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Consumers want greener, high-performing homes…

Doug Kramer, President, Icynene-Lapolla discusses green rating programs and their impact on the home-building industry.

The world is coming to terms with global warming and forcing governments to take rapid steps to reduce carbon emissions. The most recent of these is the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, signed on August 23 by 16 mayors from around the world – including the mayors of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. By signing the agreement, the municipal leaders pledged to enact regulations to ensure new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030. That’s a tall order that will require multiple incentives and programs, some of which are already in place.

Yet many builders wonder whether consumers are on-side with these lofty goals, and if so, which programs or rating systems should builders adopt to meet this new demand?

The shift toward energy efficiency has been apparent for many years, with building codes changing and product rating systems being introduced, by governments and third parties.  Consumer demand has risen as well, as shown by the Canadian Home Builders Association’s (CHBA) 2018 national market research study. Participants identified these top 10 must-have home features:

  1. Walk-in closets
  2. High-efficiency windows
  3. Energy-efficient appliances
  4. Overall energy-efficient home
  5. Kitchen island
  6. Linen closets
  7. Open concept kitchen
  8. Large windows
  9. HRV/ERV air exchange
  10. Certified by an energy program

Consumers expressed a clear preference for energy efficiency products and certification by an energy program. Clearly Canadians are familiar with these programs, some of which have been in operation for more than 20 years.  The two best-known nationally regulated programs are EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR. Here are a few of their achievements:

  • 1 million homes have been rated using the EnerGuide Rating System
  • 800,000 efficiency retrofits resulted from EnerGuide home evaluations
  • 189 million square metres of floor space in Canada is registered in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager
  • 90% of Canadians recognize the ENERGY STAR and find it to be the most helpful tool for determining energy efficiency

These programs have brought energy efficiency into the mainstream, so that better-quality insulation, high performance windows, and air-tight construction methods are all industry standards today.

Thinking “Above Code”: Spray Foam Insulation

One of these building products – spray foam insulation(SPF)– has already evolved to become one of the most energy-efficient materials home builders can use. SPF insulates and seals air in one step, while also helping with moisture and sound control. While many SPF brands have a high global warming potential (GWP), Icynene-Lapolla developed Icynene iProSeal HFO and Lapolla Foam-LOK 2000 4G that are being used successfully.

In 2020, the Canadian government will ban the use of blowing agents with high GWP, putting Icynene-Lapolla ahead of the curve. Its water-blown-based formulation boasts a GWP of 1, in contrast to conventional SPF brands with a GWP of more than 1000. Icynene-Lapolla saw the direction governments were going in and updated their products accordingly, long before it was required. Should you as a builder be thinking the same way? The short answer is yes.

History shows that what is initially touted by governments as a responsible, energy-efficient product or program, eventually makes it into code. According to the Natural Resources Canada website: “Typical features of homes certified with the blue ENERGY STAR symbol…such as energy-efficient windows and higher insulation levels also help to improve the overall comfort of the home and aid in creating more balanced temperatures.” Canada’s National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings, was updated in 2017. Codes set by government bodies are largely concerned with safety while energy programs, or above-code programs, are focused on energy savings. Together the building codes and the above-code programs that rate homes and award them with certifications, are meant to steer builders and consumers toward a happier, greener and more sustainable future. The codes vary province from province, with BC integrating changes to energy efficiency standards in an incremental way with a “Step Code” and others relying on tried and true programs like Energy Star and R-2000 to set forth a package of requirements that goes above code. Thus, code change, above-code programs and labeling are frequently tied together.  In fact, there are several places where various provincial codes specifically mention some aspect of an above-code program as a compliance alternative. For example, a registered R-2000 or Energy Star house might be deemed to comply with the energy provisions of the Code in some provinces.

Above-Code Programs in Canada

There are plenty of above-code programs to consider, keeping in mind that some require contractors to join a trade association or buying group or contract with a supplier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the program brings with it a level of authority and credibility. Even better if it can provide proof of cost savings to the consumer.

Here’s a quick tour of the major programs in play:

  • R-2000 is a 35-year-old program developed by the federal government in conjunction with the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA). Certified R-2000 homes are on average 50 percent more energy-efficient than typical new homes and appeal to value- and environmentally conscious consumers. Builders can access ongoing training in building science, and leading-edge technologies and clients get third-party verification by an energy advisor and an R-2000 certificate issued by the Government of Canada. The feds provide some funding but the CHBA raises other revenues though fees to builders, consultants and others tied to the program. Membership in the CHBA is not a requirement but it is encouraged.
  • The ENERGY STAR program was originally developed by the Department of Energy (DOE) in the US. The federal government licensed use of the name and technical requirements of the program for use in Canada and in turn negotiated regional delivery arrangements with “service organizations” across the country. Some are industry associations, others are private companies. There are also arrangements with utilities and others to promote energy efficiency goals under the Energy Star banner. The Energy Star label is used to describe a variety of products that go beyond houses, including so-called “white good” appliances, consumer electronics and other energy consuming products.  Each product category is its own program with different financial arrangements and delivery mechanisms.
  • The LEED program is one developed by the Canadian Green Building Council, a private organization of stakeholders with interests in energy efficient/green construction. It is self-funded through fees, sponsorships and training revenues. The LEED program has primarily been used for commercial buildings, less so for residential builds.
  • The Net Zero Energy Program was developed by the Net Zero Energy Coalition and the Canadian Home Builders Association.  The program receives major funding from several major sponsors with specific interests in promoting their products and/or their proprietary technologies.
  • A few smaller programs with links to regional associates and private interests include Built Green, Green Globes, and other programs.

If you’re trying to get in front of updates to building codes and grow your business at the same time, where should you be focusing your energy?

What to Consider

It is undeniable that consumers are looking for energy efficient homes in large numbers and adopting products like low GWP spray foam insulation will put you ahead of the curve when those energy efficiency standards become part of the official building code. Signing on to any of the aforementioned programs will be a bigger decision, based on a cost and benefit analysis of your company.

Are any of these programs going to dominate in the medium to longer term? That is more difficult to answer. The pace of code change is becoming too rapid to predict with any degree of certainty, but there’s no denying where governments and codes are heading. While these programs are biased toward renewable energy, the CHBA survey results show that Canadians are already onboard and ready to forgo cost savings in the name of energy efficiency, and as a hedge against climate change. Are you, as a builder, willing to take a similar step, and align your company with above-code programs?  If so, you will be taking part in a major transformation of the housing market in this country.

About the Author:

Doug Kramer has been a leading figure in the spray foam insulation and roofing products industry for almost 30 years with manufacturing, operations, sales and marketing experience in a broad variety of elastomeric coatings and polyurethane foam for construction. He is currently the President of Icynene-Lapolla, two long-standing SPF brands that merged to provide a strong unified approach to delivering superior products, technical knowledge, customer service and sales support to Icynene’s and Lapolla’s customers and consumers. Prior to the merge, Doug was President of Lapolla Industries, Inc. and was also its Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to Lapolla Industries, Inc. he served at Foam Enterprises, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BASF Corporation. Mr. Kramer held various positions at Foam Enterprise as well as IPI and Neogard, where he began his career in 1989. He’s a veteran in the sector, former board member with SPFA and current board member of CPI’s Spray Foam Coalition (SFC).


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