This blog explores changes in the energy industry from an insider’s perspective as it transitions from the old centralized utility model to the new paradigm of distributed generation.
This blog was previously called Inside the Housing Evolution and focused on energy efficient homes. Ultimately, it’s all linked. Soon, every building will have the potential to generate, store, and sell energy. Welcome to the era of the transactive grid – the greatest shift the electricity sector has seen in over 100 years!

April 1, 2010 No Comments

Green Home Labeling Programs

Third party verification through labeling programs are critical to promoting green building because frankly, if we say our homes are great, customers may not believe us, but if a third party says it, then a purchaser may take that more seriously.

But I feel there are some major problems with the verification and labeling programs here in Canada that need to be addressed before green building will be able to go mainstream.

Everyone by now has heard of the EnergyStar program. It’s been spearheaded by the US Department of Energy and the labels appear everywhere from refrigerators to TVs to dishwashers. When a purchaser sees an EnergyStar labeled home, they may not know exactly how the home is built differently to achieve that rating, but they at least have some idea that this home is more energy efficient than others, and that it had to pass a test to earn that title.

Now what about R-2000? How many purchasers have heard of that? Hell, I’m on the R-2000 Renewal Committee and I don’t even know what the name means! R-2000 is a more stringent green building requirement than Energy Star, but outside of the building industry most people don’t know that. So basically as a builder we have to work harder and charge more, to reach a standard that has less direct marketing appeal and impact than EnergyStar! Why bother? Now don’t get me wrong, I think that R-2000 is a great program from a technical perspective, however from a marketing perspective it once again comes down to the builder explaining to purchasers what the program really means. Urbandale supports the R-2000 program because we know it is a sign of a higher quality home. I just wish the government would do more to promote that message.

Now there are also some new programs being launched- the Greenhouse program, spearheaded by EnerQuality, LEEDS for new homes and the PassiveHouse.

Greenhouse seems like a good program from a technical perspective, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the same marketing clout as EnergyStar and I worry that it will be another case of the builder needing to explain the program to purchasers. Also, unlike Energy Star and R-2000 it isn’t directly promoted by Natural Resources Canada so I worry that it won’t be as reassuring to purchasers as a government sponsored program.

Recently I’ve gotten excited about LEED for New Homes, but even this program has its issues. The program is far reaching and flexible, and I’ve seen the growth of LEED condos in the US and Canada, so I assume that the same thing can happen to LEED homes and that it can become a viable market leader. We started to look into LEED for one of our Jazz Condo developments in Bridlewood and found that we had enough points to be LEED certified or even LEED Silver without doing anything differently whatsoever. I wasn’t surprised at all; in fact I expected it, since I know we use the best building practices available, so I thought it would be a slam-dunk. Then I found that after you factor in the cost of enrollment, certification, and provider and evaluator services – all mandatory – it would cost roughly an additional $2,000 per home!

Now, I’m not saying that this price is inflated, I know that it covers legitimate documentation, evaluation and verification costs, but the point is it doesn’t make the home any more energy efficient. When I put my engineering hat on I think that it’s hypocritical to put $2,000 into a label, when that same money could be spent on concrete things that improve the efficiency of the home, like under-slab insulation or spray foam insulation in more areas. But then I put on my marketing hat, and I think if put the $2,000 into say, under-slab insulation it becomes invisible, whereas the label is something that purchasers can see and be proud of. I’m not implying that there’s a right or wrong answer here, but its important to think about the implications and potential hypocrisies in what we do to market our green homes. In our own case, I feel that the label can be justified on some of our larger, higher end product, but perhaps not on our less expensive starter homes and condos.

PassiveHouse is a building standard that originated in Germany that maintains that by building a super efficient shell you don’t even need traditional heating and cooling systems. This standard has not really taken off yet in North America, however I have been working very closely with some PassiveHouse consultants to see if they have any ideas on how to improve the energy efficiency of Urbandale homes.

For energy efficient construction to become mainstream, builders need credible, and well recognized third party labeling that’s clearly understood and affordable for all types of homes in Canada.

Posted by Matthew

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matthew Sachs

P. Eng. LEED AP

  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)

ABOUT PEAK POWER

Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit www.peakpowerenergy.com.