New home builders in London have a reputation in the Ontario residential construction industry for being innovative and forward thinking. When the Energy Star labelling program launched years back, London quickly achieved one of the highest percentages of adoption by its builders.
The London Home Builders’ Association hosted local energy efficiency projects (LEEP) initiatives in 2007 and 2012. These programs focused on researching emerging technologies that fit our housing systems and would perform reliably for homeowners.
To do this, you have to do it right, right from the start, and you need a solid understanding of building science or “house as a system.” This includes several parts including the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, the building envelope (roof, walls and foundation), insulation, windows, doors and appliances. All of these influence how the house-as-a-system functions including the style and size of home, location and exposure, and occupant behaviour.
The concept of a house-as-a-system is best illustrated by an example. Supplying fresh air was once considered to be simply a matter of opening windows. It was an effective but highly inefficient approach because fresh air came in near the window but wasn’t mixed well in the house and comfort problems occurred with drafts and cold areas.
New homes are designed so that all parts and factors work together to maximize occupant comfort and health while operating quietly and efficiently. In fact, the performance of any single component depends on its relationship with all the other components; and changing one component will have a significant effect on the others.
Going back to that example of opening a window in the winter, it would certainly increase fresh air, but without a mechanism for controlling temperature, the furnace will roar to reheat the room while overheating the rest of the house. Furthermore, introducing cold dry air to the warm moist environment will cause condensation, and it will feel cold and uncomfortable, actually decreasing indoor air quality.
Always exhaust heat and moisture at the source to maintain healthy indoor air quality and avoid condensation, mould and mildew from forming. Always use the bathroom exhaust fan while bathing or showering and the kitchen exhaust fan while cooking or washing dishes by hand. It is also beneficial to run exhaust fans for 30 minutes after the activity has stopped, to clear the air of any residual heat and moisture.
There’s no question that new homes have a huge advantage over older homes when it comes to the science behind house-as-a-system.
- New homes are equipped with sophisticated equipment that controls heat and moisture while also providing unprecedented levels of insulation, sound and weatherproof protection from the harsh outside environment.
- New homes are constructed with low-VOC and hypoallergenic building materials made from environmentally responsible materials and;
- New homes use modern technology to maximize occupant comfort through computerized programming.
Current building practices recognize the relationship between systems in a house and how this affects indoor air quality. The tightness of the building envelope determines the degree to which air infiltrates in and out of the house. Cooking, laundry and washing habits affect the production of moisture and the need for air exchange. Environmental factors such as wind speed and direction can affect heating and ventilation needs. All these factors influence the design and operation of the mechanical subsystems.
The best way to provide comfortable, safe indoor air conditions is through controlled ventilation — exhausting of stale air and bringing in fresh air. Today’s builders understand the science of this interrelation of systems, making new homes comfortable, bright, usable and fitting the lifestyles of today’s families.
By Doug Wastell, President of the London Home Builders‘ Association
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