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Green home builder delivers health and comfort through efficiency

Image of rendering of Solana, Whistler, B.C.
Solana, a condo development in Whistler, is positioned strategically to take advantage of sunlight. And every unit employs a heat-recovery ventilator.

'We shouldn't be building homes that are bad for your health'

For some builders, there's more to building green than good insulation and some new technology. At Innovation Building Group in Whistler, the principals have adopted green building as a core philosophy based on what a house means to the people who live there.

"We've shifted our fundamental thinking," says Rod Nadeau, managing partner of the company. "Health and well-being of the occupant — the comfort of the occupant — is the primary design goal now when we're designing a home."

Innovation Building got its start (under an earlier name) in 1980. The company embraced the energy efficiency challenge early on, building its first home with triple-paned windows and an HRV [heat-recovery ventilator] [PDF, 112 KB] in 1984. However, despite Nadeau's enduring commitment to sustainable building, he doesn't emphasize it in marketing his homes.

"For the last two years, we don't even talk about it with our clients; it's just a little sidebar. Yes, we build energy efficient. Yes, we build green. We have built that into our standard for many years."

Comfort through efficiency: taking aim at drafts, cold spots

Innovation's homes place an emphasis on thermal comfort, with extra insulation, good air sealing and digital thermostats to prevent drafts and cold spots. Homes are designed with plenty of natural light and fresh air (made possible by high efficiency windows), and ventilation managed by an HRV in every home.

"Your home is more polluted than the air in Los Angeles if you don't have any ventilation," says Nadeau. "And if you live in a home that's too dark, you soon realize how important natural daylight is. We shouldn't be building homes that are bad for our health."

Innovation Building aims for EnerGuide 85 as a minimum, incorporating ideas from Passive House, Built Green, and other standards. Nadeau says for the past 100 years, home builders have been adding comfort to homes by simply adding more energy. Now, the goal is comfort through efficiency.

"We're selling a new way of being comfortable in your home: less energy to pay for, fewer visits by the furnace guy, lower maintenance bills," he says. "That's kind of the key: get our homes to the point where we don't have complicated mechanical systems to keep us comfortable. We're doing it on a passive basis."

Condo development has a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) in every unit

Nadeau's philosophy has come through in Innovation's latest project, Solana, a condo development positioned to take advantage of the sun, both for well-lit living spaces and passive solar heating. Unusual for a multi-unit building, every suite will have ventilation controlled by its own HRV.

"I think HRVs should be mandatory for all homes," says Nadeau. "I walk into so many houses in the winter where people have all this condensation on their windows because they have no ventilation. It ruins the window sills, and they have mold growth throughout after a few years. Then there are homes that are so leaky they can barely keep them warm.

"You have to be comfortable in your home. You spend a lot of time in there. Your home should be a place of refuge; somewhere you can be healthy."

Image of rendering of the rooftop of Solana, Whistler, B.C.
The rooftop terrace of the Solana development in Whistler features a community garden with individual garden plots, a barbecue and outdoor kitchen.

Building green to build the future

Nadeau says building green is a continuous learning curve, but he says it's getting easier. Materials and construction methodology are better than they were 30 years ago, and costs for items such as highly efficiency triple-glazed windows have come down.

Innovation tries to manage the costs of going green by using building materials and techniques that are mainstream, to make it easy for tradespeople and inspectors.

"It's completely manageable," he says. "It's not hard to do. You have to want to do it, and you have to pay attention."

Nadeau says the home builders should embrace sustainable building as a point of pride, because there are few other industries that make products expected to last as long as a new home.

"We build a house, and it's going to stand for 50 to 300 years," he says. "Who knows how long it's going to be around? It's going to consume energy, and it's going to consume materials and maintenance. The less maintenance and the lower energy we can accomplish, the better off it's going to be for our environment."