Growing focus on high-performance homes

High-performance athletes need a team of advisers and consultants to help them reach their objectives – so do high-performance homes.

If you want to create a house design that you love and that meets high-performance standards – including energy efficiency and lower costs – you need a team of experts, says Joe Geluch, president of Naikoon Contracting, a North Vancouver-based company that has been building high-performance homes for more than 10 years.

“It’s important for a team, including an architect, builder, structural engineer and energy consultant, to work together from the start of the planning process,” he says.

With the provincial government’s introduction of the BC Energy Step Code, a roadmap to enable it to reach its target of all new buildings in British Columbia being net-zero ready by 2032, there is a growing focus on high-performance houses.

Geluch explains there are several different industry certifications and criteria that relate to high-performance buildings. In several B.C. municipalities, construction companies are currently required to build to the requirements of Step 3 (or an equivalent) of the Step Code, a standard that produces a home that uses at least 20 per cent less energy than homes built to the base requirements of the BC Building Code.

Other well-known certifications include Passive House Canada and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s (CHBA) Net Zero Home Labelling Program.

Passive House certification is attained through implementing the Passive House Planning Packageand results in consistent indoor temperature, high quality air levels and lower energy costs.

The CHBA says net-zero homes “are up to 80 per cent more energy efficient than typical new homes and use renewable energy systems to produce the remaining energy they need.”

To build a high-performance home requires a coordinated approach. The most important requirement is construction of an air-tight building envelope: windows and doors need to be Energy Star certified and the slab, walls and roof need to be very well insulated, Geluch says.

To replace stale air in the home, a heat-recovery ventilation (HRV) system will run 24 hours day extracting stale air and bringing fresh air into the home, while a heat exchanger captures heat from the stale air before it is exhausted. That heat is then used to heat the air coming into the house so that less energy is used to maintain the indoor air temperature.

Two observations most often expressed about high-performance homes are that they are unattractive from a design perspective, and they are very expensive to build.

“The effect of the design of the home on energy performance is so huge the most common thing we hear is that high-performance houses are ugly and look like a box and that construction costs are prohibitive,” says Geluch, adding that these perceptions are both correct and incorrect.

“We recently completed a Battersby Howat-designed masterpiece home that is pending Passive House certification and a net zero label. It’s a great example of beautiful design with features – including cantilevered floors – not generally seen in Passive Houses. A square box with four corners is the most cost-effective way to build a high-performance house, but that doesn’t satisfy the consumer,” he says.

An integrated approach with a team of professionals is essential to build an esthetically pleasing design with the level of energy performance required for a high-performance house, Geluch adds.

“The builder, architect, energy adviser and structural engineer all need to be there right from the beginning and the objectives need to be clear right at the beginning. It is the only successful path to achieve that level of energy efficiency in an economical way,” he says.

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