By Marc Huminilowycz

New EnerQuality program targets multi-family construction

It’s official: Ontario homebuyers of all ages are looking for energy efficiency when purchasing a new home.

According to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) 2018 Homebuyer Preference Study conducted by Avid Ratings Canada, energy efficiency is five of the top 10 “must haves” for recent Canadian new-home buyers. In Ontario, where 1,600 people across the province responded to the survey, “must have” and “really want” home features included overall energy efficiency (91%), high-efficiency windows (91%), HRV/ERVs (84%) and certification by a recognized program such as Energy Star (85%). The primary reasons for wanting overall energy efficiency was lower utility costs (60%), followed by concern for the environment (15%).

These statistics come as no surprise to EnerQuality, Canada’s market leader in residential green building programs, which has certified more than 100,000 energy-efficient homes since its founding in 1998 (90,000+ of those Energy Star-certified since 2005). Up until now, the organization has focused on single-family home construction. Recently, with growing demand for mid- and high-rise homes, the organization broadened its reach to engage this market segment with the introduction of Energy Star Multifamily in October 2018.

It’s time

“Let’s face it, housing is expensive. More and more people, especially in our urban centres, are looking for affordable options and choosing to buy a condominium,” says EnerQuality President Corey McBurney. “We want to support mid/high-rise builders just as we’ve supported low-rise builders for the last 20 years. That’s what Energy Star is all about.”

EnerQuality, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Enbridge and Union Gas, is working with leading Ontario builders to bring the program to market. “There’s no question that consumers value energy efficiency,” says McBurney. “No surprise, saving money was cited by respondents as the primary reason. What’s interesting is that so-called ‘green living’ is a significant priority for Canadians, especially younger homebuyers. They want quality and value, to be sure, but they are also keen to lower their carbon footprint and protect our environment. Energy Star Multifamily fits neatly into EnerQuality’s mission to facilitate housing innovation.

“Ontario’s home building industry has an enviable reputation for leading the way when it comes to sustainability,” notes McBurney, who adds, “it was visionary leadership within the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) and the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance (CEEA) who established EnerQuality 20 years ago.”

The organization creates and manages market-based certification programs like Energy Star, extensive builder education and delivers Enbridge and Union Gas’ Savings By Design and Optimum Home programs.

Energy Star Should Be An Option

And McBurney firmly believes Energy Star Multifamily (like Energy Star for New Homes) should remain an option for builders, not a requirement. “Energy Star is strictly a voluntary program; no municipality should ever mandate it. A far more effective policy is to encourage participation with incentives. Reducing development charges, giving density bonuses and/or fast-tracking planning approvals for Energy Star builders should all be considered. I sincerely believe that housing innovation happens when industry and government collaborate to find common ground and achieve the common good.”

As with its new-home counterpart, Energy Star Multifamily is a third-party certification for buildings that are built and verified to meet a set of technical requirements, chief of which is the energy target: 15% more efficient than the 2017 Ontario Building Code. “High-performance building relies on integrated design, energy modelling and the builder’s experience,” says McBurney. “Verification provides the quality assurance that the building is built as designed, completing the process and leading to certification.”

According to McBurney, Energy Star offers a simple certification process for builders. “Builders respect it because it’s streamlined and affordable. It has all the integrity of a government program minus the complexity,” he says. “The government’s role is to set the standard and oversee EnerQuality. Our job is to work with builders, architects and engineers to certify buildings and to tell the Energy Star story to homebuyers.”

The pilot was developed in conjunction with NRCan. “We are proud to work with EnerQuality to deliver the program,” says Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi. “Energy efficiency has benefits in our homes, neighbourhoods, environment, economy and wallets. Federal investments in innovative energy-efficient projects and programs drive economic growth, contribute to our clean energy future and create high-quality jobs for Canadians. The program is intended to reduce consumers’ energy costs and contribute to the Government of Canada’s climate change commitments, while creating skilled jobs for Canadians and stimulating innovation in the multifamily housing sector, an area where there has been an increasing demand.” NRCan and EnerQuality are addressing a significant market opportunity and program gap.

As to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that could be reduced, estimates put it at roughly 60 tonnes annually for a building with a floor space of 15,000 square metres. “The savings depend on building characteristics, which vary significantly depending on the building’s end use—for example, energy-using systems and equipment, floor space and so on,” the Minister explains.

Certification

“For builders, certification means building to a higher standard and being an industry leader,” Minister Sohi notes. “For homeowners and tenants, it means superior energy performance and lower energy costs.”

As of mid-December, three Ontario builders (all OHBA members) are committing new high-rise projects to the program: Molinaro Group, Reid’s Heritage Homes and Fram Building Group. Molinaro has been on board with sustainable building for several years, including the construction of two condo projects powered by geothermal energy. An upcoming 22-storey, 162-unit project in Burlington will be built for Energy Star certification.

“Energy Star is a great program. Easy and inexpensive, with a focus on energy conservation, it’s a recognized brand that consumers understand,” says Molinaro Group President Vince Molinaro, who estimates that reaching the program’s target of 15% better than Code will add a modest premium of only 1% to the building cost. “It’s a good place to start, and I think it will result in high buy-in from Ontario builders. We’re looking to lead the way and inspire others.”

Karina Gould, MP for Burlington and Minister of Democratic Institutions, applauds the program for being an innovative solution to support clean growth, lower people’s energy bills and fight climate change. “It is great to see developers in Burlington planning green projects that will help to reduce pollution, encourage innovation and work to make Burlington a cleaner and healthier community,” she says.

Reid’s is also no stranger to sustainable building, having constructed thousands of Energy Star homes across Ontario, as well as a number of net-zero and net-zero-ready homes. The first of six mid-rise buildings in its upcoming “1000 Lackner” 59-unit project in Kitchener will be part of the Energy Star Multifamily program.

“We were already heading in this direction, so it was really a no-brainer for us,” says Reid’s Director of Innovation and Integration Jennifer Weatherston. “We like the program because it’s a collaboration with others versus a directive. Continual feedback from EnerQuality allows our project to shape and mold itself to discover nuances before it becomes scalable.”

The Reid’s project will focus on conservation and insulation using LED lighting, “compartmentalized” suites that include an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) instead of a conventional Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner unit, punch-out windows versus full glazing, and sophisticated energy modelling. “Energy Star offers really good branding to consumers, which will give them confidence in their decision to buy one of our suites,” says Weatherston.

Raj Saini, Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, welcomes the partnership between the Government of Canada and EnerQuality. “It’s great news for my riding, that one of the first buildings in the program is being constructed right here in the City of Kitchener,” he says. “The inclusion of multi-family high-rise buildings in Energy Star will allow more people to make a positive environmental impact locally by reducing their carbon footprint. This program will also have a positive economic impact on our community, as people reduce their energy consumption and save money in return.”

According to EnerQuality’s McBurney, Energy Star offers builders not just a powerful brand to engage their consumers, but a system to build better buildings and stay out front of the building code. “Because Energy Star is reachable, builders can build to the standard today,” he says. “The number of mid- and high-rise buildings is growing every day, so it’s high time that consumers should be able to benefit from the Energy Star program, regardless of whether they buy a single or multi-family home.”

Originally published in Winter 2019 Ontario Home Builder

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