Squamish Leads the Way in Eco-Friendly Design for Greener Homes

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Squamish builders are getting ready for 2032 – the deadline to construct houses that use 70 per cent less energy than is set out in today’s building code.

By 2032, the provincial government’s goal is for all new homes and buildings to be net-zero ready.

These high-performance homes will be so energy efficient that a renewable energy system, such as on-site solar panels, can offset all or most of the annual energy consumption.

Energy efficiency is the new basic building standard, and B.C. is leading the way.

Any current buildings failing to meet this standard may have to take a hit in their resale value, explained Bob Deeks, president of Sea-to-Sky-based RDC Fine Homes.

“One reason to build beyond the building code would be to future-proof your house,” he said.

Patrick Sullivan, technical draftsman and lead carpenter at Squamish-based British Columbia Timberframe Company and Factor Building Panels, agreed.

“In 15 to 20 years, when everything is that way, your house may not be worth much.”

To help B.C. get there, the provincial government is introducing the Energy Step Code at the end of this year.

“It will lay out five different steps of building efficiency,” said Jonas Velaniskis, director of building and planning at the District of Squamish.

Skyridge Homes Squamish
Spectacular views are seen from under the comfort of local Douglas fir timbers that form the main living room of Kevin Mooney, owner of BC Timberframe. – Allen Jones / ACE Film

Step one is the standard building code, he explained, while step five is a building that produces as much energy as it consumes.

Municipalities choose to set the bar for builders and developers somewhere between one and five.

“We tentatively said we’d like to get to three fairly quickly,” said Mayor Patricia Heintzman, adding that it may be possible to offer incentives to step five. “I feel that’s really where we should all be aspiring to. From a sustainability point of view, it hits all those markers.”

Though 2032 seems far away, many Squamish companies are prepared.

Net-Zero Ready

Based in Whistler, award-winning RDC Fine Homes has been building and renovating energy-efficient homes throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor, including Squamish.

“An energy efficient home – built right – will have better thermal comfort, better indoor air quality, be quieter and less dusty and be more durable. Additionally, it should have better value long term,” said Deeks, whose custom homes include those that are net-zero ready.

Such homes provide a more comfortable, much healthier environment for your family, he explained.

To achieve maximum energy efficiency, Deeks said, RDC’s homes rely on advancements in technology and modern building techniques, including ventilation, insulation, south-facing windows and solar panels positioned to capture maximum sunlight.

The first and lowest cost strategy to energy efficiency, explained Deeks, is an air-tight home, which can reduce energy loss in both the summer and winter.

Ensuring highly-effective insulation values is the next step, followed by a very efficient heating and/or cooling system with a heat recovery ventilator, which replaces stale air from inside the house with fresh air from outside with very little temperature change.

With these in place, monthly costs are dramatically reduced for homeowners. Any power they do need can be generated from on-site solar panels, with excess going back into the grid, for which a credit is given for up to 12 months, explained Deeks.

RDC recently started construction on Squamish’s first home with the new Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s Net Zero Energy Label. Others in Squamish include the award-nominated home in Crumpit Woods which, though not net-zero, is highly rated for energy efficiency.

Passive House

Patrick Sullivan is one of only approximately 500 licensed Passive House designers in Canada.

Together, he and Kelvin Mooney, owner of Squamish-based BC Timberframe, have built energy-efficient Passive Houses from Washington and Colorado up to northern B.C.

A Passive House is one that conforms to a rigorous energy efficient standards and ultimately creates an exceptionally low-energy building.

Such homes are currently more popular in Europe than in B.C., but this may change with the City of Vancouver mandating that new municipal buildings be built to the Passive House standard.

Unlike net-zero homes, Passive Houses do not require the generation of their own energy, and instead focus on achieving the absolute minimum amount of energy required for heating or cooling (up to 90 per cent less than a standard house of similar size).

“Ninety per cent efficiency is that sweet spot. Because you don’t need a heating or cooling system your construction costs actually drop since you’re putting less into the mechanical systems,” said Sullivan. This greatly reduces heating bills, making it cheaper to operate and live in, he explained.

Passive Houses have an extremely tight, highly-insulated building envelope with minimal heat loss or gain. It’s a design so efficient, the internal temperature of the building remains almost constant even on the hottest or coldest days.

To minimize heat loss even further, Sullivan’s panels contain an interior service wall – an additional layer, separate from the insulation, through which picture hooks, nails, plumbing or electrics can be fed without puncturing the insulation and creating an avenue for heat loss.

“This saves you creating a whole bunch of penetrations which reduce your energy efficiency,” he said.

Passive Houses are also incredibly healthy homes, he explained.

“What makes a home healthy is air quality. That’s the biggest defining factor,” Sullivan said. “With a proper HRV system you actually have air that’s more clean and pure on the inside.”

Material selection, too, is incredibly important.

“If you use proper materials that aren’t off-gassing, then you’re helping create an even healthier home and a more comfortable, natural environment,” Sullivan said.

Built Green®

Skyridge Homes Squamish
The open-concept living area in a future Skyridge home. – Submitted rendering

Though the uptake of Passive Houses and net-zero houses is primarily being driven by homeowners, one developer taking the environmental lead is Squamish-based Diamond Head Development.

Skyridge will be Squamish’s first Built Green® development and will include townhomes, duplexes and condos.

“As members of the construction industry we have an obligation to the community and the environment to do as much as possible. This is our way that we can contribute,” said Jason Wood, Diamond Head Development’s founder and general manager.

“Built Green’s certification takes a holistic approach to sustainability to address energy efficiency, materials and methods, indoor air quality, ventilation, waste management, water conservation and business practices,” explained a Built Green spokesperson, adding this all helps reduce utility bills and creates a healthier, more comfortable home environment.

And, of course, it also helps the resale value.

Homes with the Built Green certification are measured against many energy efficient criteria including windows, doors, insulation, appliances and energy systems.

Skyridge’s features will include Energy Star windows and sliding doors, LED designer lighting and solar-ready design.

The duplexes and townhouses will come as the gold standard Built Green® model, explained Wood, though homeowners will be able to upgrade to the platinum model if they wish.

The demand for energy efficient housing is growing, said Wood, which will drive it to be a standard in the future.

“People are happy and feel comfortable and proud that they are buying into this and helping in a small way with a global issue.”

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