Amidst the recent discussions about housing prices and housing availability within Ontario and throughout Canada, it is easy to blindly support the construction of new developments to increase the amount of housing available, ignoring the opportunity to redevelop and renew our existing and thriving neighborhoods to accept more people. Rather than developing new land into sprawling suburbs, we need to renovate and densify existing housing to allow for truly sustainable neighborhoods.
When considering starting a sustainable renovation project, it can be daunting to learn about the many aspects that feed into the broader concept of sustainability. These include health, comfort, durability, energy consumption, embodied carbon, and recycled content to name but a few. However, in every case, it begins with a general mindset towards sustainability and one can commence their project by making many small and interconnected choices. It is important to remember that sustainability is about the journey travelled and not a destination, there is no absolute, only a series of relative choices.
As part of the sustainability upgrades of the Plenty Canada property and developing the Plenty Canada CampUs, we took on finishing and revitalizing the Makwa Inn (Bear Inn) to create a community focused multi-use space in which we will run activities and programming organized and hosted by Plenty Canada. This space also serves as a demonstration project for the community to see, learn about, and experience sustainable and energy efficient construction techniques, materials, and equipment.
The Makwa Inn was originally constructed in the 1980s, but never fully finished. The plan was to complete small upgrades, similar to those performed on Plenty Canada's main office building envelope; namely a new weather resistive barrier (WRB), additional exterior insulation, new windows, and new siding. After some discussion and consultation with local experienced high-performance builders and our energy advisor for the project, it was determined that with some extra effort, the right contractors, and carefully selected materials we could achieve the additional performance targets set by the Canadian Home Builders Association’s Net Zero Renovation labeling program. This would allow us to go through the entire Net Zero Renovation process, document each step, and later showcase the process to guests and visitors, hoping to inspire their own renovations and retrofits and serve as a resource for those pursuing their own projects.
The Net Zero standard is based on achieving an EnerGuide rating of 0. The EnerGuide system was developed by the Government of Canada to rate the energy performance of homes to be able to compare their relative performance and provide a meaningful basis of comparison. To get an EnerGuide label for your home, a registered energy advisor needs to visit your residence, where they will take measurements to determine its square footage, wall perimeter, and volume, and then investigate its construction, generally considering the amount of insulation throughout the enclosed space. Finally, they will use a blower door device to measure the air tightness of the structure. All the information gathered is entered into a software program to generate a model of the home’s performance, yielding an estimate of the number of gigajoules (GJ) consumed per year. Inherent to the model is a base load consumed by the occupants of the house, with the remainder consumed by the space conditioning and domestic hot water systems. By improving the envelope of the structure and selecting high efficiency mechanical units we can reduce the energy consumed by the home to the point where a solar array can generate enough energy to balance out the energy consumed. By achieving Net Zero with our renovation, we hope that more people are inspired as they pursue their own home performance upgrades.
— Kasper Gruszczynski and Aaron Wood-Lyons