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Energy-efficiency remodels in BC

Energy Audits and Modelling: Maximizing the Energy Efficiency of your Net-Zero Retrofit

In British Columbia, the pursuit of energy efficiency and sustainability for existing residential homes is becoming increasingly commonplace. Homeowners are searching for ways to save money on their energy costs while making a positive impact on the environment.

An energy audit is typically the first step in achieving an energy-efficient home. Energy audits and modelling work together to provide comprehensive insights into a home’s past, present, and projected energy use.

Energy audits

An energy audit can serve as the cornerstone of your successful net zero home upgrade. The assessment typically involves evaluating your home’s energy performance, identifying areas of inefficiency, and then recommending tailored solutions to optimize its energy usage.

Building envelope evaluation: A thorough examination is made of your home’s building envelope, including the walls, windows, doors and insulation, to identify areas of heat loss or air leakage. Home energy professionals will typically use a blower door as a diagnostic tool to discover how much air is entering or escaping from your home.

Improving the air sealing and increasing the insulation of the building envelope should significantly reduce your energy consumption, while also eliminating drafts and cold spots. Upgrading to triple-pane windows as will allow less heat to escape, reduce condensation, and make the house more soundproof.

HVAC system analysis: An assessment is made of your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to ensure optimal efficiency and performance. The process involves evaluating the existing solutions and then planning systems that control the temperature, humidity and air conditioning in each space more efficiently.

Heating and cooling loads are calculated and appropriate equipment such as the furnace, heat pump, air conditioner and ventilation system are chosen. Ductwork and air distribution systems are evaluated and upgraded if required.

The goal of the HVAC analysis is to create a more comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient indoor environment. An upgrade to energy-efficient HVAC equipment, implementing zoning controls, and enhancing the ductwork insulation could lead to substantial energy savings.

Appliance and lighting assessment: In this assessment, an evaluation is made of your appliances, lighting fixtures, and other electrical loads to identify opportunities for energy conservation. Phantom loads, also commonly referred to as vampire loads, are identified and addressed. These may be small for individual appliances and device adaptors, but their costs can quickly add up over the month or year.

Replacing your outdated appliances with ENERGY STAR-rated models, upgrading to LED lighting, and implementing smart controls can reduce your electricity consumption and lower monthly utility bills.

Exploring renewable energy potential: Renewable energy options such as solar photovoltaics (PV), wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps are evaluated to offset your home’s energy demand. By harnessing a renewable energy resource, you can generate clean energy on-site, an important step in moving towards achieving net-zero energy status.

BC Hydro’s net metering program has been designed to allow you to power your home with renewable energy, to achieve a level of self-sufficiency, but with the flexibility to rely on their power grid if you need it. There will be times when the home’s solar panels are not producing enough electricity to meet the home’s full energy needs, such as at night or on cloudy days.

Your solar panel system will convert energy from the sun into direct current (DC) electricity. Inverters convert the DC electricity into the alternating current (AC) electricity your home uses. The electricity your system generates will be used to power your home, and any excess will be sent to BC Hydro’s distribution grid. Your smart meter will track how much of the electricity supplied by BC Hydro you’ve used, and how much excess you’ve sent to the grid. Any excess generation will be credited to you towards your next bill.

EnerGuide energy efficiency home evaluations: With this optional program, an EnerGuide home evaluation will help you understand how your home is currently using energy carried out by an energy advisor who is registered with Natural Resources Canada.

Your energy advisor assesses your entire home from the attic down to the basement or slab, identifying potential retrofits that would improve its energy efficiency. You will receive an EnerGuide rating for your home accompanied by an energy efficiency report that can help you make decisions concerning available upgrades.

Energy modelling

Energy modelling plays a pivotal role in the design and optimization of your net zero energy retrofit. Advanced software tools create simulations to analyze your home’s energy performance, predict its energy consumption, and assess the impact of design choices and technology implementations on both performance and comfort.

Energy modelling can be done as soon as your designer creates preliminary plans for the remodel project. The plans can then be adjusted based on the modelling results as different materials, products and processes are evaluated and choices are made. The decisions made during energy modelling will usually be reflected in the final plan and construction documents.

Performance prediction: Energy models provide your designer with valuable insights into the anticipated performance of your net zero retrofit, under various scenarios and conditions. By entering parameters such as the building materials, levels of insulation, HVAC systems considered, and your household’s occupancy patterns, the designer can simulate energy usage and identify areas for improvement.

Optimization of passive design: Energy modelling helps designers optimize passive design strategies such as orientation, shading, and natural ventilation to maximize energy efficiency and thermal comfort. On an existing home, the orientation options may be limited to perhaps adding more south-facing windows, while shading or coating those on the north side.

By simulating solar heat gain, daylighting levels, and airflow patterns, your designer will be able to refine layouts of spaces and architectural features to minimize the energy demand, while enhancing your family’s comfort.

Sizing and technology integration: The selection and sizing of renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, and mechanical systems like geothermal heat pumps, to meet the energy needs of your home, is another way energy modelling will assist your designer. By analyzing the available sunlight, roof orientation, and system efficiency, your solar power professional and remodel designer, for example, can work together to determine the optimal configuration and capacity of your renewable energy solution and HVAC systems.

By quantifying the energy loads and consumption, modelling tools help designers select the right capacity and specifications for technological systems to meet your home’s needs.

Life cycle analysis: Life Cycle Assessment software lets remodelling designers import building data from X-cel, Revit, and BIM packages, so they can run standards-based life cycle assessments, carbon footprinting, and job cost reports.

The software enables contractors to model and compare the environmental impacts and carbon footprints, experimenting with different design options and a range of potential materials for your remodel. This helps the designer identify the most sustainable options. LCA software can factor in regional variations in energy use, transportation distances, and end-of-life disposal to give a comprehensive assessment.

In our province’s BC Energy Step Code, net zero ready for new construction is represented by Step 5, but even achieving full net zero certification for your home should be considered a first step towards carbon neutrality. Reaching carbon neutrality involves accounting for the total emissions of building materials and construction processes, in addition to the operational energy requirements.

The return on investment for the cost of energy modelling itself can often involve only a few months.

Are there any rebates for implementing the recommended changes?

Yes, BC Hydro, FortisBC and the Province of BC offer the CleanBC Better Homes and Home Renovation Rebate Program for improving your home’s energy efficiency through select upgrades. Residents of British Columbia who live in an eligible home, with utility accounts with BC Hydro, FortisBC, or local municipal utilities can apply.

To be eligible for these rebates, your home must meet several criteria. It must be connected with a current residential utility service account to FortisBC and/or BC Hydro. It must be a year-round primary residence that is at least 12 months old and for this article, a single-family detached dwelling.

The takeaway

As we move towards net zero homes, energy audits and modelling, life cycle assessment software, blower door tests and ever-evolving technologies can be expected to play indispensable roles in optimizing your home energy performance, enhancing your family’s comfort, and minimizing the environmental impact of your remodel.

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