There are several housing-related certification programs, with each having its own method of approaching sustainability. The bulk of these programs start by talking about energy, though they don’t all discuss energy the same way, and then they add meaningful other ideas like water, air quality, material choices, durability… the sky’s the limit.
Click the image below to compare Canada’s most respected residential green building programs (for commercial buildings, visit our Sustainable Building Programs page):
With energy as the backbone of sustainability, we really need a common way to talk about energy, and in Canada, that is EnerGuide. EnerGuide for Homes is the backbone of most of Canada’s other residential programs. Managed by Natural Resources Canada, EnerGuide is a counting system: a way of calculating how much energy a home should use, based on a set of reasonable assumptions. The idea is that any two families living in the same model of house will use that house differently, so EnerGuide provides a common way of assessing the house building, independent from the people living in it. If you were going to buy the house then you could ask the previously owning family for their energy bills, but what if you turn the lights off more than they do? Or what if they like to leave the TV running in the background for ambient noise, and you don’t? Or what if you have more kids (and more laundry, and showers, and…) than they do? EnerGuide deals with all this by giving a common set of rules to compare the house. You might live differently in an EnerGuide 80 house than your neighbors would, but it’s still an EnerGuide 80 house – it’s still better than a 60, and not as good as a 90. Take a look at www.mibop.ca for a useful tool that will help you calculate EnerGuide scores. This rating system helps all the other green building programs below.
Also managed by Natural Resources Canada, the ENERGY STAR program is the best known. Last we checked, there were well over 100,000 ENERGY STAR homes in Canada, mostly Ontario, and growing. The ENERGY STAR brand has been used to set apart products from fridges to computer monitors to, yes, houses, as being generally 20-25% more efficient than comparable products that are not ENERGY STAR. In a house, this tends to mean adding insulation, working harder to seal the house well, and using more efficient windows and mechanical equipment. As above, take a look at www.mibop.ca for a useful online calculator of what an EnerGuide 83 home looks like, and you’ll have a good idea of what an ENERGY STAR home looks like too.
LEED was founded in the late 1990’s by the US Green Building Council and brought to Canada in 2002. There are now many LEED programs, each focusing on different building types. LEED is an acronym that stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (there’s that energy word again!), and can be thought of as something of an ENERGY STAR plus a water star plus air quality star plus durability star plus good-choice-of-materials star plus another several stars. It might be easier to call this ENERGY STAR plus Environment Star… and that’s LEED. There are two LEED programs that are of greatest interest to the housing market: LEED® Canada for Homes, and LEED for Neighborhood Development. LEED is one of the most comprehensive of the widely used green building programs, and does an excellent job of including a broad set of sustainability metrics.
Built Green Canada’s GREEN SEAL program is much like LEED, though lesser known, and exclusively focused on residential construction types. GREEN SEAL offers 3 project streams for labeling: Single Family New Homes (ie: the main program), home renovations (currently not publicized), and High Density (any residential development that cannot be modelled in NRCan’s Hot2000 software: typically > 4 storeys, in Part 3 of the building code) . LEED and GREEN SEAL both have several categories of points that can be earned: GREEN SEAL‘s categories span “Envelope and Energy”, “Materials and Methods”, “Indoor Air Quality”, “Ventilation”, “Waste Management”, “Water Conservation” and “Business Practice”, and the point items themselves tend to be more prescriptive than those in LEED, which makes the documentation effort simpler for builders.
The R-2000 program was originally launched in the 1970’s as a visionary program that was hoped to define how housing would be constructed in Canada by the year 2000. This program is going through an update presently, but was essentially an EnerGuide 80 (much like ENERGY STAR) with a few extra items that related to indoor air quality. Designed jointly by the Canadian Home Builders Association and Natural Resources Canada, R-2000 is expected to be relaunched fully in 2013 in a manner that will be much like a “Net-Zero Ready” program, focusing on EnerGuide 86. In Mindscape’s opinion, R-2000 is likely to continue to have a fantastic training program, but it will be more marketable if the homes themselves were labelled in a program that had a more intuitive brand, like Net-Zero and Net-Zero Ready below.
- that there is room on the southward side(s) of the roof for solar panels;
- that there is a duct running from the attic down to where the electrical panel and hot water tank are (capped top and bottom and sealed at floor penetrations);
- that there is a plumbing rough-in on the hot water tank (such that a solar tank could easily be added); and
- that there labels on these things.
A clever builder/renovator can do all this for <$300 in cost, and it typically adds a thousand or two to the value of the home.
Net-Zero and Net-Zero Ready
Like Solar Ready combined with R-2000 (but with a far more intuitive name), “Net-Zero Ready” (NZR) means that the house is very energy efficient, so much so that the home is “ready” to be converted into a net-zero home. NZR is not a formal certification program offered by any national agency at present, so builders seeking a formal label have two choices: (1) to use the R-2000 Net Zero Energy pilot program, or (2) to use the guidance documents produced by the Net Zero Energy Home Coalition, and to have an appropriately licensed third party provide the independent verification that their build complies with those documents. In other words, do R-2000, or hire somebody like Mindscape to help you. By the way, Mindscape can also get you an R-2000 label, so if this program is of interest to you, then call us either way.
That’s Net-Zero Ready (NZR). Net-Zero is simpler: the house is designed to supply its own energy. If measured with the EnerGuide Rating System, this house would score a 100 or more. These homes tend to be super-insulated, to have fancy equipment in them, and to have solar panels.
Passive House is the most aggressive energy conservation standard in Canada. The idea behind the name is that the house should be designed to be passive: to not need actively generated energy of any kind. This isn’t entirely possible in Canada (even a perfectly insulated and sealed box would still get cold in our winters), but the idea is strong. Homes designed to meet the Passive House standard would score approximately 94 on the EnerGuide scale: ultra insulated, and super air-tight. There is presently a bit of a custody battle happening in Canada over the passive house program though, and both the Canadian Passive House Institute (CanPHI) and Passive Buildings Canada have value to offer to this discussion.
This program is a Mindscape special: not nationally recognized, but we’re proud of it. Think “Solar Ready”, but for water. This program offers guidance on how to pre-plumb a house to be ready to recycle water, like rain water or shower water, and use it again to flush toilets. Watercycle is still in its infancy as a program, so contact us if you’d like to know more.
So Where Do I Get Help?
Glad you asked! Of course all these programs are worthless if nobody uses them. The agencies listed in each case above are the people to contact for help: they maintain a list of local professionals across Canada who are appropriately qualified (and licensed) to help you build with these programs. Mindscape is a regional Provider for these programs, and we would be pleased to help you use them.
Where Do I Start?
This is the most important question. Building sustainable housing isn’t easy, but any of these programs is a step in the right direction. If you’re looking to buy a home then we would encourage you to at least get it EnerGuide tested so that you know how it compares. After that, all of these programs are excellent.
If you’re looking to build a sustainable home, then we would encourage you to start by testing the last home you built, or the one you live in now. Get it EnerGuide scored, so that you know how it compares to an EnerGuide 80. After that, consider hiring somebody like Mindscape to do an evaluation with you of your readiness to try these other programs. We have a quick interview and benchmarking process that we would take you through, after which we can give you some solid recommendations on what your next steps should be.
Now Get To It!
When you consider all the renovating and new building that’s happening, and all the materials that get mined, processed, shipped, used, wasted, replaced, and repaired in these projects, it is remarkable how much environmental damage results from construction. Sustainable housing is not only a good idea or a lofty idealist goal, it is more necessary than we realize. The world needs the construction industry to make the transition.
If you’re building a new home, then consider getting it certified in one of these programs. Better, consider renovating your present home to be more sustainable (more on that in future posts!). We can’t all live like hobbits or elves, but we can help the transition to sustainable housing.
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