We teamed up with Greening Homes (BILD member and winner of 2 BILD Renovation & Custom Home Awards) to share information on what is involved in completing an environmentally friendly renovation.
Once considered a niche market in the residential building sector, eco-friendly homes are becoming a mainstay, thanks to anticipated policy changes by the Ontario government. Ontario’s proposed Climate Action Plan includes new building code rules to improve energy inefficiencies and move homes off of natural gas and onto cleaner forms of energy such as geothermal and solar power.
In order to meet the province’s ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, these changes will likely be significant. The government proposes cutting emissions from buildings by 15 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. As new home construction accounts for just one percent of total buildings annually, the government will likely zero in on efforts to retrofit existing buildings.
What will this mean for Ontarian homeowners? We can anticipate more rules and regulations on improving home energy performance, such as completing an energy audit prior to selling a home. A proposed national rising carbon price will also incentivise homeowners to take action.
While this may seem like a financial burden, these policy changes will include financial incentives such as government subsidies. Homeowners will also be encouraged to learn about the latest innovative products, such as Insulated Concrete Form blocs, that are helping to reduce the costs associated with high performance construction. And of course, the savings of high performance homes add up over time, sometimes covering the costs of the renovation in just a few years.
While there’s been much focus on improving energy performance, there’s been relatively little attention on building waste, which, when dumped in a landfill, adds to methane emissions, a highly potent greenhouse gas. And, too often, indoor air quality is compromised when contractors opt for building products that off-gas.
To help prepare Ontario homeowners for the new reality of retrofits and renovations that aim to tighten the province’s building stock, green home renovation pioneer, Greening Homes offers a breakdown, based on its core values, on what to consider when planning an eco-friendly home renovation, and what to avoid.
First step when planning an eco-friendly home is to recognize that green building is more than the sum of its parts.
Green home renovators typically view the house as a whole system, even when renovating one area of the building. This often translates into an integrated design process involving a designer or architect working with the builder. It may also involve a sustainability consultant, third party tester and mechanical engineer, depending on the scope of the renovation.
In order to optimize a home for energy efficiency and indoor air quality, as well as low water consumption, the team accounts for geometry, glazing, insulation and other building materials, air barrier detailing, construct-ability, mechanical system, appliances and fixtures.
When people think of a ‘green buildings’, they typically think of energy efficiency. This is no doubt important. Well insulated homes with thick walls that also boast high efficiency pipes, fixtures and appliances require little energy, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and overall costs.
These days, homeowners and builders are presented with a myriad of so-called green building products, from insulation to caulking to help improve the home’s ‘R’ value, a measure of thermal resistance. But what of a product’s embodied energy, ozone depleting potential, and persistent environmental toxicity that pose potential adverse effects on the occupants and environmental health?
Petro-chemical foam-based insulations generally deliver the highest R-values per inch, but often have some combination of the problems described above.
Fortunately, building products that can improve efficiencies without taxing the environment and our health are now available. Examples include mineral fibre board by Roxul for sub-slab insulation and cellulose, an insulation for walls and attics made from recycled wood fibre that has the lowest embodied energy of any insulation.
Concrete with recycled content also deliver high performance with relatively little embodied energy – the energy required to make the product.
Thanks to the widespread implementation of environmental building certification programs such as LEED and more stringent regulations in certain jurisdictions (mainly in California), most manufacturers are now offering low-emitting products, from drywall to adhesives such as Eco-Bond HD in sausage packaging, an adhesive that is non-toxic and emissions free with minimal packaging waste.
Homeowners who improve their house’s energy performance must also factor in proper ventilators that replace stale air with fresh. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Minimizing potential sources of indoor air pollutants is as important as improving the house’s performance to ensure the wellbeing of its occupants.
‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ has been the environmental mantra for years. Imagine if this mantra was applied to the construction sector, one of the world’s most wasteful?
Typical sites in Ontario divert only 12 percent of their construction and demolition waste. With a low cost sorting system, a renovator can divert five times this amount.
Windows, cupboards, fixtures, flooring and the like can be reused when donated to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. This not only helps to save material from the landfill but reduces the need to produce more stuff that requires energy. One can be quite creative in reusing material. Greening Homes’ crew often turn old windows into tables or shelving. Toronto artist, Doug Mighton goes a bit further. He paints playful imagery on old windows to transform them into works of art.
As 40 percent of the world’s materials are used by the building industry, homeowners can collectively make a difference if they choose to reuse spruced up material. Wood is another important factor. Renovation projects, especially additions, use a lot of framing lumber. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber, which promotes responsible forest management, is now widely available, making the cost difference between it and non-FSC lumber negligible.
And finally, disposable cups and lunch supplies really add up on a worksite. Reusable cups and lunch kits help reduce the waste-load on any home renovation.
Speaking of crew behaviour, transportation to and from the site can help drive up or down the carbon footprint of a home renovation, depending on the vehicles used. Greening Homes prides itself on a crew that takes transit and rides bikes to work. In addition to the environmental benefits associated with smart transportation, the neighbours will appreciate it as well; typical construction projects can fill the streets with trucks, making parking difficult for neighbourhood residents.
For other green home insights visit greeninghomes.com.