Recognizing Net Zero Energy homebuilders

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Tract builders prove that high level energy efficiency is possible across Canada

STAFF WRITER
– The Ontario Construction Report

In March, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Owens Corning Canada recognized leading Net Zero Energy homebuilders – including Ottawa’s Minto Group – which constructed 26 NetZero Energy (NZEH) and Net Zero Energy Ready homes in five communities across Canada.

The other builders included Mattamy Homes – Calgary, Reid’s Heritage Homes – Guelph, Construction Voyer – Laval, and Provident Development Inc. – Halifax.

The initiative was one project under the $268 million ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative (ecoEII) announced as part of the 2011 federal budget. Eligible projects had to demonstrate research or development and be focused on the search for long-term solutions to eliminate air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions from energy production and use.

For the Net Zero project, Owens Corning Canada was lead proponent and Toronto based buildABILITY Corp. acted as the project’s lead consultant. The partnership brought together both companies’ expertise and dedication to sustainability.

Toronto based buildABILITY is an innovation consulting firm working with builders, manufacturers and innovators, whose founder’s history includes bringing ENERGY STAR for Houses to Canada.

Owens Corning is a Fortune 500 global company for which energy efficiency is part of its DNA, according to technical solutions manager Salvatore Ciarlo. “Our people and solutions make a difference, whether it is the insulation materials we produce for energy efficiency and human comfort, our shingles or our composite materials.”

buildABILITY’s director of strategy and programs, Candice Luck, says her firm had been working with Owens Corning as part of the NRCan LEEP/TAP initiative. Owens Corning’s product created phenomenal airtight results and inspired the Net Zero Project.

Net Zero homes become affordable, Ciarlo says, when energy consumption is minimized through superior insulation and exceptional levels of airtightness.

“This is our specialty. Our innovative CodeBord exterior air barrier system using our extruded polystyrene rigid insulation boards with sealed joints provides exceptional levels of airtightness and watertightness.”

NET ZERO – Comments

“We want to look at the obligation of our scale to continue to drive the industry forward, to really look at how energy efficiency and sustainability can continue to find its way into production houses. We need to find those things that are repeatable, scalable and have the right value proposition so our customers see them as something they want to buy, not have to buy.”

Brad Carr, president, Canada, Mattamy Homes

“We see this Net Zero initiative as a very important initiative in getting the average house closer to an affordable position for people to be able to buy them. Minto, over the years, has invested in a number of other homes such as this and this is the next development in that series.”

Brent Strachan, senior vice president, Minto Communities – Ontario

“It’s about building better, it’s about building a future, it’s about being wise about who we are as constituents within our community, as well as in leading an industry to be able to help improve the quality of life.”

Tim Blevins, president, Reid’s Heritage Homes

“Net Zero is a natural evolution for us, a progression from EnerGuide as we continually improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of energy efficient homes. Net Zero Energy to me is a home that produces as much energy as it consumes…. We’ve created what we think is a cost-effective Net Zero Energy Ready home that we could eventually adopt in the very near future as our standard.”

David Hilchey, vice president, Provident Development Inc.

“Innovation has always been an important part of our ability to deliver the best homes to our customers. Today we celebrate the completion of this important milestone, however our learnings from this project will allow us to continue to build homes that will benefit the environment and offer homeowners increased comfort and lower heating and cooling bills.”

Jean-Francois Voyer, co-owner, Construction Voyer

“We have to make greater use of renewable sources of energy. We need to invest more in clean technologies. And we have to ensure we realize the full economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency. The Net Zero Energy housing demonstration project does all of these things. It offers us another chance to reset the course of our economy and create opportunities for generations to come. So, on behalf of Minister Carr and our government, I salute your determination and your dedication. You’ve shown us a viable, sustainable path to the future — one that is cleaner, brighter and more prosperous than ever.”

Kim Rudd, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

He says the product is cost effective and that it is easy to maintain the continuity of the air barrier system from the exterior, rather than trying to wrap the house from the interiors. The CodeBord exterior air barrier system allows builders to achieve an airtightness of less than 1.5 ACH at the framing stage, surpassing R2000 levels of performance at the same stage.

Luck says the proposal called for 25 Net Zero homes to be built by five production builders in five different regions of the company. “We wanted to demonstrate that NZEH is possible in different climates across Canada and feasible on larger production scale, rather than as a custom build. It used current trades and off the shelf technology in a community setting to demonstrate this goal is achievable and repeatable.”

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Net Zero Energy homes are the next step for our industry. But Net Zero homes don’t just move the yard sticks, they move energy efficiency to the goal line, while also providing durability and comfort far beyond what older homes can offer.”

Kevin Lee Canadian Home Builders’ Association

Builder partners therefore had to meet specific criteria: be large scale and experienced in production building, have experience with sustainable construction, and be willing to put their pocketbooks and reputation on the line. “We received $1.96 million in funding for the project but that was for technical design, training, consulting, and testing. Each of the builders had to bear the financial risk of building and then hoping to sell the homes.”

She says the builders also had to be committed because post-construction, the project requires five years of reporting to validate results where available. “Some of our builders for instance have agreed to install Eyedro units in the homes which will tell us both how much energy the home is generating and how much energy the occupants are actually using compared to the simulated performance in the design and testing.” This, she says, will help validate some assumptions about lifestyles that may influence future initiatives.

Finding the right partners for the project was where Ciarlo says Owens Corning’s role was crucial with the company’s network of consultants, suppliers and builders that share its vision for the future and goal to transform the marketplace.

The initial project results have been impressive and Luck says all of the builders have, in one way or another, committed to continuing the effort. “Mattamy Calgary for instance will select some of the Net Zero elements and continue to explore these elements’ feasibility in Mattamy’s next subdivision. Reid’s Heritage has made a commitment that beginning this year, all of their new single family homes will be Net Zero Energy Ready.”

Minto, she says, will offer a single detached luxury home with a Net Zero Energy Ready upgrade and Provident Development will continue to explore standardizing Net Zero Energy Ready in Nova Scotia. “Construction Voyer built a six-unit condominium for the project. They will also consider Net Zero Energy Ready as an option in their future condominium developments.”

Ciarlo says the project has paved the way for others to follow. “I’d like to see this continue on a larger scope, perhaps with 1,000 homes in net zero communities across the country.”

From her end, Luck says she would like to see communities developed as Net Zero but recognizes there are challenges that will have to be addressed. “Net Zero needs to consider the site and orientation. It may not be realistic to build every home in a community to Net Zero but perhaps some homes creating more energy to balance those that can’t is a future to work towards.”

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Whatever the next stage, both say the Net Zero project has demonstrated that this kind of construction is attainable. “We’ve shown that Net Zero is doable now, it is affordable and we can do it today – we don’t have to wait for (building) codes to mandate this.”

The Net Zero awards event at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier included presentations from each builder and keynote speeches by Natural Resources Canada.

For more information on the initiative and the builders, visit http://www.zeroenergy. ca.

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