Aug 31, 2020
If the Wizard of Oz was remade for the 21st century, Dorothy might now declare: there’s no place like a net-zero home. And she’d be right. But would she need the Wizard to grant her wish for a net-zero home or would Dorothy be able to afford one on her own? In this episode, Kevin Lee – CEO of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) - tells us what it means for a home or building to be “net-zero,” the pros and cons, and what the CHBA is doing to make net-zero homes an affordable reality for all current and aspiring homeowners.
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Dan Seguin 00:42
Hey, everyone, welcome back to the ThinkEnergy podcast. Dorothy said it best: "There's no place like home." Now... If the Wizard of Oz was remade for the 21st century, Dorothy might now declare there's no place like a net zero home and she'd be right. But would she need the wizard to grant her wish for a net zero home, or would Dorothy be able to afford one on her own? On today's podcast, we're going to talk about the 111 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions that Canadian homes and buildings release into the atmosphere every year. And we're also going to talk about how net zero homes and buildings are combating climate change from foundations to rooftops with each new build. Designed and constructed to produce at least as much energy as they consume, net zero home buildings are up to 80% more energy efficient than typical new homes. The key difference is that a net zero home uses renewable energy to produce the energy it consumes With a growing demand from energy conscious House Hunters looking to make their environmentally responsible choice for one of their biggest life purchases. What do they need to know about purchasing in net zero home? Who are the builders? What impact will net zero home have on the purchase price on their future energy bills? What renewable energy system is the best option? Or are there government subsidies or incentives? In short, how can more and more Canadians take advantage of living greener and more energy efficient? So let's get going with today's big question. Is there any real movement whereby net zero homes will become the new standard in the next decade and what will it take for the industry to get there joining us to shed some light on net zero Homes is the chief executive officer of the Canadian Home Builders Association. Mr. Kevin Lee. Kevin, would you mind giving us a brief description of your background, what the Canadian Home Builders Association does, and why do you think net zero homes and buildings are the future?
Kevin Lee 03:25
Well, my background is that I am an engineer with a master's in architecture. And I've worked in the housing fields my entire career, I ran my own consulting business for about 11 years and energy efficient housing, construction and research and development. I also worked for the federal government for several years running housing buildings and community research and development programs, as well as doing running programming like the R-2000 program. The energuide rating system for homes program the eagle energy retrofit homes program. So big background anon and I've been the Chief Executive Officer at the Canadian Home Builders Association for the past seven years at CHBA, as we call it. We represent builders and renovators and developers all across Canada as well as the suppliers and trades and services that support residential construction. And we work together to improve the performance of houses, improve the relations with governments to help. One of the big things we really pushed is housing affordability and making sure people can afford to buy new homes as well as afford to rent homes and there are obviously lots of challenges these days with the cost of housing. So we spent a lot of time on that. And we do have a net zero energy housing council that does work on net zero energy homes and advancing that we have a labelling programmer we have had to label close to 400 houses across the country now over the past couple of few years. And in terms of the future, with respect to net zero, we've always as an industry and as an association been leaders in energy efficiency we do incredibly well in balancing the performance - Houses today are, you know, more than 50% better than they were 25 years ago. Sometimes I hear people say, Oh, they sure don't build houses like they used to do, which I would always respond.: "Well, thank goodness!" We continue to do better and nowhere is that more true than in terms of energy efficiency. How far we're able to go with respect to net zero and under what kind of timeline I would suggest is very much a function of costing and affordability because investing in a net zero home is a great way to invest your money and in your home and there's a lot of benefits, but it's still not cheap. Definitely costs a little bit more and when it comes to regulations, we're always trying to think about affordability. So from the association perspective, or I was trying to say: Okay, well, yes, we want to make homes better, but we also want to make sure people can still afford to buy them. So let's find like most cost effective ways and cost efficient ways. And let's try not especially this day and age, and when we build such good new houses, how do we make sure that we don't increase the cost of houses with every code change that we make?
Dan Seguin 06:25
Okay, Kevin, what's the difference between a green home and a net zero home?
Kevin Lee 06:31
Well, when we talk about net zero energy homes, you're talking about a house that produces as much energy as it needs over the course of the year to sort of net out at zero, and certainly in Canada with our cold climate, you can expect that in the winter, you're probably going to be using some energy, more solar than you're able to generate, but on other times when you don't need as much energy - Typically in art programs as through solar energy, you're able to create surplus energy that you're able to feed back into the grid and net zero. So that's a net zero energy home. A green home tends to encompass many other things that will almost always encapsulate energy efficiency. But it'll also look at things like green environmental products, especially in different roofing materials, that kind of thing. So green tends to encompass a little bit more than net zero. And while many of so in our, in our case, in our program, we really focus on the energy efficiency piece. So, you know, builders do add a lot of other special features to homes that would be green, but the big differences the green is more about the broader environmental, whereas our net zero work is very focused on the energy efficiency.
Dan Seguin 07:45
When building or renovating to net zero standards, what are the key considerations you should start with? Are we talking everything from walls, ventilation, foundation, windows, and more?
Kevin Lee 07:59
Oh, absolutely. I mean, certainly when you're driving to get down to basically using close to zero energy, you have to look at everything that uses energy and that can, you know, save energy and be efficient with energy. So every element of the home, as you said, walls, ceilings, foundations, windows, mechanical systems: hugely important. So you have to look at all of it and where do you start? Well, frankly, if you're a homebuyer, you start by looking for a builder with the experience and know how to do this and even through our programs. And we follow, we use the energuide rating system, which is a government of Canada system and label for measuring the energy performance of homes. And there are energy advisories that are certified by the Government of Canada to do that. And we provide those energy advisors additional training, to work with our builders to be experts and getting all the way to net zero. So they're sort of recognized through our program through additional training and education. So really, as a homebuyer or a homeowner, because we now have a retrofit program as well for renovating houses to get to this level. Really it's finding the right finding the right contractor homebuilder, you know, you can look at CHBA.ca. And you can find a list of our rent renovators and our home builders that are certified, they know what they're doing. And they're working very closely with an energy advisor who works on the design because like I said, when you're trying to get to net zero, you're talking about squeezing every ounce of energy you can out of that house. And it's every element. So it's not so much that you start one place. You look at everything.
Dan Seguin 09:36
You touched on this earlier, but wondering if you could further demystify for me, how does a net zero home produce as much energy - clean renewable energy - as it consumes?
Kevin Lee 09:48
Yeah, well, and I did touch on that earlier. So I'll go back to that. And the idea is that again, especially in Canada, it's a little bit tricky, you know, when it's very cold, you know, you're going to have to use some energy. Typically in our program, the renewal Bull energy that is used is photovoltaics or, you know solar panels, on the roof generating electricity. But when it's when it's really cold, you're probably not going to be able to generate enough energy to meet the entire heating load of the home. As well as all the other loads that are going on: ventilation. We plug a lot of things in too, we're charging a lot of cell phones and all these other things. There's a pretty heavy what we call base load these days as well. So what you're trying to do is make sure that as you look at the course of the whole year, you're producing as much energy as you need. Sometimes you might be producing surplus energy. Sometimes you may be using a little bit more energy than your system can produce, but overall, you net out at zero through the course of the year.
Dan Seguin 10:48
Okay, Kevin, I'm wondering if you could dispel any myths around the cost associated to building a standard home compared to a net zero home. Is it significantly more to be net zero?
Kevin Lee 11:02
I think probably the biggest myth would be if somebody said it doesn't cost anything because it definitely you know, we're talking about you know, different technologies you're talking about things like moving from standard double pane windows to triple pane windows, you're talking about being more insulation walls, sometimes building you know, fatter walls and using you know, more lumber or whatever your material is to build more, so there's definitely an additional cost. Some of that clause is defrayed by your energy savings, which is great over time. And so it really varies it depends on your climate, it depends on the size of your home, it depends on the design of your home and those design features. You know, some people like to have lots of windows probably we all love having lots of windows are actually one of the more expensive things though, and they also are tend to be a bit of a heat loss. If you have lots of windows, you might have to spend money in other places. So is it more expensive? Yeah, absolutely it is. It's part of the reason why we say before we get this into regulation, we want to make sure we continue with a research and innovation and costing to bring those prices down. And then when it comes to how much more is it going to be, it also depends on what's the baseline construction standard of your builder. Some builders build the code, which is adding their energy efficiency measures in the building code, and that's still a very good home. Others build the levels like the Energy Star program, which is a little bit higher. So your jump from ENERGY STAR to net zero or net zero ready is a little bit less. So that's not a very direct answer, because it really varies and you can't say it's 5% 10%, etc. It really depends. But it's definitely a great investment. And for people who are looking to stay in their home a long time looking are conscious about climate change and the environment, want a more comfortable home because the nice thing about a triple glazed window just as an example as you sit beside there's practically no condensation. You're right comfortable sitting there. And it's like in the winter. So a lot of good reasons to choose to invest your money that way. And it really comes down to working with your builders to figure out, you know what those costs are going to be.
Dan Seguin 11:58
Is there a net zero movement in Canada? Is it in the response to climate change science now showing that in order to have a real impact on carbon emissions, reducing isn't enough, we essentially have to neutralize our environmental footprint.
Kevin Lee 13:29
I think that the energy efficiency movement has been going on in Canada for a long time. And you know, we developed the R-2000 program back in the 1980s, in response to the oil crisis prior to that, and then as climate change and environmental concerns have grown and grown, there's been a constant movement of improved energy efficiency, and energy performance of houses and net zero is really that ultimate goal. And as concerns about climate change, continue to escalate, obviously, every sector of the economy needs to do its part to get there. And homes are a big part of that. I will say that, you know, we can definitely get to net zero from every house in Canada built that way, at some point. As I said, it's really about at what point are we able to do that where it's not making it too expensive for homeowners. And the other really critical thing when you're talking about climate change and GHG emissions from housing, it's the very much the existing housing stock that's really critical. The new houses are very efficient, we can make them more efficient, the returns are diminishing a little bit though, and the more energy efficient, you make it the less you get in terms of savings over time. But the existing housing stock and especially the older housing stock is so critically important and that's why we've added renovation to our program and we always recommend to governments things like there should be a home renovation tax credit for energy efficiency, so that people in their existing homes can improve them and we can help defray the costs that,
Dan Seguin 15:04
Kevin, we've covered renovations and new builds. What about apartments and condos? Are they a challenge or an opportunity?
Kevin Lee 15:14
Well, you know, as with every challenge, of course, there is an opportunity. So a little bit of both, for sure. We can, again, you know, the technology is there, it's a little trickier, with big buildings because you tend to have more units in them and not as much surface areas. Actually, for renewables, you know, you need a certain amount of surface area on the roof for photovoltaics and the solar systems that would go on them. They also tend to have a lot of glazing, windows, people like to have, you know, their exposed walls to be all glass if they could have it in many cases, and that glazing is often the weak spot in in energy efficiency. It looks great, but it tends to be not as efficient as a nice thick wall with lots of installation, but the technology exists, it really comes down to the cost and also potential and those types of systems, you might have to have your renewables off site, or you might be looking at your company draw renewable energy from another place rather than trying to be generating it all with the building itself. And frankly, we also think that that's a big part of, as, you know, we look down the road to the future for net zero homes, you know, should every house be generating its own? Or will it make more sense and will it be more effective for there to be more community systems that generate the renewables and you don't have to have it on your individual unit, I'm going to do a home it could be nearby. So the power generation or renewable power generation is also going to be a big part we think of the future as we move towards sort of net zero economy at large.
Dan Seguin 16:53
You’ve alluded to this earlier. There's a variety of home energy performance standards to make homes more energy efficient, are you able to expand on the Canadian Home Builders Association net zero home labeling program? How are those standards baselined?
Kevin Lee 17:12
Well, when we set out to develop our program, we wanted to go with sort of tried tested and true rating system. And so, as I mentioned, we base our program on the government of Canada's energuide rating system. That system has labeled over a million homes in Canada. It's backed by the Government of Canada, there are energy advisors trained and certified by the Government of Canada. So that we feel like that is the system to use. The Energy Star program uses that as well. The R-2000 program uses it as well. So the energuide rating system is sort of the point system that grades how much energy you use, and then programs like energy star and our net zero label are points on that scale, if you will, that you're trying To achieve to show a certain level of energy efficiency. And this is the kind of thing that was also used through the equal energy retrofit homes program, a grant program run by the government that through that program, over 600,000 homes are renovated and each one of those dots and energuide label as well as the nice thing about the existing home side of things. And that renovation path is the energuide. Label also provides the homeowner full report on where they can go with their house to make it energy efficient. So you kind of get this pathway, which we think is really important because you can't always afford to do everything on a renovation at the same time. But the energuide system allows you to plan over a few years to do maybe not maybe you can do your windows this year, you're doing insulation in the basement and sealing the next you're going to replace your furnace and three years, whatever the case may be, but you can sort of see that pathway laid out so we really feel like the inner guide rating system is super important. We also think that it should be the rating system for every home in Canada and every program, I often use the analogy, boy, if we have all different rating systems for nutrition labels, it would be very difficult to imagine if you if you went to buy mushrooms off the shelf at the grocery store and you pick up two cans, and it's two different energy labels and you can't compare you wouldn't know which one to buy. And so we're big proponents of saying let's use the energuide rating system, it's the Government of Canada. Let's get that on for all programs, so that everybody can compare and we can what we need to improve in Canada is energy literacy for consumers. It's hard sometimes - it's an invisible thing, energy efficiency. So good labeling and information would help everybody make the decisions.
Dan Seguin 19:39
Okay, time to dust off your crystal ball. What are some of the emerging technologies, innovations that hold much promise for the future of an energy efficient and a net zero home? What's exciting you right now in the industry?
Kevin Lee 20:00
Well, I think you know, what's exciting is that we have within our membership, leaders in the industry all across the country that are working together to find the solutions. And the interesting thing about a home is its builders putting together all of these different technologies and making choices and using energy advisors to help them and make those choices. So I think what's exciting is that everybody's working together. And we're also working together to innovate, and also identify to manufacturers, what are the next things we need, especially to make the energy efficiency componentry even less expensive, so it can be more readily available to everyone. And so whether you're looking at there's some very one of the most important things in energy efficiency is air tightness and air sealing to avoid air leakage. And there's some great new technologies coming in to help make that easier because it's one of the most important things and also one of the most complicated things. Think about every penetration if you own the house, whether it's your, your cable guy or your, you know venting for gas appliances, or there's always lots of things popping in and out of what we call the building envelope, as well as it's hard at floor-wall intersections and wall to ceiling intersections. Anyway, there's some very interesting technology coming out for air sealing. Another thing that's very interesting is net zero energy homes. Sometimes joke, you can eat them with a candle. So you need very little energy. And interestingly, our heating systems and even our cooling systems are built for bigger loads are built for bigger houses or even a house with things that uses more energy. So optimizing our mechanical systems for really small loads becomes very important, as does then the distribution of that air around the home to make sure that the temperatures are always balanced. And then there's also the opportunity to integrate ventilation smartly into those sorts of combination systems. Things that we still need to do you know, and would be great to find solutions for in research and development. You know, if we want to pack more insulation in the walls, we really need to have more effective R-values, those are called like, basically we've sort of hit a limit right now on how much how much insulation we can put in a wall, and then you have to build a fatter wall. But building a better fatter wall becomes more expensive, it'd be really great if let's say within the standard two by six wall, you can put insulation in still what ends up being five and a half inches, but it had what we call greater, much higher R-values. So you'd have to build a thicker wall, you just put better insulation inside. So those are some of the directions that we're headed, I'm looking for a very good technology to build the stuff right now, but we're constantly innovating and we know we need more research and development to work together with and the government's always been a big supporter of that and housing because our industry is made a lot of small organizations, we don't have the Fords and the Mercedes and none of the world that have been r&d shops themselves. So collaborating with government to find these solutions that are more affordable is going to be really important as we move to do more and more of these over time.
Dan Seguin 23:14
And let's take this from R&D to behaviors, what kinds of lifestyle changes are required within net zero home?
Kevin Lee 23:23
Well, I think the great thing about energy efficient homes is they tend to not require any lifestyle change. Energy Efficiency is about being more efficient using technology and construction techniques so that you can live in your home and enjoy it. I always draw the distinction between energy efficiency and energy conservation. Energy conservation is taking a shorter shower, turn down the thermostat, and wear a sweater that's conserving energy. Energy Efficiency is about using technology to make sure that you can still do the things that you like to do, but the houses energy efficient in the first place. Now, lots of people who buy a net zero home are very energy conscious and environmentally conscious as well. So they'll probably elect to do lots of other things. They're probably very avid recyclers and composters and maybe they will turn down the thermostat just because they want to save even more energy. But the nice thing about energy efficiency and net zero homes is sometimes you can't even tell that it's an energy efficient home other than maybe, wow, this is a lot more comfortable than the other house. There's no draft. I can sit beside my windows and I feel really great. There are a lot of benefits and lifestyle benefits, but you typically don't require lifestyle changes.
Dan Seguin 24:41
Despite demand for greener homes. The majority of homes built in Canada continue to be built to a minimum standard. Why is there a disconnect between housing desires and what is actually constructed? Will we see a time where building codes could force all new housing to meet the net zero standard. What does the future look like?
Kevin Lee 25:07
Well, I think we need to be a little bit careful when we say there's a disconnect between code and what people want, because you also have to add in what people are willing to pay for. So there are a lot - So for example, we already have in our net zero program, and the Energy Star program has existed for a long time, known as quite successful. But as we've talked about all through this, it's a little bit more expensive to build to these standards. And so people have a choice and they often choose and I've spent my whole career working in energy efficiency, and sometimes it's been frustrating because homeowners rightly have the choice. What do they want? Do they want to have a hot tub? Do they want granite countertops? Do they want more space? Do they want to pay more to live closer to town or, or do they want to live a little further away from town where it might be cheaper, and then on top of that, you've got to save If you want a more energy efficient house, it'll cost more. And you're sort of doing these trade-offs within your budget is why we're so keen on making sure that energy efficiency standards are also married to technology that makes it not more expensive, so that people don't have to make that choice, and in terms of today's minimum requirements through the building code, they're actually very good. And they continue to improve and they're much higher than they were years ago. So when will the code end up being net zero? Well, we would suggest that that should be at a time when you're not causing affordability challenges for Canadians especially for first time homebuyers. That of course you have to build the code, social housing, and even social housing, ask a social housing provider why they're not building to ENERGY STAR net zero standards. And the reason is because it's very expensive for them, and they're more important for them. It's just to put roofs over people's houses and so it's that that trade as it's happening right now, and it's why we're really pushing for advancements in technology so that it's not more expensive. So we can, when the regulation comes, we're not causing affordability challenges so we can get there. It's just a question of when.
Dan Seguin 27:15
So until net zero homes become the standard, what are some simple things that people can do to improve on to make their existing home more energy efficient?
Kevin Lee 27:26
Well, the first thing I would say is, you know, think of it holistically. And there are various programs that will supplement the cost of having an energy advisor come by, but really that the best thing is to have an energuide rating system evaluation of your home, and that'll give you the big picture. Sometimes people think for example, that, uh, you know, I just, I should replace my windows and usually you're replacing windows because the seals shot at that point and they're starting to get milky and there's some condensation or whatever, and it's time or maybe wood windows and there's been condensation And the paint is chipping, you know, I want to I need to get the window. Turns out that if you ask an energy advisor to come in and do an energy analysis, he or she'll probably tell you that you can do that and you'll get good enjoyment out of that. But for a fraction of the cost, you can actually just go and blow a bunch of cellulose insulation in your attic and you'll save twice as much energy and so you know, looking at the insulation is a big thing but I would start with an energy assessment to have somebody come in and tell you all the things you can do but through the you know, air sealing is really important. Insulation in the attic is tends to be cheap. Go up through the attic hatch, blow insulation, you're good. Obviously insulating your basement is a good one to do. It's usually accessible if you have an unfinished basement and does have the benefit of all that improved comfort. Obviously if you have old mechanical systems and old furnace and old water heater, replacing those tends to be a really good move as well. So there's lots we can do lots we need to do over time to help us. We're hoping through the economic recovery that hopefully we're going to get into very well over the next little while that the government steps forward and helps a little bit with what we're recommending would be a tax credit that really incentivizes people to do this. And the other thing I have to say is, when you go to do this stuff, hire a reputable contractor. It’s not worth getting the cash guy to do a side job ladder off the back of the truck, save a few bucks, there are so many risks. So we have a whole get it in writing program that we promote. If you go on our CHP website, it just talks about the pitfalls of not getting a contract, not getting receipts, not getting warranty, all the things that we should all do with your house is probably the biggest investment you'll ever make in your in your lifetime. Let's make sure we take care of that and protect ourselves. So just hire a reputable contractor. And if you're looking for that list, you can go on our website at chba.ca and we list our members all across the country.
Dan Seguin 29:57
So Kevin, I really think this is worth repeating where can folks learn more about net zero homes and find a list of builders in their region?
Kevin Lee 30:06
Yeah, absolutely well, so we are the Canadian Home Builders Association, and our acronym is CHBA. So if you go to CHBA.ca, or frankly, if you just Google net zero in Canada will pop up on your Google Search pretty much at the top. And on our website, there's all the information there's information about buying a new home, there's information about renovating, renovating the home and making smart choices. And there's information about our net zero program and a full list of all of the builders that we recognize through our program across Canada. So you can find a builder in your region that would be more than happy to work with you and more and more so renovators as well I could help you get on your pathway to getting to net zero.
Dan Seguin 30:51
How about we close off with some rapid fire questions? What is the one thing you can't live without?
Kevin Lee 30:59
I think it's music, I love music. I'm a bit of a musician. So let's go with that.
Dan Seguin 31:03
What is something that challenges you?
Kevin Lee 31:06
To try to change the world in positive ways, and it's fun to work on that every day. It's a never ending challenge for all of us. But trying to make good, solid contributions. We have a better world and a better Canada is a big challenge and something I love doing.
Dan Seguin 31:22
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Kevin Lee 31:26
It would be too slow time. I don't have enough time to get everything done. So I would be able to just freeze time, get a bunch of things done, and then turn time moving forward. Again, that would be that would be great. Even for doing hobbies. I don't have enough time to read. I'd love to stop time and read a couple of chapters every once in a while.
Dan Seguin 31:47
If you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self, what would you tell them?
Kevin Lee 31:52
Well, I would tell them the same thing that I'm telling my kids - which is, you know, do the best at everything that you do this work put in the hard work. It will always pay off even if you think it won't. If you're working on something that you don't enjoy, get it done, do a good job on it. And you'll be surprised down the road when, even if it's 'Wow, I hated doing that. I never want to do that again'. Well, you learned it, you did a good job. Yeah, work hard and put in the effort and have fun while you're doing it. Find the fun and everything.
Dan Seguin 32:24
What do you currently find most interesting in your sector?
Kevin Lee 32:28
The most interesting thing in our sector right now, I think is the challenges that we're facing with affordability and trying to make sure young Canadians and new Canadians can afford their homes. We have a lot of things that are driving up the prices of new homes and, and mortgages and mortgage rules have been tightening, making it even more challenging. So finding that right solution that will really help people become homeowners and get into it. While we also are continuing to try and improve all homes. We've spent this whole time talking about energy efficiency, but we want to make sure it doesn't cost more so people can afford owns that. That whole affordability challenge, which our members are working on all the time, I think is the most interesting and the most challenging, but a huge opportunity because we know, almost every Canadian either owns their home, but two thirds of Canadians own their home and most renters wish they could and hope they will one day you know, so helping to achieve Canadians dreams, I think is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge that we're all working on.
Dan Seguin 33:28
Well, Kevin, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. Last question for you. How can our listeners learn more about your association? How can they connect?
Kevin Lee 33:43
Yeah, definitely check out our website at chba.ca. All the information is there. We are also structured as an association with provincial and local associations as part of our organization. So we have local associations all across Canada. And pretty much every urban center and so that's another place that you can connect very locally with the members of our organization that can help you with your housing dreams.
Dan Seguin 34:12
Again, Kevin, thank you very much for joining me today. I hope you had a lot of fun. Cheers. Thank you for joining us today. I truly hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. For past episodes, make sure you visit our website hydroottawa.com/podcasts. Lastly, if you found value in this podcast, be sure to subscribe. Cheers, everyone.