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Greening your home, remodelling for a sustainable future in BC

Greening Your Home: Remodelling for a Sustainable Future in British Columbia

Environmental consciousness is becoming increasingly imperative, and it means the way we approach home remodelling is evolving. Many homeowners in Canada are exploring ways to make their homes not just aesthetically pleasing and more functional, but also sustainable.

From reducing your household’s energy consumption to minimizing waste and incorporating eco-friendly materials, there’s a wide array of options available for homeowners looking to remodel for a more sustainable future. Greening an existing home is the perfect example of construction actions that will benefit your family and community over the long term.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various strategies and options available for BC homeowners.

Energy efficiency upgrades

Improving energy efficiency is one of the most impactful ways to green your home. Even on BC’s West Coast, winters can be harsh and energy costs are high. Here are some key upgrades to consider:

Insulation: Continuous insulation provides an uninterrupted thermal barrier across your home’s entire building envelope, minimizing or eliminating thermal bridges while improving overall thermal performance. Superior insulation reduces your reliance on mechanical heating/cooling systems by maintaining consistent interior temperatures while delivering significant cost savings through lower utility bills. Continuous insulation also mitigates the risk of mould, mildew, and structural damage caused by moisture accumulation. Maintaining a dry, healthy building envelope is essential for your family’s air quality and comfort.

Sealing the building envelope: Sealing your home’s building envelope prevents uncontrolled air leakage through cracks, gaps, and penetrations. This will greatly reduce the amount of unconditioned outdoor air that enters the house, which could lead to drafts, cold spots, and increased heating/cooling loads. Air leakage can account for 25-40% of the energy used for heating and cooling in a typical BC home.

Eliminating thermal bridging: Thermal bridging occurs when structural elements conduct heat through voids in the insulation. They can significantly reduce the overall R-value and effectiveness of continuous insulation. Locating and eliminating thermal bridges, by ensuring continuous insulation, restores the full thermal resistance and integrity of the building envelope.

Windows and doors: Windows can account for up to 25 percent of the total heat loss in your home. Repairing, retrofitting or resealing your windows are three ways to increase its energy efficiency. New energy-efficient windows will have two or three panes of glass that are separated by a gap of air, argon gas, or krypton gas.

Double or triple-glazed windows also provide some noise reduction. If noise cancelling is an important feature, laminated windows include a layer of plastic-like material known as polyvinyl butyral (PVB) between the glass panes, which can efficiently block up to 95% of external noise.

HVAC systems: In coastal BC, an air-source heat pump can heat air for distribution through an existing ducted air system, or water for existing radiators. In northern BC, a ground-source heat pump may be a better choice.

An MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) system should be considered essential in a home with a sealed building envelope. The ventilation solution will provide fresh, filtered air to every room, and remove stale air while recovering 70% to over 95% of the heat from the exhaust air stream.

Smart thermostats: Programmable thermostats use algorithms and sensors to deliver precision temperature control. They help avoid energy-wasting temperature overshooting that can occur with manual adjustments. Some can learn your household’s individual temperature preferences and adjust heating/cooling cycles accordingly to optimize energy efficiency. Most systems will allow you to remotely adjust the temperature settings from anywhere using a smartphone app. You’ll be able to prevent wasteful energy use by lowering temperatures at night and when you’re away from home.

Renewable energy solutions

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panel systems can be installed on your rooftop or in the yard to generate electricity from sunlight. Your solar panels will convert energy from the sun into direct current (DC) electricity. Inverters then convert that DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is what your home uses. The electricity your system generates will power your home first, and any excess can be sent to the distribution grid.

Net metering is a BC Hydro program designed for homeowners who generate electricity for their own use. Net metering allows you to power your home with renewable energy, but with the flexibility to rely on their grid during periods when there isn’t enough sunlight. Here’s how it works; when you generate more electricity than you need, your control panel feeds it back to the grid, and you get a generation credit towards your future electricity use. Your smart meter will measure how much of the electricity supplied by BC Hydro you’ve used, and how much excess you’ve sent to the grid for credit.

Water conservation measures

Water scarcity has become a growing concern in many parts of BC, particularly during summer droughts and periods of low precipitation. Installing water-saving measures in your home can help reduce your demand on the municipal water supply. Installing low-flow faucets, shower heads, and toilets will reduce your family’s water consumption without sacrificing performance.

Collecting rainwater from your roof and storing it in tanks for non-potable uses such as irrigation and toilet flushing can also help conserve municipal water. Selecting drought-resistant native plants in your landscaping can minimize your need for irrigation. Xeriscaping will not only conserve municipal water but will also reduce the maintenance requirements of your outdoor space.

Sustainable materials

Choosing environmentally friendly building materials and adopting sustainable construction practices can significantly reduce your remodel’s environmental footprint. Materials that require very little energy to extract, manufacture or transport, such as locally sourced, natural options, are usually the most sustainable. Avoid highly processed, energy-intensive materials.

British Columbia has an abundance of sustainable forests, meeting the environmental, social and economic needs of its current and future generations. Wood contributes fewer greenhouse gas emissions than non-renewable materials such as steel and concrete. Wood products store carbon, which reduces the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. At the end of your home’s lifecycle, those wood products can easily be recycled for other uses.

Using reclaimed wood is another option. Instead of buying new timber, installing reclaimed wood from salvaged structures or responsibly sourced sources will reduce your demand for virgin timber. Incorporating recycled materials with post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content, such as glass, metal, or plastic into your home renovation project will reduce waste and promote resource conservation.

Sustainable design and building programs and practices

Passive House EnerPHit Standard is a viable and common option in Europe because it’s quite cost-effective there. In Canada, older homes are less likely to be good candidates for an EnerPHit retrofit. They typically were built with sprawling, inefficient shapes, which can result in high area-to-volume ratios. The home’s orientation often does not take advantage of the sun, and significant winter shading could increase energy requirements. Other common challenges are having too many north-facing windows, exterior brick or stone masonry that would have to be removed to re-insulate from the outside, and some serious thermal bridging issues.

That being said, for houses that are simpler box shapes, with most of the windows on the southern side, with relatively inexpensive stucco or siding exteriors, EnerPHit could be a viable option. The EnerPHit seal ensures that optimum thermal protection has been implemented for the respective existing building.

EnerPHit renovations can achieve significant energy savings of between 75 – 90%. EnerPHit retrofits include the insulation of the floor, exterior walls and roof with Passive House insulation thicknesses. Passive House windows are installed to reduce air leaks and minimize heat transfer. A ventilation system with heat recovery delivers reliable fresh air throughout the home. Thermal bridging is reduced to a reasonable extent.

Deep Energy Retrofits (DER) Home renovations reduce your home’s energy usage by at least 50 percent. Deep retrofitting involves a series of strategic steps that reduce your monthly energy bills, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and make your home healthier and more comfortable to live in. It’s a whole-home approach that maximizes your building’s energy efficiency. A Registered Energy Advisor assesses your home’s current energy efficiency and then recommends specific upgrades while helping to develop your retrofit plan.

Step 1 focuses on inspecting and upgrading your home’s building envelope. The building envelope will be inspected for its air leakage rate and the level of insulation. Upgrades in this step may include insulating the walls, basement and attic, upgrading the windows and doors, and sealing gaps and cracks.

In Step 2, your home’s mechanicals are checked. If the HVAC system is not a good match, after insulation has been added, it may need an upgrade. Heating and cooling equipment, appliances and lighting could require an upgrade to improve their efficiency. If the building envelope was sealed in Step 1, a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery will be needed.

Step 3 involves installing renewables, to supply the much lower energy requirement, following the envelope and mechanical improvements. A roof or ground-mounted solar PV system is typically installed, that takes advantage of BC Hydro’s grid-based net metering, or stores excess solar energy in batteries, enabling you to enjoy cheaper off-peak energy.

LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) has options to fit every building, covering design and construction on both new construction and major renovations. LEED-certified homes use less water, energy and resources, and they create less waste. You can expect lower monthly energy costs, greater durability and a better resale value.

LEED homes are healthier, using non-toxic materials that lower the risk of mould and mildew. This reduces allergens and triggers for asthma and any chemical sensitivity. They offer a more efficient balance of heating and cooling throughout the entire house.

LEED recommends increasing the level of insulation, with rock wool or cellulose, both made in Canada with recycled content. If your furnace is more than 15 years old, LEED recommends a condensing gas furnace with an efficiency of 95% or higher.

In the kitchen, updating to ENERGY STAR-rated stove, fridge, dishwasher and LED fixtures will save energy. Urea-formaldehyde-free cabinetry and GREENGUARD Certified laminate, butcher block or stone countertops are the LEED-recommended non-toxic options. On the floors, Marmoleum or tile are low-maintenance alternatives to vinyl floors.

Moving to the bathroom, LEED recommends a low-flow toilet, which can reduce your water use by up to 25%; and installing a low-flow (1.75 gallons-per-minute or less) shower head can help save up to 30% on your water and energy bills. Mold will grow in places with a lot of moisture. Installing quiet, efficient fans can reduce the noise, so you’ll use them more often, and the ducts from your bathrooms must go directly to the outside. If you’re re-tiling, using a nonpaper-faced drywall greatly reduces the chance of mould growth.

LEED recommends installing windows that are rated for Climate Zones 2 and 3, the coldest climate zones in Canada. Casement and awning windows are a more efficient and durable choice than sliding and hung windows.

The takeaway

Remodelling your home for a more sustainable future will not only benefit the environment but also enhance your quality of life while reducing operating costs. From energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy solutions, to water conservation measures and sustainable materials, there are numerous options available to homeowners in British Columbia.

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