The global pandemic has changed the way many people use their homes, workspace, and personal space. In fact, more than half of surveyed Canadian homeowners, as part of a Statista survey published in May 2021, stated that they had plans to improve their outdoor space in 2021. Thirty-two per cent had plans to renovate their bathroom and 23 per cent wanted to renovate the kitchen.
Amid this recent surge of home renovations over the pandemic, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) launched the Net Zero Home Labelling Program for Renovations.
The program provides the industry with a two-tiered technical requirement that recognizes net zero and net zero ready homes. A net zero ready home is a home that has been designed to accommodate the renewables required to make the home net zero energy but hasn’t yet installed those renewables. For example, if a home has been built to net zero levels of energy efficiency and was ready to install solar photovoltaics (solar panels) to offset the required energy for the home, but they aren’t installed yet, typically due to a higher price tag, this home would be considered net zero ready, explains Kevin Lee, CEO of CHBA. A pilot of the program ran from April 2020 to March 2021.
Early on in the pilot program, CHBA discovered that some type of assessment needed to be created to determine whether or not it made sense for a home to pursue the goal of net zero. “Some houses might not be feasible to really go to this extreme level of energy efficiency,” explains Lee.
This wasn’t the only lesson learned during the pilot period. One example is with sub slab insulation, “Under your basement floor in a newly built net zero home you’ll have insulation. Obviously, with a renovation, it doesn’t make sense to go in with a jackhammer and blow up the basement floor, so let’s find other ways to insulate,” explains Lee. Another example can be found in the ceilings — “We require sealed ductwork in net zero home and in some cases the ductwork will just not be accessible without a major tear-down of ceilings.” A lot of older homes have conventional fireplaces which are not allowed in a new net zero home, since sealed-combustion units are now available. This is largely due to the dangers of back drafting and air leakage as they are typically very leaky. However, since a lot of older homes use a fireplace as a centrepiece, fireplaces are allowed in a Net Zero Renovation, but only when paired with stringent air leakage measures and safety protocols.
Since renovating an existing home to net zero comes with unique challenges compared with constructing a new-build home, training courses were a must for this program. Qualified net zero renovators can complete training courses, and once the courses are completed, the renovator or builder must complete their first home to demonstrate their capability for working on a net zero home. “We knew we would have to have training but there’s no question that the industry education is a critical component to success in all of this,” explains Lee. To that end, CHBA just released its Renovators’ Manual, which is a guide to renovating for high efficiency in Canada.
This program will benefit the homeowner, however for those in the trades that are very keen on energy efficiency and looking to lead the charge, this program gives them recognition for their hard work and efforts as industry leaders, says Lee. “It’s a win-win for the homeowner as well as for the builders or renovators participating in the program.”
At the time of publication, more than 700 homes across the country have received a CHBA label with 73 qualified builders and over 40 energy advisors having completed the training. CHBA has a net zero council that meets on a regular basis during the year to help guide and inform its programs. This includes ways on how to best drive down prices over time for a net zero home, as they tend to be more expensive than buying a conventional home. “Net zero energy homes are a great option for those home buyers that wish to invest in their homes that way, with the benefits of energy efficiency, reduced energy bills, increased comfort and better air quality. But this comes with a price tag that isn’t feasible for all buyers. We need a lot of innovation, research, and development to find affordable solutions before this level of performance can be regulated for all homes, including affordable housing. We do have an affordability crisis in this country in terms of housing right now,” states Lee. “In the meantime, the industry is working hard on a voluntary basis to continue to increase the energy performance of homes and help find the best solutions that are affordable for all as quickly as possible.”