By Tracy Hanes

The winds of change are blowing through the province’s new home industry as the 2012 Ontario Building Code takes effect, the Energy Star bar is raised higher and an increased emphasis on “green” comes to the renovation market.

Judging by the sessions at the OHBA Builder and Renovator Forum in Collingwood in early February, the transition is not going to be an easy one — and builders won’t be the only ones feeling the pain. Municipalities, building inspectors and consumers will also struggle to understand what the new regulations mean.

Builders who hope to survive will have to be prepared for ongoing change, be flexible and adopt a practice of continual improvement, said the panellists and speakers at the forum.

Here are some of the key points:

1. Building Gets Scientific

Under the 2012 Ontario Building Code, all new homes will have to be built to current Energy Star (EnerGuide 80 standards) with the primary aim to improve energy efficiency and water management.

Understanding building science is going to be critical and builders who haven’t done so yet will likely have to hire a building scientist. There will be greater emphasis on designers to manage code changes in their plans.

HVAC systems are going to get complex, warned John Straube of the Building Science Corporation Inc. Systems will have to be downsized to deal with lower heating and cooling loads, but it’s tough to find smaller furnaces in North America. Builders might have to look at combination heating systems, such as hot water and space heating. There will be a need to balance increased airtightness with good ventilation to prevent condensation and mould.

“The building enclosure is a big part of the equation and it’s actually solved, but space heating will be the biggest problem,” Straube said, adding that the prime directive will be to look at the house as a system “and not get carried away with just energy. You have to balance comfort and aesthetics too.”

2. Renos Go Green

EnerQuality will launch a Green Renovator Program, according to Pauline Lip,  program director at EnerQuality. A training program will instruct renovators on how to implement and sell green and will provide certification. The program will address energy efficiency and water conservation with a pilot to be launched this spring.

New additions built on to older houses is one problem area, said Brendan Charters of Eurodale Developments, a high-end renovation company. An energy-efficient, airtight new addition tied to a drafty, inefficient old space or outdated heating/cooling system just doesn’t work properly. Charters said it will be increasingly important for renovators to have discussions with homeowners upfront so they can budget for better insulation, windows, etc. in the older building as part of a reno.

3. New EnerGuide Scale

Corey Peabody of Natural Resources Canada says all energy systems for the house, including solar (not only space heating and hot water heating) will be addressed by the new scale, which will be “more intuitive, easy to understand.” The scale, which is based on gigajoules, undergoes public review in 2012. A launch date is yet to be determined.

4. Energy Star Takes a Step Up

Builders who embraced Energy Star and wish to continue to earn that label will have to build homes 20 percent more efficient than they do currently.

The exception is that builders who register their homes as Energy Star by June 2012 will be allowed to sell the homes with the label based on the previous standards and will be able to do so until 2014.

Sean Mason of Mason Homes, one of the province’s first Energy Star builders, estimated the new version of Energy Star would add $2,000 to $4,000 in costs, but reviewing and changing practices could reduce that cost.

“Be curious, be consultative with your trades, your HVAC people and hire a good building scientist,” said Mason.

The GreenHouse label will return to vogue:  This label combines energy efficiency with water conservation and air quality standards. It offers third party certification, but isn’t as onerous or expensive as LEED.

Mason says builders shouldn’t be concerned about too many labels; they should develop their own brand based on the specifications of Energy Star or GreenHouse. Be prepared for GreenHouse standards coming to multi-unit residential projects as municipalities and governments demand them, he added.

5. R-2000 Revamp

In January 2014, R-2000 buildings will be required to be 50 percent more energy efficient than a code-built one, with a building envelope 25 percent tighter. The best-in-class standards will address air conditioning, micro-power generation, solar thermal, etc. which will add cost “but that shouldn’t be an issue as a best-in-class building,” Peabody said.

Buyers still don’t care much about labels; for most homebuyers, location and design are still priorities although their desire to reduce energy use is growing, as are their concerns for the environment, said Straube.

However, most people don’t ask about the benefits of an energy-efficient house at the sales office; it’s something they realize once they have moved in and start getting bills, said Gary Botelho of Empire Communities, which builds to Energy Star standard and beyond. Most buyers don’t want specifics about EnerGuide numbers or R-values, they just want to know their house is efficient.

Botelho said inhabitants have a huge impact on how a house performs and builders will need to educate buyers on how to properly maintain and operate high-efficiency homes.

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