New Homes Are Working To Help The Environment

Posted by Stu Niebergall on 2016-06-11 12:00 AM

 

The federal government recently launched a new type of online consultation on its approach to climate change, specifically geared to social engagement at www.letstalkclimateaction.ca. 

For those unware with the dynamics of the housing industry often propose more stringent building codes as the remedy. However, such suggestions will not provide the dramatic reductions they imply, in part because they do not recognize the incredible progress that the Canadian and Saskatchewan new housing industry has achieved over the decades.

Consider the fact that energy efficiency requirements have only been in the code since 2012, yet total GHG emissions from the housing sector have decreased 11% since 1990, even though the housing stock is much bigger now, having grown 38% since that time. Housing is responsible for only 6.3% of direct GHG emissions in Canada. Housing is Canada’s leading sector in addressing climate change, with the typical newly built home using 37% less energy than a similar one built in 1990.

Technology, systems innovation, voluntary adoption of higher standards of performance mixed with uniquely Canadian research and development between the public and private sectors is impart responsible for these significant results.

There are gains to still be made in the energy efficiency of newly built homes, which will require ongoing innovation, voluntary programming and consumer energy literacy. Government and industry need to renew its collaboration effort to continue this success story.

The fact is half of Canadian houses were built before 1985 and uses twice as much energy as the houses built since. So Canada’s greatest opportunity in the housing sector to significantly reduce GHG emissions is in the energy retrofitting of existing homes. Existing home owners need policies that support energy efficient renovation.

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) has considered “how do we maintain this strong energy performance trend and address climate change, while protecting affordability and helping young Canadian families find a home that meets their needs at a price they can afford?”

The CHBA has made recommendations to help Canadian homeowners continue to lead the way in climate change action, to benefit homeowners, renters, and society as a whole. CHBA’s recommendations address opportunities and policies for new housing construction, renovation, community development, and smart transit investments.

Energy retrofits offer by far the greatest energy savings potential, represent the most cost effective option, and deliver the best incremental improvements in terms of homeowner equity. Establishing a Renovation Tax Credits for Energy Retrofits will provide existing homeowners the incentive to make those investments back into their homes. At the same time support the energy retrofitting of social housing.

The EnerGuide Rating System provides home energy information through its labels and reports to increase energy literacy, and should be used by all regional programs and mandatory labelling regimes as Canada’s single national home energy labelling system. The federal government should support and promote the Government of Canada’s EnerGuide Rating System as the single national home energy rating system.

Voluntary programs in new housing (like ENERGY STAR and Net Zero) enable homeowners to choose higher levels of performance. This approach supports innovation and provides market streamlining, ensuring that incremental costs are optimized and linked to homeowner benefits. Increasing support to the Government of Canada’s ENERGY STAR for New Homes program, and expand it to include high-rise, multi-family buildings. Ultimately, supporting work to address systemic barriers (e.g. community scale, market barriers, energy literacy) to Net Zero housing adoption.

Ensuring that building codes and regulations do not undermine affordability is critical to making sure that homeownership remains within reach of the next generation of Canadians in the middle-class and those aspiring to attain it. There are broad opportunities to develop technology that will improve energy performance without increasing housing costs, but this approach needs to be a public policy objective if it is to be achieved.

Infrastructure investment can reduce transportation GHG emissions related to development if those investments are targeted to maximize ridership and yield the greatest environmental benefits of maximum transportation choices. This means getting infrastructure investment ‘right’ to support ridership through smart density and zoning.

If these recommendations were firmly established with market-acceptance and cost optimized, higher levels of performance can be regulated, but not before. Given that new homes are already so efficient, and affordability is a challenge, additional incremental energy improvements need to be done without impacting affordability. To support innovation and protect affordability, increased code stringency is the last step, not the first.