The grass is greener on this side.

Nova Scotia is leading the way with energy- efficient new home construction – but there is still a lot to be done.

Photovoltaic pannels collect and convert solar energy into electricity

Over the years, Nova Scotia has proven to be a leader in the Canadian building industry, both as an advocate and a pioneer in energy efficient practices and technology. It’s an achievement our builders are proud of and for some, a high standard of energy efficiency is at the core of their business.

For those who are unfamiliar, a home achieves an energy efficiency rating by tak- ing part in the EnerGuide Program, a rating program for new and existing homes that measures a homes energy performance and gives it a number between 0 and 100. A rating of 0 represents a home with major air leakage, no insulation and extremely high energy consumption. A rating of 100 represents a house that is airtight, well insulated, sufficiently ventilated and requiresno purchased energy on an annual basis.

The average new home built today inNova Scotia must be built to an EnerGuide 80 or equivalent. However, that hasn’t stopped local builders and government from continuing to set the bar higher and build better homes.

In a bold attempt to promote energy efficient building in the mainstream market, Efficiency Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association recently launched the Demonstration Homes pro- gram.

Two of the province’s premier builders, Denim Homes and Whitestone Develop- ments, took on the task of each building a home that met the highest standards in energy efficiency.

The Demonstration Homes were both built to achieve a minimum EnerGuide rating of 92 (Whitestone’s final rating was in fact a 94 and Denim Homes’ a 96) and boast features like triple glazed low-E argon windows, wet or dry sprayed cellulose insu- lation made of recycled materials, solar hot water boiler and sixteen 235-watt photovol- taic panels to redirect energy back into the community’s residential power grid.

A drain water heat recovery system uses warm drain water to pre-heat the domestic water supply.

“The Demonstration Homes are a great way to raise awareness and educate thepublic about energy efficient building,” says Caleb Howden of Denim Homes. “Homes built to this level show consumers that the bar can be set higher.”

Paul Pettipas, chief executive officer of the NSHBA and Howden both agree that if the volume of energy efficient homes being built in Nova Scotia increases, the techniques and technology will become standards of the mainstream market. This will force more builders to adopt energy efficient building practices and result in accessible, competitive pricing across the board.

“It all comes down to educating the con- sumer and the industry ” believes Pettipas. “Nova Scotia is already ahead of the curve in Canadian building standards, but setting the bar higher will save consumers and builders money and help the environment – a win win.”

Making smart choices

While living in a home with a rating of 94 would be wise, this level may be financially difficult to reach for the average consumer. But not to worry, energy efficiency is within reach just so long as homeowners invest the time to make smart choices when build- ing a new home.

R-value, Howden suggests, is a perfect example. Homeowners sometimes feel that more is always better. When in reality, depending on the design, size, location and positioning of the home, purchasing the highest and most costly R-value package is not necessarily the best investment.

“Imagine the design of a home featuring a number of floor to ceiling windows. You wouldn’t necessarily need an R-42 wall because the majority of heat loss would be through the windows and not the wall,” explains Howden. “Good builders should help consumers understand and consider the most cost effective way to optimize efficiency based on all aspects of the design and construction, and that’s not always go- ing to be with the most expensive materials or techniques.”

Other smart choices include selecting the right window glazing, ceiling and floor insulation, and heating system. Positioning of the home can also be a crucial factor. Consumers should be paying attention to which direction the home is facing as south facing windows offer plenty of free heat.

Where we are today and where we aim to be

Cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper can be used in either a wet (shown here) or dry application.

There has been a lot of discussion around the term “net zero” recently among govern- ment and industry leaders. While much of the conversation is technical it all boils down to one goal – to see all new homes become energy producers by 2030 based on the energy consumption of the average Canadian.

In order to do that in an efficient way, a home must be built airtight, with high lev- els of insulation, great mechanical ventila- tion, and include a number of other energy efficient practices and products. Builders like Denim Homes understand the science and have been building solid homes for years.

“The next step” says Howden “ is creat- ing energy. We’ve gone almost as far as we can go when it comes to the envelope of the home.”

The building envelope is the outer layer of the building that separates the living space from the outdoor environment, both above and below grade. Ensuring that it’s energy efficiency is maxed out is the most cost effective way to build a net zero home.

As far as creating energy, today’s tech savvy builders look at a variety of different options – the most popular being solar. Photovoltaic technology continues to get better and more cost effective and many new homes are being built with solar requirements roughed in.

“We hope more people start seeing the long-term value in building self-sustaining homes,” says Howden, who notes that over 50% of Denim Homes constructions this year are already creating energy, let alone saving energy.

“There is a long way to go between now and net zero,” says Howden. “But it’s impor- tant to understand that net zero is more than a home, it’s a lifestyle.”

Building energy efficient homes is a worthwhile challenge that builders are eager to accept, but much of the onus then lies with the consumer to see the potential in what technology and structure has been provided. Energy efficient building must take into account the construction and the operation.

In simple terms, an energy efficient house is only as efficient as the people living in it.

“Despite a home being energy efficient, if all the lights and TV are left on, the wash- ing machine is constantly going and there are three fridges plugged in, net zero is no longer net zero,” says Howden. “Of course the power bill will be much lower than if it were a non-efficient built house, but the environmental footprint is still high.”

Howden believes these advanced energy conscious homes are not for the masses – yet. They are homes that appeal
to a select type of consumer with a higher than average price point. But for home- buyers with capital to spend upfront, invest- ing in a home that is energy conscious or that produces its own energy can lead to long-term financial and environmental gain.
A disconnect exists between environ- mental responsibility, market mentality and industry practices – but green thinking is catching on.

Changing the industry and consumer habits is not a feat builders and organiza- tions like the NSHBA believe will happen quickly. But they are confident in the direc- tion Nova Scotia is heading and will continue promoting programs such as EnerGuide for New Homes and offer educational courses for builders and the public alike.

Mari Suyama

Mari Suyama

With a degree in Journalism and Spanish from the University of King’s College, Mari has turned her passion for writing, languages and travel into a career she loves. Diving into the world of freelance after university, she moved to Latin America