When the new Ontario Building Code comes into force on Jan. 1, the province will have one of the most energy efficient codes in North America.
According to James Douglas, a manager in the building and development branch of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ontario has the highest standards in Canada for energy efficiency in housing – whether single family, row or multi-unit residential – and has among “the most aggressive standards in North America.”
The code is reviewed and amended every five years and next year the bar will be set higher for energy efficiency and water conservation, along with the usual focus on health and safety.
Under the code, homes are tested for energy efficiency, using a rating system called EnerGuide. The new benchmark will be EnerGuide 80.
This dovetails nicely with Energy Star, a voluntary program.
“When you purchase an Energy Star home, what you’re purchasing is a home that has been built and tested to perform at an energy standard of 80,” says Joe Vaccaro, the chief operating officer of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association.
The group is the voice of the new home construction and residential renovation industries.
In 2009, of 32,762 lowrise housing starts in Ontario, 6,821 were labeled Energy Star, according to EnerQuality, a privately held company that designs and delivers energy efficiency programs to move the housing market forward.
That’s 21 per cent, or roughly one in five. In 2010, the figure dropped to 17 per cent.
Some builders move into the Energy Star program as a way of preparing for building code changes.
In this way, they can market themselves as being leaders in their industry.
For the rest, “we found that big builders typically take from three to four years to get from where they are to where they need to be,” says Corey McBurney, president of EnerQuality.
The lag time allows builders to “get their head around” the changes and allows manufacturers the time to come out with more efficient products.
“Our mission is to transform Ontario’s housing into the most energy efficient and sustainable in the world,”
he says, adding that “we are one of the leading jurisdictions” in the world.
McBurney explains that meeting the target isn’t an exact science.
For example, if you built two houses identically, but they were on different sides of the street, one could perform at 79 and the other at 81.
So, in 2012, builders will be allowed to achieve their targets either through performance testing, as with Energy Star, or by following a “prescriptive” method, essentially a recipe, which most have always done. One builder may use more insulation, another may focus on the highest efficiency furnace, another on windows, but all will be compliant with the code.
Paul Golini, executive vice president of Empire Communities, says the new code has many options.
“They kept it very flexible for builders to achieve the new objectives and the new code requirements,” he says. “That’s definitely a positive.”
But, he adds, the province needs to spend a little time and money on education. “And it hasn’t happened yet.”
As chair of the Building Industry and Land Development Association, he says he’s thankful EnerQuality has held courses to educate builders on the coming changes. He’s taken time to get up to speed, having started with Energy Star on a single house about four years ago.
“Think about the builder that didn’t go through this process and overnight has to retool their company,” he says.
Golini sits on the Building Code Conservation Advisory Council, which provides oversight to the government on how to bring about changes while striking the right balance to meet the targets and allow the market to absorb the transformation.
“For months we debated what is net zero. Is it net zero carbon or is it net zero energy?” he asks. “Is the end game to create a home that produces as much energy as it consumes? Or is it the goal to have a zero carbon footprint home? We were given the task to figure this all out.”
He says the council is making sure the province knows the questions haven’t been answered yet.
Going green in highrises is more difficult, he says, because of consultant and administrative fees.
And those costs are passed on to the consumer. “You don’t get ‘green’ for free,” he says.
He says the key is in educating consumers about the benefits.
“As builders and developers, we always focus on features. What consumers understand are benefits.”
So, whether it’s savings on energy bills, or a more comfortable home and better indoor air quality, it’s important that sales and marketing people communicate that to consumers, he says.
Developers of highrise residential buildings in the City of Toronto have been required to achieve energy targets that exceed the building code, because the city has adopted the Toronto Green Standard, which addresses air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, water quality and efficiency, solid waste and ecology.
Since the start of 2010, highrise residential buildings must be 25 per cent better than the Model National Energy Code (a federal standard) or 13 per cent better than the current Ontario Building Code, according to Jamie James, Tridel’s sustainability advisor.
James says that, in 2006, Tridel made a commitment to outperform energy standards in the Model National Energy Code by 25 per cent. The first thing they did was to put energy and heat recovery technology on their ventilation system.
Today, many suites now have their own energy recovery ventilators. Particles and pollutants from exhaust air are separated from incoming fresh air by a heat transfer membrane and vented out, while energy is recaptured. The outgoing air warms or cools the incoming air (depending on the season), so it takes less natural gas or electricity to condition it. James says energy savings are about 15- to 20 per cent.
Developers who satisfy certain voluntary measures can obtain a 20 per cent rebate on recently increased development charges. Marshall Homes’ Craig Marshall says it’s hard for consumers to change behaviour, but “effortless energy efficiency” works.
He likes the fact he can pick and choose how to get to EnerGuide 80.
“A lot of this new technology will come out and you’ll put it in the field and you’ll get a feel for whether people like it or not,” says Marshall, who says he sells Energy Star homes to be able to compete in his market.
Sometimes, changes can have unintended consequences.
For example, in one of his homes, he installed grey water recycling (meaning water from laundry, bathing or dishwashing that gets reused). A customer dyed her hair brown and the water was recycled through the toilet. The grey water became “brown water,” he says, laughing.
So, he says, regions or cities should be careful about mandating beyond the code.
“You wouldn’t do it to air traffic controllers,” he says.
He says he should get a break on development charges. If he pays $8,000 toward sewer and water infrastructure, but trims water consumption by 40 per cent, he saves the region money in energy costs from hauling water from the lake and in having to build more plants.
“If we got 40 per cent off that, we’d be putting in grey water everywhere, because it would pay for it.”
Also, he adds, with the boost in standards, costs should drop on larger volumes of materials being produced.
Energy audits tell the tale
Since the new home market is only 2 per cent of the entire housing market in Ontario, there are huge opportunities to increase the energy efficiency of existing housing stock, says BILD chairman Paul Golini.
“It’s a great opportunity for qualified renovators who have a good reputation and have the credentials to differentiate themselves by saying we can renovate and give you a greener renovation that’s going to save you money and be good for the environment and give you a more comfortable renovation,” says Golini, executive vice president of Empire Communities.
Under the Green Energy and Economy Act, passed in 2009, energy audits were mandated for resale homes, so that prospective buyers would know a home’s energy efficiency rating. However, this provision has not yet been implemented, according to Paul Gerard, spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure.
In the recent budget, the federal government revived the ecoEnergy home retrofit program, which ended more than a year ago.
Eligible homeowners can receive grants of up to $5,000 to make their homes more energy efficient.
The provincial government had piggy-backed on the federal program, requiring home energy audits as part of the Ontario Home Energy Savings Program (HESP). Under this program, homeowners were required to get pre- and a post-retrofit audits. The Ontario government provided a rebate of 50 per cent of the cost of the pre-audit (up to $150).
HESP also provided homeowners with grants of up to $5,000 for energy savings retrofits – such as installing energy efficient furnaces, insulation, windows, etc.—matching the federal grants.
Although that program ended March 31, 2011, the Ontario Home Energy Audit Program (OHEAP) launched April 1, 2011 and continues to provide homeowners with up to $150 towards completing a home energy audit.
Golini says rebate programs are great way to deal with the underground economy, as invoices will be required to show what was spent.
“Not only will you encourage renovations and people to be above board but you’ll get the added benefit of all the taxes generated by people not paying cash for their renovations,” Golini says.
Vladan Veljovic, president and CEO of Greensaver, a not-for-profit firm which conducts energy audits, employs about 50 people and about 150 contractors.
Competition dwindled to a few other companies when the federal grants program expired, he says.
His company has conducted 46,000 energy audits to date, he says. It also has a retrofit division with its own contractors, as he found homeowners who got audits done couldn’t always hire contractors to do the work in a timely fashion.
Audits are a consumer protection issue, he says.
He cites the example of cars, which are regulated for fuel efficiency.
“And yet a house . . . you don’t know what you’re buying. You don’t know if it’s energy efficient, you don’t know if it’s energy inefficient,” he says.
He tells of a beautifully renovated house in the Danforth area, which was devoid of insulation. Tests showed massive energy leaks.
Properly insulating and draft-proofing a home will save on heating and cooling costs, he says. As well, he says that having proof of energy efficiency will give an advantage to people wanting to sell their homes.
“The Energy Audit is really a roadmap for the homeowner,” he says. “You can find out where to get the biggest bang for your buck.”
Psst, want to save a couple of hundred bucks this summer with the push of a button?
Take a quick look at your air-conditioning, says Kim Pressnail, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. He and his team recently completed a study that showed most Canadians who use air-conditioning set their thermostat at 22 degrees Celsius or lower -- and that raising the thermostat to just 24 degrees can save as much as $250 in a year.
Want to save more? Mr. Pressnail's team can shave almost $450 more from your bills, if you're willing to do some relatively inexpensive work around the house.
You can save as much as $75 by topping up your attic insulation -- and another $120 by adding to insulation in your basement, they say.
Another $245 comes from sealing air leaks around baseboards, and caulking drafty windows and air sealing along the basement headers. (The model home Mr. Pressnail used as the base case is a 1,860-square-foot, standard two-storey detached house, with windows on each level.)
How much of a difference will these savings make? Well, if you have absolutely no idea what you're paying for electricity every month, Direct Energy wants you to know that you're in good company.
The company, which provides heating and cooling services, surveyed more than 2,000 Canadians and found that 48 per cent don't know how much energy they consume (and 15 per cent of them don't care). In fact, 77 per cent don't realise that their heating and air-conditioning systems are the biggest energy wasters in their home.
Some more advice: Keep lamps, televisions, and other heat-generating appliances far from your air-conditioner's thermostat. And if you're getting a new air-conditioner, installing the unit in the shade can increase efficiency by as much as 10 per cent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Even if you don't run the air-conditioner, here are some other, less energy-intensive tips to stay cool:
- Use ceiling fans. Make sure they run counter-clockwise to pull hot air up.
- Use the barbecue, rather than the oven or stove, for cooking. That way, the heat stays outside the house. (Or try sandwiches, watermelon and ice cream.)
- Spend more time in the basement, if you can. It is inevitably cooler than the second floor.
- Close your windows and draw the curtains to keep the heat out in the day. Open them at night to cool the house. One website recommends leaving your kitchen cabinets open as well so that they don't trap heat.
- Partly fill a few large 1- or 2-litre bottles with water and freeze them. Then, put the frozen bottles in large bowl (to catch drips) in front of a fan and let the fan blow the cooler air all over you.
- Think long-term and plant some trees. We live up in the woods and run the air-conditioning perhaps twice a year because the trees have such a powerful impact on cooling the air.
Pulling the plug on phantom power can save hundreds
Noreen Rasbach-Globe and Mail Update
Phil Ridge knows a lot about energy – he works in the field – but he used to be like the rest of us: just trying to remember to turn off the lights and continually complaining about his electricity bills.
Then he decided to do something about it. In one year, his family has cut its electricity consumption by more than half – or more than $600 a year. Much of those savings.
But Mr. Ridge, who owns a company that audits homes for energy efficiency, went one step further: He decided to tackle his home’s standby power. “By investigating your home and controlling your expenditure by turning things off, you can really reduce the amount of power you use tremendously,” he says.
That means turning off more than just your lights. According to the California-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, most of the electrical products in our homes – especially in our home offices and entertainment centres – can’t be switched off unless you unplug them, which means that in most homes they’re drawing power 24 hours a day.
The typical American home has about 40 of these products, the centre says, and the phantom power they use adds up to about 10 per cent of residential electricity use. “It really depends on the home,” says Kevin Pegg, chief executive officer of Energy Alternatives Ltd., a renewable-energy company based in Victoria. “I’ve seen places [where it adds up] to 20 per cent. Some homes, people have every gadget known to humankind there, always plugged in and running.”
Mr. Pegg cites the example of his own satellite dish and its receiver: “It draws 30 watts of power when it’s on and it draws 30 watts of power when it’s off.”
Karen George, a project manager in energy efficiency at the North Carolina-based, non-profit Electric Power Research Institute, says there are many things that people don’t realize use power. “The charger for your [mobile] phone, for example. If that’s just plugged in, it’s going to be drawing power. It’s very small, but some homes have many plugged in at once.”
In Mr. Ridge’s case, he bought an energy meter and got to work measuring every appliance and gadget. The stereo and one particular printer were two big offenders – the stereo alone used 300 watts on standby.
Poor wiring in the basement pot lights meant that they were using 300 watts 24 hours a day and a faulty garage door opener left a 60-watt light burning continuously as well. The stereo was burning more than $14 a month when not in use – the equivalent of leaving on five 60-watt light bulbs all the time.
Mr. Ridge fixed everything. He also figured out how to turn everything off – by plugging some things into a power bar that he could turn off or by just unplugging appliances and gadgets. It’s part of his routine now when he goes to bed to turn everything off.
To guide him, he purchased a device called The Energy Detective, which measures how much energy is being used in the home at any given time. He checks it at the end of the day, and if that number is higher that 80 watts (the level of standby power Mr. Ridge allows in his home), he knows he left something on – and he goes to look for it.
Mr. Pegg says power bars are a great way to deal with standby power, but if you are doing new construction, you should consider having switched outlets. When he had his own office rebuilt, he rewired it to have one light switch for turning the lights on and off, and another that controls the computer, scanner and other office gadgets.
“So it becomes very easy as I leave my office just to switch it off.”
Mr. Pegg blames “lazy” manufacturers for many of the high levels of standby power in appliances and gadgets. “When someone is designing an electric component, they have choices. And with electricity being too cheap in this country, the manufacturers don’t care. Whereas if you take another country, European countries that might be paying five, 10, 20 times what we are for power, that starts making a big difference. And those consumers have higher expectations of their appliances.”
But standby power also exists for a reason – it keeps programming in place and appliances ready for use. For example, any appliance or gadget with a remote control needs some standby power for it to read the commands of the remote.
But Mr. Ridge says that even turning off those kind of appliances and gadgets isn’t hard. “I was pleasantly surprised – it’s not that difficult to turn off all your computer equipment – even the Internet, your cable modem and everything. They’re designed to work in a power failure.
“So when you turn it back on, it all just comes back.”
Just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean it’s not costing you. Phantom power can lurk in any corner of your home. Here’s how much a typical home theatre system might be draining from your wallet when left plugged in (measured in approximate maximum kilowatts a year):
Game console (in ready state)
Desktop computer (on sleep)
Two televisions (with remote)
DVR (with remote)
129.429 kW = $9.06
418.7718 kW = $29.31
598.527 kW = $41.90
135.342 kW = $9.47
286.452 kW = $20.05
82.439 kW = $5.84
Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
ecoENERGY is an official trademark of Natural Resources Canada. Used under license. Elora Environment Centre's ecoENERGY services are delivered under agreement with Green Communities Canada. Website copywrite Elora Centre for Environmental Excellence.