High-performance homes use less energy while making them healthier and more comfortable places to live. They are more durable, have a higher resale value and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Building green embodies a lot more than lowering GHG emissions or saving the environment. A home is the largest purchase most of us are going to make; so “minimum building code” typically means settling for less than we need or want.
A common misconception is that luxury residences are high-performance homes. Often that is not the case. For the more ostentatious properties, energy savings and simple, compact building designs tend to send a frugal message that is incongruent with sprawling, extravagant estates. Building above minimum code is about constructing a much better home, placing substance above bling.
Sustainability should be at the core of the design, construction, and operation of all buildings. High performance begins at the design phase. The designer uses energy modelling to evaluate how the home will perform once it’s built. The builder then focuses on the real metrics involved in delivering your home’s efficiency targets.
Reducing carbon emissions and energy savings can be calculated with considerable accuracy; while other considerations, like comfort, health, durability and value, while less quantifiable, may be equally important.
Canadians have quite a few paths to choose from when building green. Performance label options include Built Green, Energy Star®, EQuilibrium™, Green Building Council, LEED, LEEP, Living Building, Net Zero, R-2000 and Passive House. A home can qualify for more than one. Here’s a quick introduction to six of the most popular certification standards in Canada.
The Built Green® certification programs were created for builders and renovators who want to construct healthier, more durable and affordable homes with a lower environmental impact. The certification qualification is two-in-one: an EnerGuide label as well as the Built Green label.
Built Green homes are affordable and offer a reduction in monthly operating costs, with automatic rebate eligibility. Owners of sustainable Built Green Gold or Platinum homes are eligible for a partial mortgage loan insurance premium refund of 25%, which makes owning an energy-efficient home even more affordable. Homes with green certification sell for roughly 10% more on average than homes without it.
Built Green takes a holistic approach to sustainability, conserving natural resources to leave more for future generations. They are resource efficient and significantly reduce their environmental impact. Built Green addresses seven key areas of sustainable building:
- energy and envelope,
- materials and methods,
- indoor air quality,
- waste management,
- water conservation, and
- building practices.
Additional insulation, triple-pane windows, energy-efficient furnaces and air conditioners, Energy Star appliances, LED bulbs, timers and motion sensors or whole-home automation, water-saving toilets, low-flow showers and faucets and xeriscaping are just some of the ways Built Green homes reduce energy and resource consumption.
Built Green Certified is a healthier, more comfortable home. The program’s attention to air tightness and ventilation result in fewer drafts, temperature variance and cold spots. Air tightness, with superior insulation and triple-glazed windows, also significantly reduce outdoor sounds.
From sealing out moisture and waterproofing foundation walls to engineered lumber that resists warping, or 30-year shingles, Green Built homes are designed for durability.
Energy Star® Certified Homes
Developed by Natural Resources Canada, Energy Star certification is an affordable entry point to a home built to a higher standard. 17% of the energy consumed in Canada today is being used to operate our homes. When Canadians save energy, they help protect the environment.
Energy Star certified homes are evaluated, inspected and labelled by third-party energy advisors, and these homes are constructed by builders who are dedicated to building to a higher level.
Homes bearing the blue Energy Star label are air-sealed and insulated to a higher standard than most typical homes. Airtight Energy Star homes keep dust, pollen, pests and noise outside. Sealing the building envelope also prevents drafts, cold spots, and potential moisture problems.
Walls and ceilings have higher levels of insulation than is required by local building code, and windows, doors, and skylights are certified by Energy Star. Meeting Energy Star’s insulation targets increases the comfort of your home while saving on heating and cooling energy costs.
As with other types of airtight homes, a heat or energy recovery ventilation (HRV) system improves the indoor air quality by expelling the stale air, while replacing it with fresh, filtered air from the outside.
Energy Star certified heating products, such as gas and oil boilers, dehumidifiers, gas and oil furnaces, air source heat pumps, ductless heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps, are subject to Canada’s Energy Efficiency Regulations.
Every homeowner of an Energy Star certified home can realize an annual savings of $300 in utility costs. By operating an Energy Star home, 1,000 kilograms of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are prevented from being emitted into the planet every year.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is the most widely used green building standard in the world. According to the Canadian Green Building Council (CAGBC), buildings produce nearly 30% of all greenhouse gases, and 35% of landfill waste, while consuming up to 70% of the municipal water. LEED’s proven and holistic approach helps reduce carbon emissions, conserve resources, and reduce operating costs by prioritizing sustainable practices.
LEED certifications are becoming increasingly commonplace in Canada, with more than 2,200 LEED-certified projects, making Canada the number one market for LEED outside of the U.S.
LEED helps homeowners, designers and developers construct high-performance, resilient buildings that reduce carbon emissions, save water, conserve energy and reduce waste. LEED also improves the quality of life for the home’s inhabitants, with natural light, better air quality and draft-free even temperatures.
LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project is designed and built to achieve high-performance levels in six areas:
- location and transportation,
- sustainable site development,
- water savings
- energy efficiency,
- materials selection, and
- indoor environmental quality.
Construction projects pursuing LEED certification accumulate points for green building strategies across several categories. 40-49 points earns a Certified rating, but there are 3 higher rating levels: Silver with 50-59 points, Gold with 60-79 points or Platinum with 80 or more points. Your building is awarded points based on the categories: Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Design, and Energy and Atmosphere.
The Canadian Green Building Council is Canada’s representative in LEED’s international development process and supports the green building community with certification, verification, education and training. LEED Canada closed October 31, 2022, and all new projects will need to register under LEED v4.
Living Building Challenge (LBC)
The Living Building Challenge program was launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council and is considered the most advanced green building rating system. LBC focuses on regenerative design – the relationship between impact and effort – where every single act of design and construction can make the world a better place. The construction methods can incorporate Net Zero and/or Passive House strategies.
Living Buildings must demonstrate energy performance. To qualify for certification, Living Buildings must prove that the renewable energy elements of the building – solar, geothermal or wind – provide the energy needed to cover the needs of the structure. They must be able to produce energy rather than consume it. The building must be fully operational for a year following completion to be awarded LBC certification.
There are six criteria categories in the Living Building Challenge: Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Living Buildings are regenerative structures that connect their occupants to light, air, food, nature and community. They are self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site. And they create a positive impact on the human and natural systems they interact with.
Net Zero Energy
Net zero energy (NZE) or zero-carbon footprint homes generate as much energy as they use, so the net amount of energy purchased from the local hydro utility over a year is zero. Most net zero homes produce surplus power during the summer months to sell to the grid and draw grid-generated energy from their hydro provider to top up their winter demands.
Net zero homes have high-quality airtight building envelopes, with super-insulated walls and ceilings and triple-glazed energy-efficient windows. They incorporate the site and orientation of the house, high-performance windows, with overhangs to keep out direct summer sun, to take advantage of passive solar energy. The thermal mass of concrete floors, walls and pillars store heat during the daytime, for release after the sun goes down.
High-efficiency heat pump systems, Energy Star appliances and LED lighting help keep energy use to a minimum. Net zero homes are typically 80 per cent more efficient than conventional homes.
Passive House is a standard for low-energy or zero-energy houses, developed in Germany by the PassivHaus Institute. Passive house has one of the highest standards of home efficiency. The standard focuses on energy efficiency and comfort. The Passive House standard for total energy use is 60 kilowatt-hours per square meter of floor space per year. It translates to 5.6 kWh per square foot per year.
Passive House building envelopes take an extreme approach to air tightness, insulation, windows, doors, and the elimination of thermal bridging. Passive Houses are designed as an integrated system that factors in site orientation, solar gain, ventilation, humidity, air quality, health, comfort and energy savings.
Where Passive House focuses narrowly on energy use, LEED addresses a broader scope of green concerns, like recycling of construction waste, the use of non-toxic paint and FSC certified lumber. LEED looks at energy considerations in the design but does not test the building’s energy performance, whereas Passive House uses the blower door test to confirm the building’s air tightness.
It’s often been said that a hair dryer could heat a passive house. While that’s an exaggeration, passive houses typically use only 10% of the energy for heating and cooling as conventional houses built to code. With the addition of a renewable energy source, Passive House buildings can easily be upgraded to net zero.
Building or retrofitting your home to qualify for one or more of the high-performance certification labels isn’t about luxury, and your primary aim might not be saving the planet or reducing energy bills. A high-performance “green” building is simply a better home – more comfortable to live in, healthier, quieter, more durable, and more valuable when it comes time to sell.