Homeowners consume 19% of the natural gas and 16% of electricity used by Albertans1. Even small improvements to energy efficiency could mean big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of new homes, total improvements can represent as much as 40% of the total.
Government incentives to retrofit older homes are beneficial, but the best way to create energy-efficient houses is to build them that way. The Alberta-based, residential construction company, Landmark Group of Builders, is leading the way. And by partially-funding a Landmark NetZero Home demonstration project, the CCEMC is helping consumers make better choices about low-carbon residential systems. Dr. Haitao Yu, chief researcher for Landmark, indicated that benefits accruing from this funding will be improved market affordability of their NetZero Homes for mainstream housing; sharing of solutions with other Alberta homebuilders; and movement of the market diffusion point of NetZero Homes ahead by at least five years.
Landmark achieves NetZero status by focusing on three elements: making the house “envelope” as energy-efficient as possible; using the most energy-efficient equipment and appliances; and generating energy through the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells, i.e., solar panels. Landmark has focused on energy-efficient home construction for about five years, building more than 700 such homes, mostly in Edmonton. Low-cost features such as high energy-efficient furnaces, heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and triple-glazed low-e windows ensure lower carbon emissions.
Yu notes: “We see our homes as a system, and from the time we start to build the envelope everything we do is energy-efficient. We use spray foam insulation instead of fiberglass. We carefully choose the dishwasher and refrigerator we install. Houses we build consume 40% less energy than other new houses so the average homeowner can save $500 or more each year on utilities.” Savings on that scale can offset higher mortgage payments. This makes energy efficiency a wise investment – since the cost of upgrading to one of these more energy efficient homes is $10,000 or less.
In March, 2012, Landmark Group of Builders held a demonstration project involving the assembly of their first NetZero show home in Cranston, a new Calgary subdivision. The project, a partnership with Brookfield Residential Properties, will see the construction of 27 sustainably-built, energy efficient homes – the first community of its kind in Alberta. The homes will have Built Green Platinum status, one of the highest green building ratings. The Calgary project has larger home models (2,400 square feet, $600,000 plus) but Landmark wants to provide purchasers with a wider range of housing types. Dr. Yu acknowledged that buyers presently pay a premium for such homes andwould like to see NetZero homes available for as little as $270,000.
Each home will have 50 solar panels and the design conforms to homes in typical upscale Calgary neighbourhoods. The homes will be connected to the Alberta electrical grid and will both unload and upload electricity as necessary.
These houses will each generate 14,000 kWh of electricity annually, which translates into reduced carbon dioxide emissions of about 140 tonnes per year.