New Builds #1: Prior planning translates into future savings on new home construction

Josh Silver is taking a break from his home energy improvements for the summer to focus on new builds — and what Islanders need to know to make their future homes as energy efficient as possible, starting before the shovel even hits the dirt.

Silver has been taking CBC P.E.I. along on his personal quest to make improvements at his 12-year-old Charlottetown home, to save energy and money.

In Bringing Home Savings: New Builds, he’s going to introduce us to some homeowners who are on their own energy-efficiency journeys.

Decisions for 100 years

Silver said the Island is experiencing a building boom in 2021, making it even more important to raise awareness about making energy-efficient decisions.

“Really important to me, and energy efficiency, and our community and Earth as a whole, is that these homes we’re building today are going to be around statistically for about 100 years,” Silver said.

“Those energy decisions are going to be with us for 100 years, so we’re going to pay the price for any deficiencies.”

Josh Silver is taking a break from his home energy improvements for the summer to focus on new builds. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Silver said that also means 100 years of energy bills.  

“So whatever kind of oil, electricity, whatever we’re using to make that house run, we’re going to have to do that over the next 100 years,” Silver said.

“If oil bills are expensive today, think what they’re going to be 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now. It’s going to be staggering. We want to stay ahead of that curve, make really good informed decisions.”

Silver said it’s also important for homeowners to understand P.E.I.’s new building code, and what it means for energy efficiency. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

New building code

Silver said it’s also important for homeowners to understand the National Building Code that now applies to all new buildings on P.E.I., and what that means for energy efficiency.

What is that going to cost you now? But alternatively, what’s it going to save you in the long run?—Josh Silver

“For the most part, the new building code has basically doubled the energy-efficient requirements,” Silver said.

For example, he said, old regulations didn’t even specify a minimum R-value for attics. “There was no requirement whatsoever. So we’ve boosted that up to R-52, which is a significant amount of insulation. So those are great steps forward.”

Silver said the energy decisions that are being made for new builds will be with that home for the next 100 years, barring a future retrofit, which could be costly. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Silver said the new standards in the building code are a good first step, but he’s encouraging P.E.I. homeowners to aim higher. 

“I do want to caution people: The building code is the minimum. So what I’m going to be pushing for in this series is, let’s look beyond that,” Silver said.

“Let’s look at some financial implications. What is that going to cost you now? But alternatively, what’s it going to save you in the long run?”

Preserving trees

Silver said Islanders looking to build a new energy-efficient home should also think about preserving trees, rather than clearing a building lot, if possible.  

“Typically what a developer does is take a bulldozer, and push everything down, and make it easy on them to build,” Silver said. 

“If we could take a little bit of time, and there’s already trees there, that’s a significant advantage for homeowners. You can offset your heating bill by about 20 per cent.”

This is one of the energy-efficient homes that Silver will be visiting during the series. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )

Silver said deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the fall can help with energy savings.

“When we want shade, when we want our house to be cool, Mother Nature puts out leaves and has a beautiful shade canopy, and it makes our house cool,” Silver said. 

“When we want our home to be warm, those leaves drop and the sun can go right through and heat our home. So it’s a natural heating and cooling element that doesn’t cost us anything.”

Silver said the new building code has basically doubled the energy-efficient requirements. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Silver said another consideration is the size of the home being built.

“Probably stating the obvious, the smaller your home is, the less utilities you have to use to run it, the less it’s going to cost you to build for labour and materials,” Silver said.  

“If you can just slow down for a minute, think about what your priorities as a family are, what you need out of a home, really think about where you’re going to be 10, 20, 40 years from now.” 

Silver said investments upfront can save a homeowner for decades, such as this heat pump hot water heater, and make the home easier to sell. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

“Those are really important decisions that typically, through the eyes of a carpenter, we’ve been missing for my lifetime as a carpenter.” 

Window placement

Silver said choosing the right windows, and where they are placed, is also important.

“Window placement is huge. We have tons of free energy. We just need to be smart enough to harness that,” Silver said.

“We want to minimize our windows on the north, and maximize our windows on the south. If we can do that, we can radically, between 30 and 60 per cent, reduce our heating costs.” 

‘So if I live there for 50 years, great for me, I get to take advantage of that. Or if I sell the home, I guarantee your home will sell faster than a home that hasn’t taken that thought,’ Silver says. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Silver said his goal is to show Islanders how to get the biggest bang for their energy-saving buck, both now and in the future.

“If we take a little bit of time to plan, your building cost really isn’t that much more expensive, then I’m gaining from those benefits of reduced utility bills for the remainder of the life of that house,” Silver said.

“So if I live there for 50 years, great for me, I get to take advantage of that. Or if I sell the home, I guarantee your home will sell faster than a home that hasn’t taken that thought.”

Note: As well as being a homeowner in search of savings, Josh Silver is the learning manager for the heritage retrofit carpentry program at Holland College. 

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