Tech-savvy buyer takes the lead on energy-efficient home

Power Smart New Home Program

When Harwinder Bal approached the uncle of a close friend to custom build his new home, he knew he wanted it to be energy efficient. So in 2010, he and builder Harminder Sian, of Sian Development and Contracting Ltd., started on a pathway that would see them build a top-rated energy efficient house from the ground up.

Foundational considerations

Bal spent a lot of time on the internet, researching technologies and adjusting the architectural plans as they went. One of the first innovations they used was insulated concrete forms that stack like interlocking bricks. Wood forms have to be removed after the concrete is poured and usually wind up as waste. These forms stay, and become added insulation. The team went above and beyond on the insulation requirement.

Bal carried a can of spray foam insulation around, following the electricians and plumbers, filling all the nooks and crannies. The attention to detail paid off. The air leakage test result was 1.41 air changes per hour (ACH), surpassing the R2000 standard of 1.5 ACH. Better insulation and tighter sealing are the most cost-effective way to higher energy performance.

Walls brought unexpected challenges

Next came the walls. They went with the 2x6 advanced frame wall system, with a slight modification. They installed 1 inch rigid insulation on top of regular sheathing and used spray foam insulation for the wall cavities.

"The walls were pre-fabricated in a factory," said Sian. In theory, this was a great idea, because everything could be sealed in a dry environment. But the team encountered several days of rain when they were assembling the 100 or so pieces, and some wall panels didn't line up, causing challenges for the team as they went.

Using solar panels and natural light

Bal decided to put solar panels on the roof for hot water pre-heating. He intentionally adjusted the pitch of the front south-facing roof to 45 degrees to take full advantage of the rays. The home maximizes its use of natural light with large ENERGY STARĀ® windows on its southern side. Bal also added a 600 square foot roof deck. With upgraded insulation for both the ceiling and the flat roof, there was no problem installing raised beds to grow vegetables.

Home interior comfortable, worth the cost

Bal and Sian made energy efficient decisions on the inside of the home too. They opted for an air source heat pump with programmable thermostats and used all ENERGY STAR appliances, contributing to an EnerGuide rating of 89. Bal is also helping the city achieve more density; they added a laneway house and a legal suite in their basement.

"Sure we spent a little more money up front, but there will be fewer costs month to month now, and there's more value in our home," says Bal. He appreciated the more than $2,000 in rebates he got through the BC Hydro Power Smart New Home Program and also took advantage of a solar hot water heating incentive offered by the City of Vancouver and Solar BC.

The family moved into their new home in Vancouver in February 2012. With two cold-weather seasons, they can attest that energy efficiency leads to improved comfort; their new home has been warm and cozy, with the exception of a front door that needs some weather-stripping.

As for Sian, his experience has led him to more interest in energy efficiency. He plans to enroll with BC Hydro's Power Smart New Home Program to take advantage of some of the incentives.