Net zero energy homes are reality, incentives for buyers now needed, builder says

Reid’s Heritage Homes in Guelph has been recognized for building Canada’s first certified net zero energy homes. The builder said four of the five homes built have been sold and the discovery home remains open to the public.

Property tax breaks, money for homebuilders would help make homes more affordable

Reid's Heritage Homes has recently sold four net zero homes in Guelph. (Reid's heritage Homes)

People are moving into new net zero energy homes this month in Guelph and the builder behind them says now is the time for incentives to make them an affordable option for buyers.

"Consumers, I think, are just starting to realize what the opportunities are with these homes," Jennifer Weatherston, director of innovation and estimating with Reid's Heritage Homes, told CBC News.

Net zero homes are designed so they create all the energy the home would need instead of pulling from the electrical grid.

The homes do cost more – on average $50,000 more than a traditional new build – but Weatherston said financial institutions are starting to recognize the added value.

"CMHC [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] came out with a better rebate on their green mortgages, so that's more money back in the homebuyer's pocket," she said.

"But what people will find when they buy these homes is one, they're getting stability from rising increases in utility rates, two, they've got a better quality home. Your comfort is consistent from top to bottom, you've got better indoor air quality, just a better living environment all around."

Help homeowners, builders

The Ontario government could lead the way with making net zero homes more affordable, Weatherston said.

"If there a way for the provincial government to incentivize homeowners to move towards more energy efficient homes, that would be a huge bonus. Another bonus would be to help the builders by providing that incentive up front so they can build it more cost effectively," she said.

You're using less infrastructure, less load on the grid, so is there the opportunity to reduce property taxes by saving energy?- Jennifer Weatherston, Reid's Heritage Homes

Municipalities could also consider options.

"Take it a step further and have a municipality offer, to homebuyers ... a property tax reduction. You're using less infrastructure, less load on the grid, so is there the opportunity to reduce property taxes by saving energy? But also, the community could take that data and then use it to monitor and evaluate how they plan future areas and infrastructure and possible reductions," she said.

'An affordable reality'

The five homes Reid's Heritage Homes built in Guelph were recognized earlier this week as being the first net zero homes in Canada under new standards set up by the Canadian Home Builders' Association.

Sonja Winkelmann, a director for Net Zero Energy Housing with the association said the local builder demonstrated a "passion and drive to make net zero energy homes an affordable reality for Canadians. Their enthusiastic participation in industry events to share what they have learned speaks volumes about their leadership." 
Net zero ready homes will have everything in place for solar panels, but not the panels. (Gordon King Photography)

Rose Benedetto, managing director of EnerQuality, called the homes "inspirational" and an "incredible achievement."

Weatherston said they are pleased to be recognized and that net zero ready homes – houses that have all the infrastructure in place for solar panels but not the actual panels – are the future. They have already submitted a site plan to the City of Guelph for a new 19-home development on Victoria Road south of Stone Road, and Weatheston said she would like to look at options in Cambridge in the near future.

"For us, one of our past vice presidents said that all new single family developments that we bring on late this year into next year would be net zero ready," she said. "Our goal is to definitely move this forward."