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Net Zero: The Future of Housing

09/18/2014

Can you imagine yourself living off the grid in the most modern of suburbs or in the heart of a bustling city?

Owning a modern home, with all the comforts, close to conveniences, yet never having to worry about energy consumption?

This is the future of housing and it’s called Net Zero. By producing as much energy – or more - than it uses, a Net Zero energy home is the pinnacle of energy efficiency; high performance, high quality homes and renewable energy coming together in a building trend that will be the future of how communities are created. Richard Sifton, President of Sifton Properties, explains “a Net Zero home gets you to the next level, not just in building code, but it also allows you to virtually come off the grid. On an annual basis, it would produce as much energy as it uses, including space heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water heat and all household electrical consumption.” Quite often Net Zero homes will produce more energy than used during the day, so by putting that excess back into the grid and drawing on it later you’re effectively reversing your meter.

In its infant stages, Net Zero is the natural progression in building code, as homeowners embrace previous conservation guidelines, such as EnergyStar and EnerGuide rated homes. Current code for a new build requires homes to meet an enerGuide rating of 80, which just last year was the number required for EnergyStar. Now, an EnergyStar home has been moved up a notch to 84.

A Net Zero energy Home takes these measures a step further.

Nonetheless, the road to Net Zero won’t be a short one. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association is currently forming a council, chaired by senior building science associate at Building Knowledge Canada, Andrew Oding, to develop Net Zero action plans, to iron out considerations, such as labeling and training/building knowledge, that must be taken before Net Zero becomes the here and now.

Builders are innovative by nature – they have to be in an industry that is constantly changing and moving forward – and Net Zero is the pinnacle of this. Builders are excited about these new homes, but want to ensure homeowners are receiving products that perform and have proven track records behind them.

By ensuring all aspects of the housing industry are represented not only will the council be able to develop road maps for the adoption of Net Zero housing but engage in delivering solutions to issues that will arise, ensuring homeowner’s concerns are addressed. Builders are on the ground listening to the interests and opinions of homeowners and no one understands more about what they want.

High performance, high quality homes and renewable energy coming together in a building trend that will be the future of how communities are created.

“We want to make sure it’s member and builder driven, based on things they feel are the highest priority [for homeowners],” says Sonja Winkelmann, director of Net Zero energy Housing at the cHBA.

Winkelmann explains that it will function as an advisory body, with builders, renovators, manufacturers, utility personnel, finance and energy groups, marketers and academia representing homeowners.

Derek Satnik, vice president of technology at s2e Technologies, believes as the technology advances the focus should be on making Net Zero affordable as well as liberating. “The industry is always changing, so we’re always getting better products; Net Zero is the accumulation of this,” he says.

Satnik is also working closely with Sifton Properties on its pilot smart community, The Village at RiverBend, a 70-acre west London community based on an energy conserving smart grid design. “It’s going to change Canada, and London is one of the leaders, it’s very real,” says Satnik.

Sifton is also proud to announce their first model home using full Net Zero technologies, which will be under construction in the fall. While the home won’t be labelled Net Zero before a clear system for such ratings has been put into place, the home will be Sifton’s pilot project for Net Zero. Located in Warbler Woods, this state-of-the-art home will be shown to other builders as well as potential buyers, “I think it will take a while to catch on,” Sifton said. “Part of the whole process is that when you build something that’s new and great, it’s better to be sharing the information so that the improvements can continue and more and more people can be on-board.”

Using higher r-rating insulation in the roofing, walls and basement, triple-glazed windows, high-end air- source heat pumps, energy recovery ventilation systems, solar panels and high efficiency air distribution systems are some of the ways that Sifton will build Net Zero.

Winkelmann speculates that Net Zero houses may end up with a rating system, similar to EnergyStar or EnerGuide. This standard will allow homeowners to feel secure in the knowledge that their home is as efficient as possible. It will also lay the groundwork for Net Zero homes, making sure they are consistent and achieving a measurable standard, across the board.

It’s also important that when Net Zero gets a label it is reliable and that it fits into the current models consumers are familiar with. Winkelmann explains that, for example, while on the current enerGuide scale a Net Zero home could be a 100, but a new home built to enerGuide 100 would not necessarily be Net Zero. The label developed must ensure standards are set so the consistency of Net Zero qualifications is in place. Attaching a guideline or checkpoint list onto the Net Zero label would be key, as would taking into consideration the climate the house is built in, how features like solar panels would function within a city and post- occupancy variables, such as size of household or occupant behaviour.

Although Net Zero may be a ways away, Sifton says, “It’s going to be an exciting opportunity for us, and exciting outcomes. The ultimate best part of it is it’s going to be the next thing that changes the development world.”