

"Some CEAs offer support to builders to help them communicate the benefits of energy efficiency, how to explain the label, how to talk about this heat pump or that high efficiency furnace," he says.

CEAs are also helping builders determine the benefits of different labeling programs, such as ENERGY STAR®, Passive House, and Built Green, in addition to the EnerGuide Rating System.

With all the options and programs currently available, Sundberg says the CEA's role is to make the process as simple as possible for the builder.

Mike Young, a City Green energy efficiency services advisor, says the increasing scope of CEA services points to increased interest and uptake in energy efficiency among B.C.'s home builders.

"There's a lot of difference depending on how [builders] want to market their homes," he says. "Some install air source heat pumps as a base level of construction, because it's become standard in the market they're building for. Others recognize that the market is increasingly shifting to concern about the operating cost of homes, instead of just their appearance."

Sundberg says changes expected in the EnerGuide Rating System will continue to raise the profile of energy efficiency.

"It will help clearly differentiate energy efficient homes and allow people to compare homes easily," says Sundberg. "That's going to be a highlight, because in the past builders that were building very energy efficient homes might find it hard to communicate that they're doing something different. Now there will a comparative edge, they can distinguish and differentiate themselves from other builders."

Adopting energy efficient building practices is getting easier

The good news for builders who haven't yet incorporated higher energy efficiency standards into their builds is that it's getting easier to do.

"There's a wide range of builder upgrade option packages," says Sundberg. He says builders can choose the elements that best suit their homes' designs, and the skills of their tradespeople.

"During the last four years, we've seen a lot of new technologies come into the Canadian market that have made it much easier for builders to increase their efficiency," says Young.

Young lists air source heat pump hot water heaters and drain water heat recovery as two examples. Still, he says, the best investment lies in educating building crews to minimize simple things like air leaks.

"If you get a skilled thermographer to do a pre-drywall thermal imaging test, it will pinpoint locations that are air barrier deficiencies, at a point where you can still correct them. If they're happening in one of your homes, they're most likely happening in every single one of your homes."

Incentives for builders hits $2,000, and the market shifts

Young says incentives offered by BC Hydro and FortisBC for energy efficient new homes are also making it easier for builders.

"Without a doubt, I think it's a major driver in the industry," he says. "When the incentive went up to $2,000 per home, it sort of went over a tipping point; many more builders started to take action."

"In addition to the incentive, builders can use the third-party EnerGuide label to show how their homes compare favorably with the competition," says Sundberg. "Your home has an electrical inspection and a plumbing inspection, but without some sort of inspection and label on it for energy rating, how do homeowners know what they're buying?

"We're increasingly focusing on the fact that an energy efficient home is a quality home. It's got good heating systems, and good windows, and good air sealing that also add to the structural integrity of the home. It's a better investment."