Whiteside says he believes this building in Fairview, which has no need for an air conditioner, will require just $1,000 per year in energy costs. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson’s net-zero ready house is a glimpse into B.C.’s future

One local builder set out to construct the province’s ideal energy efficient home

Jeb Whiteside’s father wasn’t impressed.

Barry Whiteside was a builder himself with a degree in urban planning and a career in land development. But he bristled when Jeb told him he planned to build a net-zero ready energy home in Nelson.

“He was totally against this just from a cost perspective. He loves the idea of energy efficiency,” says Jeb.

One visit to the site in the winter changed Barry’s mind.

“Once we got the roof on, that entire winter we had vapour barrier over the window openings. We heated the entire building with one 120 volt, 1,200 watt heater. We were in T-shirts. Once he saw that, he was like, ‘holy.’”

Jeb Whiteside’s project, a building in Fairview divided up as one complete home and another unit that includes space for an extra residential suite, is a glimpse at the future of construction in B.C.

The B.C. Building Code is aiming for all new builds to be Step 5 — or net zero, which is to say the projects generate as much energy as they use — by 2032.

The province’s energy code starts at Step 1 with what’s described as “enhanced compliance.” The building meets current code, but has also been verified by an energy consultant.

A building’s energy losses are measured by air tightness and insulation, while solar panelling and energy efficient equipment contribute to gains. A Step 2 home is 10 per cent more efficient than a current home built to code, Step 3 improves by 20 per cent and Step 4 is 40 per cent better. Step 5, meanwhile, is the ideal.

B.C. municipalities and regional districts can set their own building code bylaws stipulating new projects meet specific steps of the energy code.

Nelson city council voted in favour of a bylaw amendment July 8 that stipulates a Step 1 requirement for all Part 9 buildings (which include houses, duplexes and small apartment and commercial buildings) being constructed as of Aug. 1.

Related: Nelson workshop will update builders on energy efficiency techniques

Sam Ellison, the city’s senior building official, says he received support from a majority of local builders for the move to Step 1 prior to the bylaw amendment. He expects the province to demand Step 3 compliance by 2022.

“It’s either we all work now to get there or it’s just going to come down like a hammer in a few more years,” says Ellison. “Hopefully we’ll be ahead of the curve.”

The problem, however, is there’s no specific plan provided to builders to meet code past Step 3. They have to figure it out themselves.

“They don’t tell you how thick your wall has to be. They don’t tell you what windows you have to use. You have to look at whatever plan exists and figure it out,” says Whiteside.

Whiteside decided he wanted to give it a try. His company, Somerson Construction, had never previously built a project that would meet higher than Step 3. But Whiteside purchased land in Fairview and in October began construction on what is today a three storey-building tucked out of view from a nearby street.

He collaborated on the project with Jonathan Brinias of 3West Building Energy Consultants and opted to skip a wood-frame house that allows heat loss at exterior wall studs in favour of what’s called insulated concrete forms (ICF). Two connected Styrofoam pieces are instead used for the frame with concrete poured down the middle.

“The ICF wall does fantastic with air leakage because it’s just a continuous slab of concrete,” says Brinias. “This [unit] really just has four corners and then a shared wall with absolutely no heat loss.”

Brinias says the best building designs are box-like and prioritize a unit’s floor area. The larger a space is, the more energy it requires.

“It’s brutally honest with design and energy efficiency,” says Brinias.

Whiteside says he understand why the simplistic architecture needed to achieve Step 5 may not be for everyone.

“A neighbour of mine said, ‘Oh, you’re doing that crazy box thing.’ I don’t see it that way, but a lot of people can’t stand it. They hate it. They want all these different details. But you can’t achieve what you want if you do all those things. Money’s money. You have this, you can’t have this. It’s always a trade off.”

If owners let go of their dreams of Victorian-style roofs, for example, they quickly find out the benefits of net-zero homes. Whiteside said he expects the building to cost just $1,000 per year in energy bills (although that doesn’t include added costs for the electric car charger that has also been installed).

One reason for this is how adept the building is at holding temperature. For example, Whiteside’s building has no air conditioner. It just doesn’t need it.

“It takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature of concrete,” he says. “It just keeps it at a more stable temperature. It takes a lot to make it cold in the winter and a lot to make it hot in the summer.”

Brinias is all for energy efficiency, but he’s leery of requiring contractors to meet the code past Step 1 without the province providing a prescriptive way to achieve anything above Step 3 that has air leakage requirements.

“If some builders find it challenging to meet air tightness requirements, and then Step 3 is mandatory, they’ll all just have negative experiences.”

Ellison isn’t sure that will be the case. Five years ago he says he would have doubted the ability of B.C. builders to meet Step 5 requirements. That’s since changed.

“We’re kind of already there,” says Ellison. “The fact that Jeb and Barry were able to do what they did demonstrates that we have the materials, we have the capability to do it. … The reality is we’re seeing it happen. We’re seeing builders who don’t have science degrees pulling it off with materials you can buy at our local building stores. I’m pleasantly surprised. I think we can do it, for sure.”

The Fairview home, meanwhile, has been nothing but positive for Whiteside. He’s already looking forward to his next project.

“The next house we do, I want to produce more energy than we use,” he says. “I want to get solar [panels] as well. I know we can improve slightly on what we did here.”



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Here’s a look at the main floor kitchen of the building. Whiteside and Brinias say a simple design is the most energy efficient. Photo: Tyler Harper

Builder Jeb Whiteside (left) and energy consultant Jonathan Brinias show off the insulated concrete forms used to build the exterior walls of a net-zero ready residential building in Nelson. Photo: Tyler Harper

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Sculpture to offer point of beauty and unity at rivers’ junction in Grand Forks

Artist David Seven Deers spent 19 months sculpting Shining Raven Woman

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

Greenwood Museum debuts new Chinese laundry exhibit

The new exhibit reflects a staple business of the city from more than 100 years ago

Spring flooding financial relief available for affected residents

The provincial funds are for those affected by flooding in May and early June

Injured dirt biker evacuated from near Bluejoint Lookout

Emergency crews brought the rider to hospital, where doctors determined he had a fractured vertebra

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Indigenous leader Ed John pleads not guilty to historical sex charges

Ed John’s lawyer entered the plea by telephone on behalf of his client

Woman who talked to unconscious husband for 30 years gets solace from B.C. study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

RCMP investigate threat against Indigenous totem poles on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast

Police describe the nature of the threat as ‘sensitive’

Trail RCMP officer accused of criminal harassment, forcible entry

BCPS: The charges against Murchie date between 2017 and 2020

Ex-Okanagan Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Most Read