New Builds #2: Free software can help guide home energy decisions

Josh Silver is encouraging Islanders who are building new houses to make informed decisions to make their future homes as energy-efficient as possible, starting before the shovel even hits the dirt.

Silver is a carpenter, as well as an instructor at Holland College, and 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.

This summer, he is focusing on new home construction.

One of the tools in his toolbox is a free software program from Natural Resources Canada, called HOT2000.

“It’s a very powerful tool that’s helping me guide those decisions prior to swinging a hammer, buying any materials,” Silver said.

Josh Silver, a carpenter and Holland College instructor, is taking a break from his existing-home energy improvements for the summer to focus on new builds. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

“HOT2000 is an energy simulation software and you build a model of the house as it relates to energy use,” said David Glennie, learning manager with the energy systems engineering technology program at Holland College.

“We can add things to it, take things away, simulate what it would be like if you were to put high-performance windows, triple glaze instead of double glaze, double the insulation in the walls or the attic, [or] change the size of the windows, the orientation of them.”

Guide decisions

Silver said the software can also guide decisions around insulation, and what an investment upfront could save the homeowner annually in heating costs.

“I like to use it more for the kind of what I call the hidden aspects. Basically, what’s everything inside that wall? What kind of insulation did we use? What our roof pitch is, how high our ceilings are, how big the actual house is — can we reduce that?” Silver said.

“So the beauty of the software is we can model a house, and then we can kind of play with it, make different changes and say: ‘How much would that change the cost, and how much would that save me in the future?'” 

Silver said it’s important to remember that any energy savings will continue over the lifetime of the house. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Glennie said one of the best features of the software is that homeowners can keep modelling the house until they are satisfied with all of their energy decisions.

“You could change the parameters, and the physical characteristics, and the energy systems in the house to make it net zero, or even energy positive, meaning the house creates more energy than it uses,” Glennie said. 

He noted that there are also energy audits designed specifically for new home construction. 

Holland College instructor David Glennie said the energy simulation software can add solar panels to the model of the new home, or even a wind turbine, to measure the potential savings. (Ron Kube/Supplied)

“Things are easier to implement during the design stage than during construction — or especially after construction,” Glennie said. 

“We can add solar panels to the model. We can even add a wind turbine and and figure out how much energy it produces and how much it would offset what the house uses.” 

Cost-saving tweaks

Silver said he has used the software himself, but recommends getting some help if you are not an energy-efficiency professional.

“I’m a carpenter that can swing a hammer very well, but any technology is a little scary to me. But I rely on professionals and I’m a big believer in the HOT2000 software,” Silver said. 

“So you’re probably going to need someone that knows the software to help you. But it is absolutely worth every penny to look at your options and to explore those. It’ll tell you how much it’s going to cost; it’ll tell you how much it’s going to save.”

Silver said the software can also guide decisions around insulation, and what an investment upfront could save the homeowner annually in heating costs. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

“A few little tweaks in your house can make a massive, massive difference,” Silver said.

“Keep in mind, that difference is over the lifetime of the house. So we’re not saving a few hundred dollars this year, or this month. We’re saving that over decades.” 

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