An energy efficient home is one that controls the moisture and heat flowing into and out of it. The more energy efficient a home, the more cost effective it is and the better it is for the environment. Today’s homes can be built to specific environmental standards or they can be renovated/retrofitted to improve their energy efficiency. Learn more about the options available so you can benefit.
Home as System
Think of your home as more than simply a floor, four walls and a roof. It is actually a system that includes the heat, air and moisture movement. Improvements in building technology have made it possible to manage those components better and improve a home’s energy efficiency.
The energy use in a residential home can be traced to five areas, say the folks at CityGreen, a non-profit energy organization:
- Space heating, 46 per cent
- Water heating, 30 per cent
- Appliances, 17 per cent
- Lighting, 6 per cent
- Cooling, 1 per cent
Not all homes are created equal in when it comes to energy efficiency, depending on the efficiency of their energy systems. Canada has a variety of standards that indicate that a new home meets specific energy usage criteria, and it’s worth knowing a bit about the major standards. They fall under the purview of EnerGuide, the Canadian government’s official mark for its performance rating and labelling program.
An EnerGuide rating, it allows buyers to compare its energy efficiency to that of similar items. You can obtain an EnerGuide rating for your own home with an assessment by a home energy advisor licensed by Natural Resources Canada and analyzed to evaluate:
- Heating and air conditioning equipment
- Ventilation equipment
- Domestic hot water systems
- The air infiltration or leakage rate
- Air/vapour barriers
- Insulation levels
The resulting written report will suggest ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency and save costs, and it will provide you with an EnerGuide rating system label.
Now, let’s take a look at the types of energy standards that can be applied to newly built homes.
Energy Star homes are built to a higher standard the minimum specified by building codes by a licensed EnergyStar builder and contain Energy Star appliances – those that are in the top 15 to 30 per cent in energy efficiency for their class. They have an EnerGuide rating of 80 or more.
Passive House Standard
The passive house standard was developed in Europe to create cost-effective, low energy homes, with less complex heating and cooling systems, says the Green Building Council of Canada. This rigorous design and building standard has as its goal an 80 to 90 per cent energy saving per building. It focuses on ensuring the building is airtight and well insulated to drastically reduce energy needs.
These homes are built to the R-2000 standard that came into effect in 2012 and are considered best-in-class energy efficient homes. They are built by licensed R-2000 builders using leading-edge technology. Usually, they include these features:
- High insulation levels in walls, ceilings and basements
- High-efficiency windows and doors
- High-efficiency heating
- Whole-house mechanical ventilation
- Testing to ensure minimal air leakage
- Water-conserving fixtures
Once inspected and approved, R-2000 homes receive a Natural Resources Canada certificate and a label that is placed on the electrical panel.
A Net Zero Energy (NZE) home is one that annually produces as much energy as it consumes. In Canada, such homes are not yet market-ready, but the government is working with partners to test and evaluate prototypes that are seeking to meet this standard. At present, construction of a NZE home is costly, but the government’s goal is to reduce the cost of the necessary technologies in order to construct such dwellings on a large scale.
Your Own Improvements
Although you may not be building a new home, you can still improve the energy efficiency of your existing home. An EnerGuide assessment is one option, but even without it, you might consider:
- Upgrading your heating system to a high efficiency (Energy Star) system
- Improving the insulation in your walls, attic, basement and crawl space
- Upgrading your hot water heating system and adding low-flow showerheads, a multi-option flush toilet and faucet aerators
- Stem some of the air leakage from your home with air sealing and weather stripping.
When considering these improvements, check to see if your provincial or municipal governments have incentive or rebate programs to assist with the cost of these changes. Why not save money in the short term while you improve the long-term energy efficiency of your home.