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Designing a custom home in BC for climate resilience

Designing a Custom Home in BC for Climate Resilience

Building a custom home in BC provides an exciting opportunity to create the home of your dreams, tailored to your preferences and family’s needs. British Columbia’s diverse climate is characterized by everything from coastal temperate rainforests to alpine tundra. Addressing climate challenges goes beyond just reducing carbon emissions. In 2024 it’s important to give thoughtful consideration to ensure your home is built sustainably, and that it can withstand extreme weather events.

BC’s coastal regions typically have mild, wet winters and cool, dry summers, while interior areas see more extreme temperature fluctuations with cold winters and hot summers. The province is susceptible to climate-related hazards such as wildfires, floods, and storms.

What is climate resilience?

As it applies to home design and construction, climate resilience refers to your home’s ability to withstand and respond to the impacts of climate events and natural disasters. A climate-resilient house will be designed so it can resist extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.

Resilient design strategies may include elevating the house above the flood level, selecting materials that can withstand extreme conditions, incorporating alternative power sources like solar panels or wind turbines, and improving energy efficiency so it requires less power. A resilient home can not only endure a disaster but also facilitate a quick recovery to normalcy should such an event occur.

Sustainable design reduces negative impacts on the environment while improving the comfort, health and well-being of your household. It reduces the consumption of non-renewable resources and minimizes waste. Resilient design is closely related to sustainability, but it focuses on preparing for possible future climate-related hazards. By combining green construction principles with smart planning and decision-making, a resilient home can adapt to changing conditions while upholding eco-friendly standards.

Key principles of climate-resilient design

Site selection and orientation: The selection of a climate-resilient building site is given careful consideration, with a focus on flood risk, wildfire danger, and exposure to extreme weather. The orientation of the home is optimized for natural light and shading, passive heating and cooling strategies, and solar panel mounting. Your home should be able to utilize the natural landscape for windbreaks and protection against erosion.

Building envelope: High-performance homes require a holistic approach, where various strategies and components will work together as a system to maximize efficiency, sustainability and climate resiliency.

Airtight construction controls the transfer of heat and moisture into and through the building envelope, reducing your energy demand for heating and cooling. Thick, continuous super-insulation will minimize heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Eliminating thermal bridging will prevent envelope penetrations that could compromise your home’s energy efficiency, comfort and durability.

High-efficiency windows and doors also play an important role in limiting heat loss, while capturing daylight and passive solar energy. The strategic use of shading elements can shield your house from unwanted passive solar gains, which will improve temperature regulation. Incorporating a balanced heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system will maintain a high indoor air quality while recovering heat from exhaust air, to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

Energy-efficient systems: Reducing energy use increases your energy security and climate resiliency while reducing your monthly utility bills, or the energy requirements that must be met by your renewable energy source. Cutting energy requirements also reduces the pollution that is emitted from non-renewable sources of energy.

Energy Star® certified appliances, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, ceiling fans, and ventilation fans, can help reduce the energy requirements of your home. For example, Energy Star® dishwashers are 10% more energy-efficient and 20% more water-efficient than standard models, cleaning your dishes more effectively while using less water and energy. The long-term savings in energy and water costs over the lifespan of the appliance should more than offset the initial investment.

LED lighting is far more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, consuming up to 75% less electricity. LED bulbs have a substantially longer lifespan, lasting up to 25 times longer, and LED longevity reduces the frequency of replacements, saving you money while reducing waste. Smart lighting systems utilize sensors and automation to minimize wasted energy while offering enhanced control over your home’s illumination settings through mobile apps or voice-activated assistants.

Smart home devices such as thermostats, appliances, lighting, electrical outlets, sprinkler systems, and garage door openers can automatically adjust household energy consumption based on your family’s changing needs. For example, smart thermostats can save 10 to 12% on heating costs and 15% on cooling costs by adjusting the temperature according to the occupancy patterns in specific rooms. Smart devices and your smart panel offer the option of monitoring your energy usage via an app, with the ability to adjust settings when you are away from home.

Smart meter panels allow you to monitor your hourly consumption, to help you identify and track down any “always-on” appliances and phantom or standby power loads. Devices that are plugged in and using power, but you’re not actively using them, can contribute significantly to your power usage. Smart meter data can also show how much you are using at night and when you are not home.

Replacing traditional heating and cooling systems with higher-efficiency HVAC options can reduce your energy use by up to 50%. Innovative technologies such as membrane-based rooftop air conditioners, using water as a refrigerant, electro-caloric solid-state-based heat pumps, and energy storage systems integrated with HVAC units can enhance your energy efficiency. Energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems provide a controlled method of ventilating your home while minimizing energy loss.

Where feasible, geothermal HVAC systems are another highly efficient option, converting one unit of energy into four units of heat. Geothermal efficiency can result in energy savings of up to 70% compared to traditional heating methods.

Renewable energy: One of the key decisions you’ll have to make when considering a renewable energy system, is whether to install a standard grid-tied (aka grid-connected) solar energy system, a solar battery backup, or a hybrid solar solution. Installing a renewable energy source, such as a solar panel system or wind turbine, with net metering or a battery backup solution, can greatly enhance your home’s energy security and climate resiliency.

BC Hydro’s net metering program is designed for West Coast families who generate electricity for their use. Net metering allows you to power your home with renewable energy, in a self-sufficient way, but with the added flexibility to rely on the grid if or when you need it. A grid-tied application needs an inverter to convert the direct current (DC), generated by the solar panels, into alternating current (AC) for use in your home.

Any excess generation is credited to you on your next hydro bill. As long as the power grid doesn’t go down, your home will use the power from your solar panel system when there’s sunlight, then switch to the grid to draw from your power credits when you need it.

Backup power capability increases your resilience in the face of climate-related disasters and grid failures. A storage-ready battery system, paired with a solar panel system or wind turbine renewable energy source, offers grid independence, enabling you to store excess energy on your premises for later use.

A hybrid solar panel or wind turbine system combines grid-connected and storage-ready solutions to provide a consistent energy supply day or night, wind or no wind. This setup also ensures a reliable power supply if the grid is down. It can function entirely off-grid if power is unavailable in your area for some time due to weather or other emergency. To fully realize the cost savings that net metering offers, the ability to draw from a solar battery will allow you to take advantage of lower time-of-use (TOU) rates.

Water management: Installing water-efficient fixtures like ultra-low flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and aerators can significantly reduce water consumption indoors. ULF toilets typically use half the water of older models.

Outdoors, designing your landscaping with native, drought-resistant plants will help you minimize water usage. Minimizing turf areas and using mulch around plants can reduce evaporation and weed growth, and planting trees around buildings can help recharge groundwater and reduce flooding risks.

Installing rainwater harvesting systems on roofs, and creating permeable paving surfaces will help mitigate stormwater runoff. Storing rainwater and rinse water from dishes or food preparation is a great way to create water independence. Installing a greywater recycling system for non-potable water use, such as irrigation and toilet flushing can reduce your reliance on municipal water.

Resilient construction:: Climate-resilient home construction practices involve intentional design and building techniques to construct homes that are stronger, more resistant to natural disasters, and better equipped to withstand a wide range of climate challenges. Building on sturdier foundations, incorporating energy-efficient strategies, and choosing materials that can withstand extreme weather conditions, with a renewable energy source, are essential components of resilient design.

Factors like hazard risk, local municipal building codes, consumer demand for climate-resilient homes, potential return on investment, and additional construction costs will influence the decision to include above-code resilient strategies when designing and building a custom home.

The takeaway

Designing a custom home in BC presents an opportunity to prioritize climate resilience and sustainability. By incorporating principles such as site selection, building envelope optimization, energy-efficient systems, water management, and resilient construction, your design and construction team can create spaces that are not only functional and comfortable but capable of withstanding unforeseen climate challenges.

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