A local construction company was recognized last month when the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) celebrated the residential home builders of Northern British Columbia during the Northern BC Housing of Excellence Awards, held March 7 in Prince George.
During the ceremony, Quesnel custom home builders Icon Homes were presented with the award for Best Custom Home under $500,000.
Icon Homes owner Joe Hart built the company’s award-winning house as a home for himself and his wife. Construction on the home began in 2018 and finished in 2019. The home was built with the B.C. Housing Energy Step Code in mind and with the lofty goal of building a Net Zero-certified final product.
The B.C. Energy Step Code program was developed by B.C. Housing and is a voluntary provincial standard, which was enacted in April 2017 to help home builders put practices into place in the construction of new developments to create more energy-efficient homes.
The Step Code is made up of five steps, which signify energy-efficiency targets for new construction projects. The first step denotes “improved” energy-efficiency performance in a residential building when compared to the standard B.C. Building Code, while the second step signifies a project to be 10 per cent more efficient, step three is 20 per cent more efficient, step four is 40 per cent more efficient, and step five represents a Net Zero ready home.
A Net Zero home is one which produces as much energy as it consumes and tends to be 40 to 60 per cent more efficient than a home built to the current B.C. Building Code.
The end goal of the B.C. Housing Step Code and industry’s increasing education and development surrounding residential energy-efficient building practices is to get builders moving in that direction ahead of the B.C. Building Code requiring new developments to be Net Zero homes starting in 2032.
Hart had hoped to build the structure to be Net Zero energy certified, but, unfortunately, complications arose due to a lack of timely and available information regarding specifics involved in the mechanics of the home which are required for Net Zero certification and it did not qualify, although it has all the benefits of a certified Net Zero home.
“At the time, because it was so new, there wasn’t a lot of assistance in terms of mechanical advice; even the energy advisor we worked with, it was his first house so he was learning as well, so some of the choices we made on the mechanical side is why we didn’t get certified,” said Hart. “Now we’ve refined the building process, and we are on our third Net Zero house now and I’ve tweaked how we’re doing it, what we’re doing, and we’re getting better and more cost-effective as we go along.”
Originally, Hart hadn’t planned on building a Net Zero home, but after attending a Local Energy Efficacy Partnerships (LEEP) event with his company, Icon Homes, he decided to make his project as energy-efficient as he could.
“The federal government has a program called LEEP that they run around the country, and we just happened to be invited to one of those events before we started this house — at the time, I didn’t really think a Net Zero home was something that the average person could strive for, but LEEP is a program that encourages builders to build higher-performance homes and there are incentives involved and there’s lots of assistance and that sort of thing, so I got involved in it and that’s what got us going down the path,” said Hart. “It kind of then became ‘let’s see how far we can take this.’”
LEEP is a program put on through Natural Resources Canada that aims to accelerate energy-efficient construction by minimizing the time and risk involved in identifying and implementing innovations in the industry to help builders construct higher-performance homes faster and more affordably.
The LEEP program consists of bringing builders together in workshops to compare energy-efficient technologies and select and implement those which are most suitable to their region. LEEP also holds a Technology Forum, which brings industry experts who have been selected by builders together to answer questions posed by builders. Builders then share the results, whether they be successes or pitfalls of the implemented technologies, with other builders to reach the common goal of building energy-efficient homes quickly and affordably in their regions.
According to the CHBA website, there are only seven Net Zero or Net Zero-ready certified homes currently completed in the province. Hart believes the demand for Net Zero homes will grow as more individuals learn about their benefits, and he as already been approached about possibly building a Net Zero home in Quesnel.
“The reality is that as temperatures become more extreme, it’s just going to make for a more comfortable and more energy-efficient home,” said Hart. “If you build something that’s substandard now, even though it meets code, 10 years from now, the house is going to be not anywhere near the standard of homes being built.”
Hart, who previously served as the CHBA Northern British Columbia president from 2017-19, last week accepted the position of CHBA BC president. Hart says he is looking forward to being a voice for CHBA BC’s membership and hopes to help inspire youth to consider a career in the trades, as well as to continue to be a voice for builders in the north of the province.
“I’m hoping to be able to go into schools and talk to kids about why they should consider getting into the trades,” said Hart. “We have such a void of skilled trades coming up that if we can encourage kids to go in that direction, it would be, in my opinion, an awesome career move for them. I think that it is really important that there is a voice from the north and that the politicians making policy and rules about what we have to do hear it, so I’ve always made it a point of getting our view out so that they understand that things are a little different in the north than they are elsewhere. It has been, for me, really rewarding in that sense.”