COLUMN: Passive aggressive: building for the future today

Last April I toured Squamish’s first Net Zero house in the Crumpit Woods area of Valleycliffe. It wasn’t finished at the time, but as local home builder Bob Deeks gave me a tour and described how it was built with energy efficiency and sustainability top of mind, the long-term benefits were obvious.

Mike Holmes, businessman, philanthropist and TV personality, was also on hand that day. He talked about how all homes should build to this standard today, and not wait until 2032 when all new buildings in British Columbia have to reach step five of the B.C. Energy Step Code.

A Net Zero home or building creates the same or more energy than it consumes. And it does this by constructing a super-insulated, air-tight building envelope and capturing energy through renewables like solar, wind or geothermal. To give you some perspective on how energy efficient this is, the current standard of thermal resistance in the B.C. building code is R-20.

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A Net Zero home or passive house (another standard for the energy efficiency of a building) may have an R value of three or four times that amount.
The B.C. Energy Step Code is a new voluntary provincial standard that provides an incremental approach to achieving more energy-efficient buildings that goes beyond the base building code. As a community, we can adopt bylaws and policies that determine which step in the code all new buildings need to achieve. The City of North Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver along with West Vancouver have announced that they will jointly create an “efficient new home zone” that sets the standard at step three of the B.C. Energy Step Code on the entire North Shore. In the next month, Squamish council will be exploring which step Squamish should initially adopt, but a consistent standard between adjacent municipalities is worth considering.

I was at a sustainability conference a few weeks ago in Ottawa. One of the study tours was of “Karen’s House,” Canada’s first multi-residential passive house and LEEDS platinum certified apartment building. This 42-unit bachelor apartment building for people with serious mental illness, most of whom have been homeless, uses 66 per cent less energy than regular standards and each unit costs $29 a year for energy utilities.

Building an energy efficient and sustainable home should be the norm, not the exception. It shouldn’t matter whether it is a custom home or subsidized apartments for our most vulnerable citizens, because what is sustainable must also be affordable. As Mike Holmes said in Squamish last April, Net Zero homes are the future of housing.

And the future should be now.

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