Green homes: Tips and advice for eco-friendly renovations
Last updated on May 31, 2023
Also known as eco-houses, green houses are buildings that combine energy savings, renewable energy, quality and performance. These homes are often considered best suited to the planet’s environmental issues, but people also choose them for their benefits to the inhabitants’ health.
The costs of buying a green home or transforming an existing one to make it eco-friendly used to be higher than the cost of a conventional house. However, this is no longer always the case. Plus, the money invested will likely amortize after only a few years.
Let’s dive into the world of green homes! We’ll look at their features and advantages, and what types of renovations pay off and what grant programs are available. Then we’ll offer tips we can all adopt day-to-day to reduce our energy consumption.
- Types of green homes
- Why live in a green home?
- Renovating a house to make it greener
- Grants for green renovations in Quebec
- Reducing energy consumption as an alternative to major work
- A green home is a choice that pays off
Environmental properties are not all equal. Green houses vary in terms of their approach and the standards they meet, but most ensure a good quality of life and environmental protection.
When building a biodynamic home, from design to construction, the location’s conditions and its resources are integrated and exploited. The house draws maximum profit from the climate and immediate environment. It can be considered the basic model of green homes and it builds on 4 core elements:
Property orientation: Building a house facing south maximizes sun exposure, which may make it possible to heat it for free. The orientation also impacts the amount of light inside the home.
Architecture: From the shape of the house to the position of rooms and windows, everything is conceived to encourage passive heating from the sun, limit energy losses and protect from strong wind.
Insulation: Excellent insulation prevents heat loss and maintains a constant temperature year-round. When combined with effective ventilation, this ensures good air quality and soundproofing.
Choice of materials: Preference is given to natural materials like wood, hemp, mudbricks or packed mud, straw, or recycled or recyclable materials, because they have a small environmental footprint.
Passive homes take the concept of the biodynamic property to the next level by producing as much energy as they consume. This type of green home got its name from PassivHaus, an independent German organization that sets standards on energy performance for buildings.
Like a biodynamic house, the passive house also relies on excellent insulation and optimal sun exposure. But a passive house is designed to be heated without actual heating. The windows, the appliances (computers, lamps, etc.) and the inhabitants’ activities heat the house naturally.
Building this type of property clearly requires a great deal of thought in terms of the plans and room configuration. Calling on professionals, like architects specialized in passive houses, is definitely recommended. PassivHaus standards for insulation, airtightness and ventilation are very strict.
[H3] Positive-energy houses
When you add a source of green energy production to a passive house, you get a positive-energy house, which produces more energy than it consumes. This makes them independent of the public electric grid.
To determine a green house’s energy positivity, we look at the energy consumption balance sheet over a year, including:
- Electronic devices
There are several options available to produce the clean energy:
- A windmill or wind turbine
- Geothermal heat pump
- Solar panels
However, installing one or more energy sources adds an additional cost to your new build. And transforming an existing home into an energy-positive one is very difficult.
This type of green home stands out from the others because it supplies its own electricity and often also water. Therefore it doesn't depend on municipal services.
To produce electricity, the inhabitants of this type of green home make a choice that’s based on their needs, location and immediate environment:
- Hydro power
- Solar power
- Wind power
- A hybrid solution
- Or other
For water, inhabitants most often use a well and a rainwater harvesting system.
The biggest problem for this type of property is Quebec’s climate. The wide variation in temperatures and extreme weather pose challenges to power management in winter and in summer.
A self-sufficient house is similar to a net zero home. However, the latter is still connected to Hydro-Québec, allowing it to draw from the network when it is short on power and, conversely, to contribute any surplus production to the network. The name ‘net zero home’ applies when it really manages to produce as much energy as it consumes.
Beyond doing one’s part in combatting global environmental issues, choosing a green and eco-friendly home has several notable advantages. Let’s find out why homeowners choose them.
Because an eco-home has superior insulation, a smart design and efficient appliances, it saves on energy over the long term. So upstream investments to maximize energy efficiency will reduce the cost of electricity and heating bills.
A green home not only takes into account the inhabitants’ environmental footprint but also their health. Effective, optimal ventilation helps improve air quality and control the undesirable effects of dust and humidity. Plus, insulation and heating are designed to provide maximum comfort while reducing energy use.
Building a green home means choosing materials that are sustainable, nontoxic and, if possible, recycled or salvaged, for instance, wood, stone and natural paints and varnishes. To insulate, vegetable or animal materials are selected, which are healthier than their synthetic counterparts but perform just as well.
A green house’s energy savings make it a financial asset over the long term, even though the initial investments are generally higher. So the lower energy bill makes this type of property appealing to aspiring homeowners. Plus, the use of eco-friendly, sustainable and healthy materials also positively impacts the resale value.
If building or buying a new property that meets environmental standards is not an option, then green renovations may be the right path. Several improvements can maximize the energy efficiency of your real estate, including these:
Reducing heat losses can reduce energy expenses. To improve a property’s resistance to heat loss, the key is to add insulating materials. In many cases, energy-efficient improvements like these are a great idea:
- Insulating empty-cavity frame walls
- Insulating the basement
- Improving the insulation in the attic
- Upgrading roof and exterior wall insulation
Replacing your doors and windows with certified Energy Star models will reduce energy use. According to Natural Resources Canada, these windows are about 20% more energy efficient than regular windows. Don’t forget to factor in window location to choose the right product (e.g., sun resistant, wind resistant, etc.).
If your windows are still in good condition, it may be possible to get interior or exterior storm windows covered with low-e film to improve airtightness. Start by checking for air leaks by holding a lit candle near the windows. If the candle goes out, your insulation isn’t optimal.
To improve your property’s energy efficiency, it’s also a good idea to change doors for new models. Old or poorly installed doors can also let in drafts.
If the building envelope is well insulated, the next step is to install a heating system that performs better. According to Hydro-Québec, heating accounts for 50% of the energy used in an average household.
An efficient heating pump to replace conventional heating will reduce not only your carbon footprint but also your power bill. In an electric heating system, the heat pump produces 3 to 10 times the energy it consumes by drawing thermal energy from the outside air to heat the interior. In summer, it works in reverse to cool the house. While it is substantially more efficient than electric baseboard heaters, it does require a ventilation network.
The price of photovoltaic installations (solar panels) has decreased in the last few years. They are a good option, especially in case of outages or as a supplementary source, or for insulated properties.
The following are needed to get an optimal energy yield from solar panels:
- Full south orientation
- Ideal inclination angle
- No shade on the panels
So, it’s an interesting solution but it requires some forethought. Calculate whether installing solar panels would be economically sound for your home.
There are two types of green roofs: extensive (don’t require maintenance) and intensive (with a vegetable patch or garden to tend). Both offer the advantage of providing insulation that offers natural climate control in summer and reduces heat losses in winter. They are also an excellent acoustic insulator. And a living roof can last up to 30 years!
It generally involves multiple layers:
- Waterproofing membrane
- Water retention and drainage layer
- Geotextile membrane
- Growing medium
However, all this makes green roofs very heavy. It is important to check the structure of your home before deciding on a green roof, or you could end up having to make costly modifications. Aside from the materials, the cost of roof access and of maintaining the vegetation should also be considered.
It’s going to rain anyway, so why not make the most of it? This type of system collects water from precipitation and stores it so you can use it for your toilet, watering, irrigation or other uses that don’t require potable water.
Both indoors and outdoors, replacing lighting systems with models offering a better light-to-energy ratio can make your home greener. Opt for fluorescent or LED bulbs and, where possible, install resistance-free dimmers to improve your energy performance.
If you’re interested in doing work to make your property greener, we have good news. Quebec and Canada have several programs and grants to make these renos less expensive and more appealing.
Other initiatives have been set up by public and private organizations and by some Quebec municipalities. Check with yours to find out!
The Canada Greener Homes Grant covers part of the costs of improving insulation, airtightness and heating systems, of switching to renewable energy and of changing windows doors and mechanical systems. In Quebec, registration takes place via RénoClimat.
In Quebec, the Chauffez vert program gives financial assistance to replace a gas or propane heating system with a heat pump or a more environmentally friendly system, such as electric. There’s also the Éconologis program that helps lower-income households get access to free energy-efficiency services, such as recommendations, light work or the installation of electronic thermostats.
Hydro-Québec offers the efficient heat pumps program and the LogisVerts efficient homes program. The first provides financial assistance to buy and install an efficient heat pump, while the second gives assistance to implement energy-efficiency measures, like a heat pump, weatherstripping, etc.
Lastly, Énergir grants give their current clients a discount to buy and install a smart heat pump, as well as other grants to new clients taking on energy efficiency projects.
Don’t feel capable of taking on large-scale renos? There are tons of other ways to reduce your environmental and carbon footprint at home.
Good heating habits not only reduce your footprint but will save you money. Avoiding waste only takes a few small changes:
- Replacing thermostats with electronic or smart models
- Lowering the thermostat by at least 1 oC
- Decreasing the temperature in unoccupied rooms and closing the door
- Not setting the thermostat to a higher temperature than desired just to warm up the room faster (it doesn’t work!)
- Adapting your heating to your lifestyle (e.g. lower temperatures at night, when out, etc.)
Electricity is such an integral part of our lives, it’s easy to use it without even realizing. According to Hydro-Québec, the average electricity use in a single-family house in Quebec is 22,000 kWh per year.
Here are a few new habits that can reduce your power usage (and bill):
- Unplug electric devices (toasters, monitors, TVs) when not in use and when you go on vacation
- Use appliances outside peak hours (3 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
- When buying new appliances, get eco-friendly, high-efficiency, smart models
According to McGill University, Quebecers use an average of 400 litres of water per day, just at home. This is mainly for baths and showers, toilets, cleaning, drinking and meal preparation.
Here are suggestions for reducing water use or recovering it:
- Run the dishwasher only when full
- Install taps with an aerator and a low-flow shower head
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth, washing hands or soaping in the shower
- Take showers instead of baths, and make them shorter
- Wash dishes and clothing less often
- Replace your toilet with a low-flow model
- Install a barrel to collect rainwater
Reimagining how you light your home can save energy and money! Here are our tips and tricks for more energy-efficient lighting at home:
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room
- Outdoors, use light fixtures with motion detectors and Energy Star certification
- Let natural light in during the day
- Replace light bulbs with more energy-efficient LED or fluorescent models
- Use opaque curtains to block out the sunlight and heat in summer
There is no shortage of ideas out there if you want to make your home greener and help protect the environment. Positive actions are within your reach, whether you choose to redesign your property to meet the highest environmental standards, take on some renovations to improve your home or simply change some of your habits.
The future belongs to those who can adapt. We’re betting that an increasing number of aspiring homeowners will be partial to green homes and energy-efficiency options. Don’t wait till it’s time to sell to find that out!
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