Understanding the Basics of Sustainable Housing
July 05, 2017
With all of the media chatter about sustainable housing, it's often easy to confuse all the terminology and jargon. That's why it's important for a typical homeowner to understand the basics - that way, realistic changes can be made, and viable transformation can take place. Sustainable housing is principally about designing homes that will reduce the overall negative impact on the environment. This includes pre-construction and post-construction home building techniques that will satisfy present-day needs, but without compromising future needs. Some of the basic ideas behind sustainable housing encompass the efficient use of energy, water, land, and other natural resources. As well, there's a focus on dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions; air and water pollution; and anything else that degrades the environment. For a typical homeowner, sustainable housing translates into a home that is energy efficient - a home that provides a high quality living environment, while minimizing energy consumption, and reducing energy waste. They key is applying and implementing wherever possible.
Sustainable Housing and the "Passive House"
While the "Passive House" has been a reality in Europe for many years, Canada is getting quickly on track when it comes to building and construction approaches. Essentially, these houses provide very high performance in terms of energy efficiency - and that includes both airtightness and thermal insulation. A "Passive House" is simply the most cost-efficient house possible. The Passive House is groundbreaking - it demands an innovative approach to building design and construction. With a focus on home energy performance, the Passive House is designed to effectively eliminate heat loss - a major contributor to wasted energy and therefore poor energy efficiency. This is where "super" insulation can make a big difference to a building envelope. Airtightness and ventilation must also be at peak performance in a Passive House. To restrict heat loss and manage air moisture, both must exceed today's conventional construction approaches. In addition, both are essential for ensuring high levels of energy efficiency. The overall idea is to provide the most efficient heating, cooling, and dehumidification possible.
Sustainable Housing and "Net-Zero Energy Housing"
The primary purpose of an Net-Zero Energy (NZE) house is to cut home energy needs and consumption to the minimum. With an in-house renewable energy system, a house can produce energy in an amount that is equal to what is being consumed. The house itself is not "off-grid" - it is linked to public electricity and can supply surplus electricity to the public grid when supply exceeds need. With an NZE house, the energy required from the public grid is offset by the energy produced in house, and over the course of a year, there is actually NET ZERO consumption. Both energy efficiency and energy production are the focus of an NZE home. It all translates into energy conservation, reduced energy-related pollutants, and much reduced greenhouse emissions. NZE homes are high performance homes, offering residential comfort, even when there's a power failure. As for the indoor living environment, an NZE home provides a healthy living space, winter and summer, and without compromising lifestyle needs. In fact, an entire community comprised of NZE homes can have a very substantial positive impact on every aspect of the environment.