What we can do to improve our buildings

The Saskatchewan Conservation House. The original ultra low energy home. Photo Credit Rob Dumont.

This post is a snippet from my book “How to Future Proof Your Home: A Guide to Building with Energy Intelligence in Cold Climates.”

“Begin with the end in mind.”

Steven Covey

Habit #2 of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

When it comes to being efficient, the primary decisions must be made before a lot is even considered to build on. If one considers that a home—or any building, for that matter—is a system, the decisions required to make the building efficient are more obvious. With this mindset and the principles listed below, the process is simplified:

1)    Remember that the building is a system and consider how shifting the costs to improve one area of the building can reduce the need to spend money on other components/systems within the building.

2)    Properly insulating a home in a cold or moderate climate is by far the cheapest method of ensuring energy efficiency. Not requiring energy for heating or cooling may permit a smaller size of heating or cooling equipment or even remove the need for such equipment altogether (this typically saves money on the equipment and ongoing cost of operation) and is far more cost-effective than producing energy with renewable energyat least for the time being.[i]

3)    The building must be properly sealed to ensure that air is not leaking into or out of the building in an uncontrolled manner.

4)    The building must be properly ventilated to ensure that occupants have access to clean air and to prevent the accumulation of humidity and growth of mold. This is highly important for the health and safety of occupants, particularly in a well-sealed or super-insulated building.

5)    The building should be facing south (in the northern hemisphere) with adequate windows and properly placed shading to take advantage of passive solar gains in the winter and reduce unnecessary heat gains in the summer. This is called passive solar design and is a consideration that must be made prior even to selecting the lot, in some cases.

6)    Using too many windows or using windows that are excessively large creates a significant source of energy loss in the winter and of heat gain in the summer.

7)    Heat gain in the summer is particularly a problem on the east, west and south sides of a building, especially if the windows are not shaded.

8)    A smaller home requires less energy than a bigger home due to reduced surface area exposed to the exterior conditions.

9)    Light coloured roofing and siding will greatly reduce the need for cooling in the summer and have little effect with regard to capturing heat energy in the winter.

10)Thermal mass within the home can be cost-effective in mitigating temperature swings and is very useful for capturing heat in passive solar homes.

11)High-efficiency equipment from heating and cooling will save significant money on energy costs over their lifetime.

12)Reusing energy through energy recovery ventilators or drain water heat recovery takes advantage of the energy that has already been paid for.

13)The usage of energy-efficient lighting and appliances is a good way to reduce your energy consumption year round. This principle can easily be applied after a home is constructed.

14)Monitoring occupant behaviour has a significant effect on the usage of energy within any building. This principle can easily be applied after a home is constructed.



[i] According to an ASHRAE presentation I attended in October of 2012, every dollar spent on energy efficiency is the equivalent of six dollars spent on renewable energy sources with regards to moving towards net zero building. This should be the goal of all new construction.

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