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Climate Change: How home builders and residents are adapting to a warming world

Climate Change: How home builders and residents are adapting to a warming world

Diplomat Times (VANCOUVER) — The two-story family home with a classic design and wooden cladding blends in with its neighbors, but its thick, insulated walls, airtightness, solar panels, heat pump and highly efficient windows make it a home built for a warming world.

The home in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood generates more energy than it consumes and demonstrates how a highly efficient building is also more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as bouts of extreme heat, and smoke from wildfires that persisted well into this autumn in southwestern British Columbia.

The Net Zero-certified home was built to standards beyond those of any building code in Canada. While they’re changing, Canadian building codes have generally been developed to produce homes for cold climates rather than heat resiliency, said Chris Higgins, senior green building designer with the City of Vancouver.

“For so long in Canada, we’ve been focused on trying to keep warm,” Higgins said.

“Now, summers are getting hotter, and we’re having to adapt.”

The Net Zero home and others like it show that some consumers and builders are taking adaptation into their own hands with design and materials fit for a new climate, with the added benefit of boosting efficiency and cutting energy costs.

But many existing properties, from single-family homes to condos in towering skyscrapers, will need upgrades to meet the challenge.

A prolonged heat wave that sent temperature records tumbling across British Columbia in June 2021 underscored the importance of climate-resilient housing.

A report by B.C.’s coroners service attributed more than 600 deaths that summer to record-breaking heat, finding most people died in homes that were ill-suited for temperatures that spiked into the high 30s and beyond for days without relief.

Standing outside the Net Zero home, builder Paul Lilley explains why encasing it with insulation, ensuring it has a very high airtightness rating and installing highly efficient doors and windows mean the building loses heat more slowly in the winter and takes much longer to absorb heat in the summer than a standard one.

Those features also mean the home’s mechanical requirements for heating, cooling and ventilation are much lower than a code-minimum building, said Lilley, principal and general manager at Kingdom Builders, which finished the home in 2021.

“As seasonal highs and lows get more extreme, this home is set up to handle that.”

Several windows are shrouded by deciduous trees and foliage that lose leaves in the winter, allowing more sunlight in, while providing shading in the summer.

“Why build a code-minimum house now, and then (it’s) an energy hog in 10 to 20 years?” Lilley added. “Whereas, if you build a house like this today, if you’re going to sell it in 10 to 20 years, you’ve already got a house that meets the future standard.”

The Net Zero home cost about five per cent more to build than a code-minimum counterpart would have, said Lilley, although it doesn’t have a basement.

The supply of Canadian-made windows and other components certified to high energy efficiency standards has improved in recent years, he said, helping to reduce the cost of shipping materials from the more established European market.

Vancouver architect Bryn Davidson agreed the gap between the cost to build a highly energy efficient home and a standard one is shrinking, at least in Vancouver.

“When you look at places around the world that have adopted Passive House or other kinds of efficiency standards, after four or five years of doing it, you get to a point where it doesn’t really cost much more than the status quo,” he said.

“And you’re getting a payback (with) a more comfortable and durable building that also has low operating costs,” said Davidson, co-founder and design lead at Lanefab, which builds energy efficient laneway homes as well as larger houses.