Beating the Building Code minimums, the easy way

Builders in Canada now have a choice on how to meet the Building Code minimum energy efficiency levels in section 9.36.  Yet more than a year into this code change, builders are continuing to beat themselves up doing compliance the hard way.

The Building Code is a pretty blunt tool when it comes to enforcing minimum standards, but in 2014, the first performance based code was adopted, giving builders increased flexibility in how they choose to reach compliance. Yet many builders still don't take advantage of this, costing them hundreds of dollars on each home.

Take the prescriptive requirement for R50 attic insulation for example.  The code requirement doesn't recognize that only 4% of energy is typically lost through the attic.  Upgrading from R30 to R50 only saves 3 GJ of energy each year in a typical home.  That's less than 3% savings.  At about $50 in extra insulation per GJ saved, this is a costly and ineffective tool for achieving real energy efficiency.

Air leakage however, makes up 21% or more of a typical home's energy loss.  Many builders have made great strides in improving air tightness, with sealed electrical boxes and better attention to details, however the majority of Alberta builders fail to do a simple blower door test to prove the air tightness gained and get energy performance credit for their great work.   A blower door test costs about $100, and average air tightness for a single family home is 1.5 air changes per hour (ACH), a full air change lower than the prescribed value of 2.5 ACH of code.  What does this mean?  A $100 blower door test will unlock 30GJ in savings.  At $3/GJ saved, this is a lot more bang for your buck than the $50/GJ for extra ceiling insulation!

Building a home without a blower door test is leaving money on the table when builders spend hundreds of dollars on insulation and thousands on better windows,  but they don't take advantage of the air tightness they are already achieving.

Buying a new home without a blower door test is just asking to be surprised by your home's energy bills, and air leakage is often linked to discomfort in winter and summer.  An airtight home with good ventilation is the best way to protect your investment and your family, and save money, but sadly more home buyers unknowingly accept poor quality because it's hidden behind the walls and can't be shown without a third party test.

When Builders and homeowners can both save, it's win-win.  Contact 4 Elements today to discuss how we can help you take full advantage of the energy savings you are already investing in.

Image credit Chelsea Morrish