BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
BY LAURA MACINNIS
KINGS COUNTY RECORD
03 APR 2012 02:34PM
SUSSEX—Imagine a power bill with a big fat $0.
Not only is it possible, there are already homes in New Brunswick achieving this mean feat.
Home builders from across the province turned up in Sussex Thursday to find out about the latest techniques and technologies going into making the most energy efficient homes across Canada.
Efficiency NB held the first conference of its kind in the region at the All Seasons Inn, promoting the ground-breaking work of these companies – many of them from right here in New Brunswick.
“The focus is we have builders here who are building the most energy efficient homes in the province,” said Joe Waugh, the senior residential advisor for Efficiency NB and a resident of Sussex.
“These are not one-off custom homes. We wanted to look at builders who have a system down and are improving and refining it and building house after house that are at the top of the scale in terms of efficiency.”
While he can’t say New Brunswick’s efficient housing numbers are huge compared to other countries, local companies are making an impact.
More and more builders are looking at ways to package and brand themselves as energy efficient and Waugh said the workshops were a way to highlight some of those who have been having the most success and to see how they’ve done it.
And Waugh said with energy costs continually rising, what’s good for the planet is now good for the pocketbook too where home building is concerned.
One of the presenters at the event, Jacques Roy of Maple Leaf Homes, spoke on their partner EcoPlus Homes which provides the technology for Maple Leaf Homes to build “net zero” houses.
That means in the course of a year the net electricity consumption of the home will be zero.
“We build an extremely efficient, air tight house and then EcoPlus comes in,” he said.
They put in photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight to electricity, thermal solar systems for heating the hot water in the home, and geothermal heating systems for heating and cooling.
They currently have six projects in Atlantic Canada and each house can make more energy than it consumes.
While people these days talk about being “off the grid”, net zero homes are still connected to NB Power by something called net metering.
“They are connected to the power grid, but if they produce more electricity then they need, it actually flows through the meter and into the grid to be wherever,” Waugh explained. “They can feasibly have a $0 power bill.”
“It’s like having a bank account for electricity,” said Roy. “In the winter you might be consuming more electricity than you make, and in the summer you are generating much more than you can consume. And it balances out.”
Peter Amerongen of Riverdale Net-Zero project in Edmonton also spoke about his company’s Equilibrium Housing brand that builds houses designed to use no extra electricity.
Eric Tusz King of Energreen Builders Co-operative spoke on passive solar systems that take advantage of the sun’s rays to heat homes without the use of any electric or mechanical devices.
Hector Doiron of Efficiency NB spoke on the Super Insulated Approach and Tim Naugler of New Brunswick’s Southern Exposure Construction spoke on their energy efficiency package dubbed Passive House.
“It’s a system that originated in Germany and there is now a Canadian certified body,” he said. “It’s an energy standard that looks at the heating and cooling needs of the home with 75 per cent to 90 per cent energy reductions.”
Large amounts of insulation, air tight construction, and heat recovery ventilation are key.
Naugler said the models are completely designed before the build to figure out the best places to spend the money on insulation and location of windows.
“We can see how the house is going to perform before it’s even constructed,” he said.
Taking in the other workshops, Naugler said he’s also been impressed with the other builders in the province and said he would considering implementing some of the other technologies he saw during the conference.
“Maple Leaf Homes is doing some great stuff. And I’d like to look into pressure treated wood foundations in the future,” he said.
Considering the amount of new technology going into these homes Roy said many people would be surprised how little up-keep is involved in energy efficient homes for the homeowner once they move in.
“As far as our solar panels, there’s no maintenance to them because there are no moving parts. The only maintenance required is replacing the geothermal filter every three months. Shingles and panels are guaranteed for 30 years,” Roy said.
He said he knows the biggest thing keeping people from jumping on board is the up-front cost involved, but even that is falling.
“Part of it is knowledge and part of it is understanding the cost,’ Waugh said. “People buy houses based on the sticker price. But there’s another cost to the home and that’s how much it costs to heat it. If you pay more up front, but the money you save in energy pays the mortgage than it’s a net benefit.”
The efficiency package from EcoPlus will cost about $40,000 but that’s down from $65,000 just a couple years ago. But Roy said buyers need to remember that means you aren’t buying a standard heating system that would set you back $15,000.
And the incentives from Efficiency NB also offset the costs. Homes that have pre-qualified and are designed to meet the Net Zero performance standards will be get $7,500 back from the government.
Incentives are also available for qualifying homes putting in Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems ($2,500) and Geothermal Heating Systems ($5,000).
“How to do it isn’t a technical problem anymore,” Waugh said. “It’s the cost, education and the market that limits it.”
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