Liberals to introduce incentives to retrofit homes, rules for more net zero new homes

This fall the Liberal government is expected to introduce changes to the national building code that will require builders to include more net zero homes while also introducing incentives for homeowners to retrofit their existing homes so they use less energy.

But net zero homes add 15% to cost of average home, a price too much for many buyers

Net zero homes have solar panels on the roof which power a high efficiency electric furnace and additional insulation to retain what heat is created by the house. (submitted by Vince Sharpe)

The federal government wants existing homes to be more energy efficient and for developers to build more net zero homes.

Very shortly the Liberal government is expected to introduce changes to the national building code that will require builders to include more net zero homes — buildings that produce as much energy as they use — in housing developments in the next 15 years.

The government is also expected to announce incentives for homeowners to retrofit their existing homes so that they use less energy.

The goal of both moves is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings — which account for 17 per cent of Canada's carbon pollution. It's all part of a list of environment measures that will roll out in the lead-up to the crucial meeting on climate between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers in December.

"It's really exciting to see government take a leadership position on this," said Tanya Rumak, spokeswoman for Landmark Homes, a housing developer in Edmonton. "It's very important that we start to take steps to increase the minimum standard for our homes. Net zero is one way to get there, we have a lot of exciting things ahead of us."

Rumak says as the energy costs associated with owning a home continue to rise, builders will likely choose to make more net zero homes without being encouraged to do so by government simply because people will view them as more cost effective over time. 

"The carbon taxes that are coming, all of these things, start to contribute to a higher cost of living so it starts to make more sense in new construction to build it from net zero," she said. 

Net zero homes use solar panels on the roof to run a high efficiency electric furnace. They are built with additional insulation, triple glazed windows among other features to improve the building's ability to retain what heat is produced by the house. These measures increase the cost of an average house by 15 per cent. 

A tough sell

And while owning a net zero house may save owners on energy costs in the long run, especially with a price on carbon just over the horizon, Brent Strachan a senior vice president at Minto Communities, an Ottawa home builder, says net zero homes are still proving a tough sell.

"What we are finding is the cost is a little too much for people to invest in it, an additional $75,000 on a single-family home is a pretty big price tag up front," Strachan said.

"When you're looking at finishing your home with granite, hardwood, ceramics, things that people come to your house and say 'wow that's beautiful' — not many people comment on solar panels when they come to your house," he said. "So it's not as glamorous and a little too expensive for the average consumer to invest in."

(Natalie Holdway/CBC News)

Ian Beausoleil-Morrison, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, is researching how homes can store solar heat year-round. 

He says there is a human factor to energy efficiency and notes that despite better construction and more energy efficient appliances, homes today use about the same amount of energy they did 25 years ago.

"One of the behavioural changes we have to grapple with is our desire to live in bigger and bigger houses," said Beausoleil-Morrison. "We've offset all of the technical gains we've made over the last quarter century by living in bigger and bigger houses. That's something we have to change, that's our behaviour that has to change."