Have you noticed a spike in your electricity or gas bill? With so many of us working from home offices, energy consumption has been top of mind for homeowners in Edmonton. It can be tricky—but not impossible—to retrofit a beautiful old home built in the fifties or sixties when the oil and gas sectors weren’t under fire for their emissions. It’s worth the investment, though. You don’t have to sacrifice the charm or character of your house to trim your heating bill. And, if you’re building a new garden suite, infill home, or rental suite in your basement, you’d be wise to consider the options for a Net-Zero Home.

What are Net-Zero Homes?

In 2017 the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) officially launched the concept of Net-Zero Homes. The Net-Zero and Net-Zero Ready certification provide homeowners with a voluntary and affordable option to invest in energy conservation measures that go beyond those mandated by regular building codes, significantly reducing operating costs, energy use and environmental impact. Source: CHBAThe introduction of the policy was to create a way of measuring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It also aimed to make consumers more aware of how they could utilize readily available resources—like solar and wind power—to build passive energy homes. In other words, to build a home that doesn’t consume more energy than it can produce…Beyond training your teenagers to switch off the lights when they leave a room and not stare into the open refrigerator for five minutes, there are some creative ways to achieve that, whether you’re building from the ground up or renovating your home. Alberta has a reputation for long, cold winters, but it’s also known for its beautiful blue skies. Solar power is a shoo-in if you’re trying to heat your home with a free source of energy—after you’ve invested in the basics. But there are other options, as well.

3 Options For Building a Net-Zero Home

There are so many beautiful and diverse neighbourhoods in Edmonton. Generations of families have grown up on these avenues. But some of the homes were built before “carbon emissions” were household words. It’s not impossible to upgrade an existing home to comply with Net-Zero recommendations, but it’s much easier to plan for a Net-Zero Home at the outset.If you’re considering building a garden suite or a rental property, here are three easy choices you can make that will save you money. We have more recommendations based on our years of experience, and we always encourage our clients to explore all their options. They might be more costly upfront, but they’ll save you money—and the environment—down the road. 

1. Capitalize on your window of opportunity

Of all the energy-efficient alternatives we suggest, this is your biggest window of opportunity. Yes, pun intended…You don’t have to sacrifice heat loss to enjoy floor-to-ceiling windows for optimal sunlight. They might look like a big investment upfront, but windows and doors are a significant heat sink—and expense—in a home. Make sure to do your research or ask your builder about options based on your location. It’s a common misconception that smaller windows are more energy-efficient. In fact, it’s the frames, and not the panes of glass, that can cost you money in the long run, especially if not correctly installed. Gas-injected double and triple-paned windows can protect your home from extreme heat and cold while providing you with natural light.

2. Work from the ground up

As custom home designers, we enjoy exploring the aesthetic possibilities for your living space. We want to help you create a home, garden, or rental suite that fits your needs. It’s easy to overlook some of the less appealing aspects of building a home, especially your foundation’s design. So, when you’re trying to save money on heating and cooling options, be sure to ask your builder about the proper insulation for your entire home and start from the ground up. We recommend expanded polystyrene (EPS), but any alternative that gives you a thermal break will stop the flow of cold air into your home.EPS is particularly valuable if you’re renting out your basement suite. Your tenant won’t rack up hefty heating bills if the space is well insulated.

3. Consider geothermal

The cost of heating and cooling an average home in North America accounts for more than 50% of our annual energy consumption. While a geothermal system might not provide you with the gust of warm air you’ve come to expect from your oil or gas furnace, it creates a comfortable, clean atmosphere year-round. It’s an ideal option for a Net-Zero home. The system uses the temperature of the ground to regulate the temperature in your home. During the winter, tubes filled with a liquid refrigerant absorb the heat from the ground and deliver it to your home. In the summer, the system works in reverse. The tubes absorb heat from your home and bring cool air back. Geothermal units are costly to install, and we don’t recommend them as a retrofit, but if you’re building from the ground up, they’re a smart alternative to a natural gas system.

Ask your builder about Net-Zero options

The science behind building a Net-Zero—or passive energy—home is changing rapidly. Keeping current with insulation innovations, modular walls, solar panels, and geothermal systems can be challenging. But your builder should be keeping up with those innovations. If you want to build a Net-Zero home or update your older home to ease up on energy consumption—without sacrificing comfort—we have a solution for you. Contact us to get started.