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March 28, 2017

Taking a Simple Approach to Energy Efficiency

Last month we spoke to the Edmonton Journal about the Belgravia home and its efficiency credentials. Specifically, we talked about how the Belgravia is a home that “just works” despite its efficient build.

Today, we thought we’d talk about the elephant in the room (when it comes to efficient homes): simplicity, and specifically, why it’s so important when looking at the future of energy-efficient homes in the market.

As we continue to move forward in 2017, if there’s one thing on our minds, it’s this: the world is already a complicated place, so it’s important that we integrate our green philosophy into our products in a way that is not only sustainable, but also easy to use and appreciate.

When You Turn the Lights On, They Just Need to Turn On

At the back of every homeowner’s mind is the expectation that their home will just “work” the way they intend it to.

There’s a perception that exists about green homes: that they’re difficult to build, difficult to operate, difficult to maintain, and difficult to troubleshoot when things go wrong.

This may have been the case to some degree many years ago, but we can say with confidence that such is not the case today.

However, this confidence comes because of investments and improvements in the industry. There’s no denying that challenges that net-zero/green homes face (and have faced in the past) are only being solved by the continued push for improvements in the underlying technology.

Lights That Just Work

Our Belgravia homes utilize rooftop solar as a method of power generation. This power can be used by the home, generated and then stored for later use (via storage technology like Tesla’s Powerwall), or sold back to the grid (currently a more popular option compared to storage).

However, one thing we are intimately aware of as a home builder is the fact that when a homeowner flicks the light switch, they don’t want want to have to worry about how the power is being provided for the lights- they just want the lights to turn on.

What system is actually powering the lights is a lot less relevant than lights that turn on when they’re told, and if there’s a disconnect between the two, it brings down the home holistically (as opposed to the individual component or system creating challenges).

Unwavering Home Comfort

Living in Alberta, we know more than most just how low the thermometer can get. 2017 has given us a few bone-chilling days already, and we all know that Albertan winters can be slow to let go.

When you walk into your home from the outdoors, there’s an implied expectation regarding the interior temperature of the home. It must be comfortable, and equally as important, that comfort needs to happen almost automagically.

Traditionally, residential heating in Alberta is done via forced-air furnaces or heat pumps that use natural gas or electricity as their energy sources (the vast majority are powered by natural gas). In our Belgravia homes, each home used a different primary heat source:

  • Geothermal heating was used in one home, providing heating efficiency in excess of 350%.
  • Electric baseboard heating was used in another, providing 100% efficient heat.
  • An air-source heat pump – designed specifically for cold weather – was used in the third home. Efficiency ranges from 100% to 400%, depending on outdoor temperature and humidity.

To supplement the primary heating system, we utilized a passive solar heat dispersal system using the large south-facing windows to allow sunlight to heat the home. This sunlight projects through the windows and heats a structural concrete floor which, combined with Hambro floor joists, acts as a large heatsink that captures heat during the day and slowly releases it in the evening and at night.

Just like with the lights, heating is an area that just has to work.

Energy Efficiency Without Sacrifices: Yesterday’s Impossible Dream Realized Today

Twenty or thirty years ago, the conversation surrounding efficiency was almost always coupled with a conversation regarding sacrifice. Sure, we can build you a more efficient home, but we need to know which areas of convenience you’re willing to give up first…

Sound familiar?

The above was true not only for homes, but for anything else where efficiency was becoming a conversation: cars, home appliances, and so on.

Happily, such is not the case today. In fact, the tides are quickly turning and ushering in an environment where not only is efficiency a focus from the get-go, but the non-monetary costs tied to it have changed considerably.

In fact, the non-monetary convenience costs associated with an energy-efficient home have all but disappeared.

The same is true for other industries, too.

Let’s look at cars as an example. Three of the fastest cars in the world – The Porsche 918, Mclaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari – all employ hybrid powertrains that utilize batteries to provide a performance boost when needed. The same systems used to turn already-fast cars into even faster cars can also be used to provide emissions-free power. The P1, for example, can cruise along for up to 20 kilometers using just its batteries.

Advances in these technologies will only drive down the cost of such systems while simultaneously improving their capability and efficiency.

Having Your Cake & Eating It, Too

As a custom home builder that specializes in green homes, we obviously have a bias regarding these conversations. After all, a big part of our business is helping the expansion and adoption of new technologies that will continue to drive the industry forward.

We mention this because many conversations that take place regarding efficient homes and processes centre around antiquated information. By using our position as an active member on the national Net Zero Energy Housing Council (formed by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association) we are able to increase public awareness to help change the conversation.

There have been tremendous advancements in all areas of efficiency: solar and wind generation is undergoing a technological and practical “boom” thanks to massive investments being poured into the technology, and continued development in construction standards and materials is having a similar effect on the passive end of the efficiency conversation as well.

We think that paints an exciting portrait for where the world is going: 20 years ago it was nearly impossible to have an efficient home that worked seamlessly, whereas today it’s industry standard to have an efficient home that looks, feels, and behaves like a regular one.

We can’t wait for what will be possible 20 years from today.