Construction begins on on the net-zero energy home on the outskirts of Quesnel. Icon Homes Ltd./Facebook photo

Cariboo company building second net-zero energy home in Northern B.C.

Quesnel’s Icon Homes is working to determine best methods for building in the north

Icon Homes, a construction company in Quesnel, is building what may be only the second net-zero energy home in all of northern B.C.

A net-zero energy home is one that produces as much energy as it consumes, and tends to be at least 40 to 60 per cent more efficient than a home built to the B.C. Building Code.

More than an energy-efficient home, it’s a step toward the future. By 2032, B.C. Housing intends to make net-zero energy homes the standard, not the outlier.

To make this happen, B.C. Housing has developed a program called the BC Energy Step Code. The Step Code outlines a series of five steps, which begins with step one, with a slightly more energy efficient house, and ends with step five, a net-zero energy home. The steps in between bring the house from 10 to 20 to 40 per cent more efficient than a house built to the standard B.C. Building Code.

For larger, multi-residential buildings, there are four steps, which go from slightly improved efficiency to 20-40 per cent better to 50 per cent better to net-zero ready.

On the Step Code website, they say the higher steps will be the mandatory minimum in B.C. by the year 2032. Similarly, the National Building Code of Canada is moving toward a comparable outcome by the year 2030.

Ahead of the curve

Joe Hart, the owner of Icon Homes, says they wanted to get a jump on the process before it was made mandatory.

They started with a home built to step four of the BC Energy Step Code last year, before taking on the net-zero energy project this fall. But getting started ahead of the curve means the formula for the best net-zero energy home is still a work in progress — particularly for those building homes in the north.

RELATED: Quesnel builder Joe Hart named president of CHBA northern chapter

Builders must take a training course before they can build a net-zero energy home, but even then, there remains much to learn.

With only one other certified net-zero energy home in Northern B.C., it’s still something of a trial-and-error process to determine what does, and does not, work in colder climates. In particular, Hart says they ran into some difficulties working on the step four energy efficient home last year.

Now, Hart and Icon Homes are working directly with B.C. Housing and the Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA) to provide feedback about exactly what does or does not work as they move through the process of building in the north. They are also taking part in Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) through Natural Resources Canada.

LEEP is a program which helps builders build energy-efficient homes better, faster, and to a higher degree of affordability. Builders in the program work together, meeting at workshops and determining the most energy-efficient technologies and practices to utilize moving forward. They also host a technology forum, bringing in experts requested by the builders themselves, and builders share the successes and pitfalls of their own work building energy-efficient homes or buildings in the field.

Building energy-efficient homes is a highly collaborative process, particularly in the north, where standards set in the Lower Mainland, for example, may not apply to the climate. That’s what Icon Homes found last year, as they built their step four energy efficient home. It prompted the experts to go back to the drawing board and try to find a way to make the metrics work in climates across B.C.

As he works with LEEP, B.C. Housing and CHBA to figure out what works in the north, Hart says he hopes to take the knowledge they gain from building energy efficient homes in northern B.C. and eventually use it to help other northern builders learn as well.

Other challenges in the north

Building energy-efficient homes in the north presents a particular set of difficulties, says Hart, even beyond learning exactly what the best practices are or should be.

A lack of energy advisors capable of certifying homes as energy efficient made building the step four home last year particularly difficult, says Hart. At the time, the only advisor available to them was based in Alberta — and had a number of other builders and projects to work on as well. This meant sometimes it could take weeks for the advisor to respond to questions.

But they didn’t have time to halt construction to wait for the energy advisor’s answer, so they often found themselves forced to continue on and attempt to figure it out on their own. Now, Hart says there are two energy advisors in Prince George alone, who are capable of certifying homes and answering their questions, making for a much speedier process.

Hart says another challenge is ensuring they’re still building a healthy home with healthy walls, even as they use new technologies and methods. One way they plan to monitor the health of the new net-zero energy home is by leaving a monitoring system inside a wall to track moisture and airflow within the wall.

“We can’t just add the insulation,” says Hart. “There’s way more to it than that.”

The monitoring system is something they’re working on with the CHBA, and he’s hopeful it will prove whether or not the formula the experts have come up with for energy-efficient homes actually works in our northern climate.

The final challenge is making sure, even with the new standards and technology, the homes built are still affordable. “Affordable housing is the big issue across the province,” says Hart. “So that’s what our biggest challenge is right now, to try and figure that part out.”

Even with the steep learning curve, Hart says he’s excited to be doing the work.



heather.norman@quesnelobserver.com

Like us on Facebook

Just Posted

Convicted animal abuser Catherine Adams to return to Quesnel court next week

Adams is facing a breach of probation charge stemming from a 2015 conviction in Smithers

Northwest Fire Centre open burn ban lifted

Recent rain, cooler temperatures have lowered the region’s fire risk

Telkwa pot plant application passes review

Cannabis company claims new Health Canada regulations are working in its favour

OPINION: Who watches the watchmen?

One of the most common questions I get asked is if I’m scared about the future of media.

BVCS hosts first ever ‘micro-business market’

Who says Dragon’s Den is just for adults?

Kelowna RCMP interrogation video brings home reality in ‘visceral way’: former TRC chairman

Video of Mountie interrogating young Indigenous woman disclosing sexual abuse under fire

Update: Mother dead, child in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Shuswap campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Montreal researchers create audible hockey puck for visually impaired players

Three years ago, Gilles Ouellet came up with the idea for a puck that makes a continuous sound

Former B.C. Greyhound bus drivers head to Penticton for goodbye party

Big bash runs until Sunday, funded by drink cans left behind on busses over the years

Boy, 12, arrested after allegedly pulling a knife on another child at a Surrey park

The child was later released into his parents’ custody as Surrey RCMP continue their investigation

Full-scale search underway for missing kayaker on Okanagan Lake

Kelowna Paddle Centre member Zygmunt Janiewicz, 71, failed to return from his ‘daily kayak’ on the lake

ICBC urging drivers to slow down this May long weekend

Speed is number one cause of car crash fatalities: ICBC

Bucks hammer Raptors 125-103 to take 2-0 playoff series lead

Toronto heads home in a hole after second loss to Milwaukee

Most Read