Sweetfern Update: Building a High Performance Home
What you are building..is state of the art, the best of the best and costs accordingly to construct. .. .For the Kingston area you are like Panasonic, slightly ahead of the times. I do not think there would be 10 homes in Frontenac county built as green as yours will be and that will count for value down the road. — Mike Scrannage, Realtor
A few weeks ago we had an appraiser review our building plans and do an assessment of what our house will be worth when it’s completed. His job was to compare the potential market value to our construction cost estimates so that we could justify our request for construction financing.
In other words, we had to convince the mortgage broker that the amount of money we were asking for would result in a house of that value.
But the appraiser had concerns. Our cost per square foot, he told us, was much higher than comparable homes in the region. What was driving up the cost?
The simple answer: Energy Efficiency
In essence we’re shooting for as close to passivhaus as we can reasonably get given that we have a) walls of windows and b) a budget.
“A Passivhaus is a building in which thermal comfort can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling the fresh air flow required for a good indoor air quality, without the need for additional recirculation of air.” – Passivhaus Institut (PHI)
But we had to explain that in detail so that the appraiser and mortgage broker would understand it. Here’s a slightly modified version of what I wrote for them —
Building a High-Performance Home
Our house will be an extraordinary example of how spending a little bit extra on construction and design will pay off several-fold in resale value, operational costs, and overall long-term savings.
Our goal, shared by our architects and builder, is to place our home into the top 5-10% of energy-efficient homes as ranked by Canada’s EnerGuide Standards —
It is true that to build a high-performance energy-efficient home can cost 10-20% more than standard built-to-code construction.
But in a high-performance house, the return on investment begins the day you move in.
Energy modeling that has been applied to our construction shows that we can expect to save up to 80% on our utility bills for heating and cooling.
When you amortize the one-time construction premium over the life of a mortgage and factor in the savings on utility bills, simple math shows that we will save money year-over-year compared to a less-expensive home that’s built just to code.
This savings will only increase as utility rates rise.
Once we add solar panels, our home will become truly net-zero, generating more energy than we use. Solar modeling has already been performed and shows that a 10kw installation is possible. Through the Ontario Microfit program, the installation will pay for itself within 8 years and will generate $84,000 in profit over its 20 year lifespan.
In other words, this house will be making money.
The Economic Sweet Spot
Every penny spent on energy-savings will pay for itself.
Our architects at Solares are experts in high-performance design. We’ve also engaged ReNu Building Science to perform detailed energy modeling on the house. Solares and ReNu are making sure that everything from HVAC to the size of roof overhangs are selected and designed with energy-efficiency in mind.
Throughout the entire process, their job has been to keep us within the “economic sweet spot” –
The price point below which the installation of more energy-saving features provides a measurable return on investment, and above which they returned no economic benefit.
High Performance Features
*Note that final selection has not been made on product models. Examples below represent the current thinking, but energy modeling, cost comparisons and construction details will determine final selection.
- Bakor Blueskin is a high-performance self-adhering air and vapour barrier that prevents heat loss as well as moisture damage caused by condensation inside walls.
- Insulation – Far exceeds code standards: Walls R-30, Floors R-20-30, Roof R-50.
- High Performance Windows – triple glazed, argon-filled panes provide extraordinary insulative value compared to most windows — R-5 for smaller windows R-8-9 for large window walls.
- Fibreglass Window Framing combines strength with very low levels of conductivity, without adding thermal breaks. Fibreglass is the most environmentally friendly system due to its long-life, durability and low embodied energy (energy to produce and transport).
- Zehnder* ComfoAir 200 HRV – is a high-performance heat-recovery ventilation (HRV) system that supplies heat and fresh air to the house. It extracts heat from the outgoing air with up to 95% efficiency and provides ventilation up to 118 cfm. As well it has EC direct-current fans that provide dramatically improved electrical efficiency over standard AC fans. This model has been selected as optimum for our house based on energy modeling.
- Mitsubishi Reversible Air Source Heat Pump (Mr. Slim)– Using heat transfer rather than fuel to create heat, this single source cooling and heating unit provides up to 70% energy savings over a traditional furnace and air conditioner. Unlike forced-air furnaces, this small unit will be concealed in the ceiling.
- Mitsubishi Zuba H2i Outdoor Condensing Unit – operates efficiently at -35C (See these two videos for details on the Mitsubishi system: Zuba & Mr. Slim)
- Energy Star Appliances – All of our appliances are being selected based on the highest Energy Star ratings.
This snazzy creature is the AO Smith Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater
It reduces water heating cost by drawing on environmental heat, and at the same time dehumidifies and cools the surrounding air. For maximum energy savings, we will install this in the laundry / mech room to take advantage of the heat exhaust from the condensing dryer, freezer, and other equipment.
After reading what I wrote, the appraiser tacked the entire document onto his assessment, and sent it off to the mortgage broker, who in turn, approved our financing.
The idea of extreme energy efficiency really hasn’t caught on in the mainstream. Home owners, builders, banks, realtors, even appraisers aren’t aware of the advances in technology and building techniques that go into a high-performance home and, more importantly, how quickly those things pay for themselves in energy savings.
That tells me, there’s still a lot of educating left to do.