The Government of Ontario says energy-neutral net-zero homes are the future—literally. According to recent statements from the province, changes to the building code mandating net-zero compliance will come into effect by 2030. But what does this mean for new home buyers today?
Over the past fifteen years, there has been increasing public awareness of the effects of human-driven climate change, resource scarcity and the importance of finding greener ways of sustaining our present quality of life. As a result, the Ontario government has progressively introduced many new initiatives aimed at spurring the adoption of more environmentally friendly residential construction practices in the province. These measures, which include tax incentives and regulatory changes, present both challenges and opportunities for builders and buyers alike.
One of the most sweeping changes on the way is Ontario’s ambitious goal of making all new homes in the province net-zero ready by the year 2030
Net-Zero Homes: Defined
One of the most sweeping changes on the way is Ontario’s ambitious goal of making all new homes in the province net-zero ready by the year 2030. So, what makes a home net-zero ready?
- The home is designed and constructed to reduce household energy use as much as possible.
- The home also includes its own renewable energy systems (e.g., roof-mounted solar panels) so that it can produce as much power as it uses. The house is still connected to the power grid, but is able to both take from the grid when needed and return the excess power it generates. Over the course of a year, production and usage should balance, resulting in a net energy impact of zero.
As the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) notes, new homes can be certified as net-zero or net-zero ready, meaning that the home is designed to accommodate a renewable energy system which has not yet been installed. In the near future, all new homes in Canada will likely take advantage of some of the following construction features to cut energy usage:
- Air-tight construction: Thermal leakage (or heat loss) is one of the prime energy offenders. Triple-pane windows, heavy insulation and new age materials with high insulation value help net-zero homes maintain a steady, comfortable temperature with minimal energy expenditure.
- High-efficiency heating and ventilation: There are many novel techniques for reducing reliance on natural gas and traditional furnaces. “Solar walls”, for example, are mounted on the roof to capture the sun’s heat, storing it beneath the house in a gravel pit where it’s used by electric pumps to heat space and water.
- High-efficiency appliances and LED lighting: Appliances are becoming greener every year, LED lighting uses much less electricity, and “smart” homes can help to maintain optimal energy use.
How Much Does Net-Zero Cost?
While there is little disagreement over the benefits of reducing the energy footprint of residential homes, it’s not without additional up-front costs, which can make home buyers leery. According to a profile by TVO, a fully-operational net-zero home will cost home buyers an additional $35,000 upfront—$15,000 to build the house in compliance with the Building Code, and $20,000 for the solar power system.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for many, but advocates are quick to note that this cost will be made up for over the long term in utilities savings. Figures from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario show the average Ontario home’s energy costs were $2,358 a year. As TVO noted, a house using two-thirds the power would spend only $1,668 per year. Based on a 20-year mortgage with a 5% fixed interest rate, installing net-zero features would cost homeowners an additional $99 per month while alleviating $139 in energy costs, good for a $40 net monthly savings. The significance of these savings figures to increase dramatically in the future, however, with some forecasting a 52% escalation in electricity prices between 2017 and 2035.
If you do choose to go net-zero now, make sure you find a qualified builder. Net-zero homes are technically demanding construction projects, and building envelope errors can lead to poor ventilation and moisture damage. Our blog has profiled net-zero certified builders like St. Thomas’ Doug Tarry Homes in the past, and CHBA maintains a growing list of qualified builders on their website. And, it’s good to know that net-zero homes are covered by Ontario’s new home warranty program that is backstopped by Tarion.