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Could Net-Zero communities become a standard in Canada?

Could Net-Zero communities become a standard in Canada?

As the population in Canada increases, so does the demand for energy. Here in Ontario, we currently use 11,221 KWh/capita of energy in our homes annually – and to think, we’re only the sixth-highest energy consumers in Canada (Newfoundland is number one.) To put that number into perspective, one KWh can run a hot shower for three minutes, or a 27- inch iMac computer for roughly five hours.

So where does Canada stand on a global scale? Canadians are the fourth-largest users of energy per person in the world. The most pressing consequence of this constant (and elevating) demand for energy is the continuous depletion of our country’s non-renewable resources, such as oil, uranium, gases and coal. As the resources continue to dry up, they’ll become more and more expensive and environmentally damaging to retrieve. For this reason, Canada has invested a lot of money in green, renewable energy. In fact, our country’s investment climbed 17 per cent in 2014 to around $270 billion. That’s the sixth-highest investment in renewable resources in the world. Go Canada!

Unfortunately, this investment has yet to positively affect the wallets of Ontarians, who continue to experience rising hydro rates. Amidst the most recent increase, consumers are more concerned than ever with how much energy their homes guzzle. However, not as many people are concerned with the amount of energy their homes actually produce. Over the past decade, a number of products have made it possible to make our homes more efficient by lowering the amount of energy it takes to complete tasks such as lighting, cooking and laundry. The question is: How do we take that to the next level? That’s where Net-Zero building comes into play.

Net-Zero is a building practice that uses a multitude of renewable technologies to build homes that consume either less than or an equal amount of energy to the amount they produce on an annual basis. Some examples of elements used in the development of Net-Zero homes include solar panels, xeriscaping, rainwater collection, high-efficiency appliances and design, and high-end energy monitoring tools.

Net-Zero’s history in Canada dates back to 2004’s Riverdale Net-Zero project in Edmonton, which was a pioneering project for The Canadian Mortgage Corporations’ EQuilibrium Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative. The initiative’s purpose is/was to bring private and public sectors together to develop homes that combine energy-efficient technologies with renewable energy technologies in order to reduce their environmental impact. The initiative has since completed 12 demonstration projects.

To date, though, it’s not exactly a “market-friendly” practice due to issues around cost, feasibility and the lack of a community-sized demonstration necessary to gain more widespread acceptance by both builders and buyers.

Could a full community of Net-Zero homes be a possibility? One project is aiming to answer this question and increase the amount of Net-Zero housing nationwide. The ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, funded through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, is looking to double the number of Net-Zero homes in Canada. Owens Corning Canada is working with five homebuilders across the country to build a minimum of 25 Net-Zero homes. Mattamy Homes, Minto, Provident, Reid’s Heritage Homes and Construction Voyer, along with a number of partners and consultants, are aiming to complete construction by 2016, according to the initiative’s website (zeroenergy.ca).

But could it become a standard? The ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative is likely to make the concept of fully Net-Zero communities easier to swallow, but at what cost? When comparing two homes, 80 per cent of homebuyers say that energy efficiency would have a moderate to large impact on their selection. However, consumers generally aren’t willing to pay more for green features regardless of the long-term savings potential they may offer.

If builders can find a way to address the issues around affordability, Net-Zero will become a no-brainer for both residential and commercial developers.

John Amardeil is the president of BAM Builder Advertising and Marketing (callbam.net) with an outstanding track record in the marketing and sale of new homes in the GTA. You can read Amardeil’s blog at johnamardeil.com and follow him on Twitter twitter.com/johnamardeil and facebook.com/BAM.Advertising.Marketing.