Sustainable Home

What is a Sustainable Home?


Making your home sustainable or green as it’s often called is a commitment and a homeowner usually does it for one reason, the long-term benefit of their family and for the environment. There are numerous definitions attached to the term ‘’green home.’ The one I like is, ‘’A home that uses less energy, water, and fossil fuel and that is healthier for its occupants.”

There is no set format. You can build green using any one of a number of recognized certification programs, such as Greenhouse Certified, EnergyStar, R2000 or LEED for homes. The first three programs offer a one level certification. LEED for homes offers four levels; certified, silver, gold and platinum. A silver level home is projected to consume 30% less energy than a conventional building code home, whereas platinum LEED Home is projected to consume over 50% less energy. A green home is more durable, operationally cost efficient and healthier than a standard code-built home.

This does not mean that you cannot make an existing home ‘’greener’’ than it currently is; you can. Renovations, including insulation upgrades, switching to EnergyStar windows, adding an HRV to your heating system, as examples, all make a difference. There is actually a long list of upgrades that can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and improve your indoor air quality.

I will debunk some myths here. Your green home does not have to be earth sheltered, made of straw or look like something from another world. The home pictures I have included with this week’s column would all be considered ‘’green homes’’ and, as you can see, they are a wide range of designs and ideas from very futuristic to a downright conventional design that would fit into any urban setting.  You do not have to fill the roof with solar panels, turn your house into a glass wall facing south or spend thousands of dollars on ‘’hi-tech’’ innovations that will have a very small benefit to the overall operation of your home.

Look at your ‘’green’’ home from this perspective. Is it, or can you make it, more cost efficient? Do you want a healthier home with a better indoor air quality for yourself and your family? Will your home be environmentally friendly? Let’s break these three primary values down, starting with cost efficiency. Upfront costs are higher? No. However, if you are considering building a new home, find a professional who knows green building techniques. The vast majority of home builders are still locked into building ‘’code compliant’’ homes and don’t understand the ‘’building as a system’’ development of a green home. The percentage of builders who take the time to get the training and understand technology that already exists, never mind the constant advancements that are coming, is a tiny portion of home builders.

People who live in a green home save money every month on the operational costs. Yes it’s a slow capital recovery, but it happens every month and, over the years, it adds up. Think of this as your “Home RRSP Program.” 98% of Canadians stated in a recent survey that they would pay extra for an energy efficient home. LEED Homes in the USA have been coming up for sale for a while now, some 15 years after they were built. They are selling for no less than 15% more than a comparable code built home. There has got to be a reason for that and it’s simple. When the prospective buyer compares the heating and electrical costs, the value is right there in print. A comparable renovated home could easily fit into this category. Because they recognize their value, more and more banks and insurance companies are offering discounts for green homes; Scotia Bank and TD Canada Trust, for example.  As a general rule, a new green home is more durable, requiring fewer repairs or replacements over time. A lifetime metal roof vs. one that is shingled and needs to be replaced every 30-40 years or so, is but one example.

A green home is a healthier home; free of toxin-based materials that reduce indoor air pollution. Every home that has been renovated or built new without an HRV should have one installed, they should have been code in this province years ago and only became code in 2020 in Ontario.  A healthier home means healthier occupants and air quality is the key.

Lastly, are you building or renovating your home to be environmentally friendly? Residential heating and cooling alone makes up nearly 18% of our overall yearly energy use. Now add in your electrical use, lighting, appliances and anything in your home that consumes electricity. Ten years ago it was nearly impossible to find materials with any recycled content. Today floor tiles are made of old tires, kitchen counters from recycled glass and even new paint from old paint. Rapidly renewable materials like bamboo, hemp and soya based products are readily available.  A conventionally ‘’built to code’’ 2500 sq. ft. home will generate up to 1.5-2 tons of construction waste that ends up at the dump. It is common practise for a green builder to reduce that figure by upward of 90%. 

 Canadians now realize we must look beyond the code and look into the future for quality, affordability and sustainability in the long term housing especially given the “climate crisis” we are now facing.

Three solar tubes on a shingle roof in a family home.

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