Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Change is difficult. It requires effort, resilience, planning and support. But change is also necessary for growth, and to allow new ideas and opportunities to present themselves.
We look at climate change as a challenge – it’s forcing us to completely overhaul the way we live our lives, from how we use energy at home to the way we conduct business and manufacture products. But when we look at the potential fallout from not changing our ways and fighting climate change now, it’s clear we have so much more to lose by staying in our comfort zone and doing nothing. So, how do we address these issues caused by climate change? By seeking out the opportunities to fix them.
In the housing industry, that means improving our building methodology and using better equipment and materials to increase energy efficiency within the home, ultimately reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and overall impact on the environment.
When the Government of Canada announced they were working on new building codes to reach net zero emissions by 2050, it didn’t faze Richard LeBlanc, President and Owner of Riko Passive Homes. He was already among the first in New Brunswick to turn the challenge of building more energy efficient homes into an opportunity for his business.
“Building homes to the standard code gets repetitious over time. I like challenges and taking on new things. I’m very into innovation and moving the industry forward. When I saw that energy efficiency was the next big challenge in home building, it piqued my curiosity. I wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible that I could apply to any home I’d build in the future. I started doing research and signing up for courses with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association – New Brunswick and Passive House Canada,” said Richard.
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association – New Brunswick currently offers training on a variety of energy efficiency programs, allowing builders to work their way up through the different levels, starting with ENERGY STAR® and finishing with a CHBA Net Zero labelled home. But Richard had something else in mind.
“When I set out to do energy efficiency training, I wanted to go all out. I wanted to push the current standards and be a pioneer as a Passive House Builder.”
Passive House, like the CHBA Net Zero Labelling Program, is currently a voluntary building standard that strives for the highest possible levels of energy efficiency. The main difference between Passive House design and Net Zero is that it doesn’t incorporate renewable energy sources onsite the way Net Zero homes would (through solar panels), it focuses more on making the home perform as efficiently as possible, so it requires less energy to operate optimally.
Fired up to get started, Richard dove right into his new pursuit.
“I jumped into it and then started facing challenges, from not being able to get the air exchangers that would meet provincial energy rebates, to running into testing issues because standards were set in a climate different from ours in Canada. Certification costs were expensive for Passive House,” he recalled.
Rather than give up on his energy efficiency journey and return to the old building practices he was used to, Richard took a step back and gained some perspective from other future-minded builders.
“I started to talk with my peers, and we had some very good discussions and exchanges. Getting the Passive House certification was limiting; it didn’t make a lot of sense or add more value, however the methods of construction are very effective for the customers. I realized the Net Zero labeling was more attainable. Now 8 out of 10 homes we build are to Net Zero Ready standards,” reported the builder. “It’s what works best for our clients, and they can qualify for incentives, like the ones offered by NB Power.”
Having overcome his challenges, Richard can now help others and share his insights on what homeowners and other builders are facing on their journeys to energy efficient housing; challenges that, if not addressed will impact Canada’s ability to adopt new building practices and reach their net zero emission goals.
When it comes to levels of understanding, Richard indicated that consumers run the spectrum – some aren’t at all up to date on the trends while others are extremely knowledgeable – but noted that clarity across the board is required to help even the savviest of homeowners truly understand what they are buying into.
For instance, the term ‘energy efficient’ – it’s being used quite a bit now in the industry, but what isn’t fully understood is that for a home to be classified as energy efficient, a builder must adhere to precise building standards and use specific levels of insulation. There is also some confusion about what consumers are reading online and how it translates to the Canadian market.
“We often deal with very savvy clients; they’ve spent hours researching their options and know what they want. But sometimes there’s a need to provide some clarification, for instance, if they want an air exchanger built in Germany, but that unit doesn’t make sense for our climate, or might not be available in Canada, or adds incremental costs that outweigh its potential impact.”
Richard also remarked that appraisals were another barrier getting in the way of homeowners choosing more energy efficient housing options.
“Currently, energy efficiency upgrades are not factored into an appraiser’s estimation of a home’s value, even though the upgrades substantially affect its value and overall quality. Their evaluation is based on recent home sales in the area. Some homes are unique – there are no comparisons – so estimating a more energy efficient home against other models wouldn’t be accurate. I think there needs to be a total revamp of the appraisal system for the process to be more accurate. It impacts too heavily what homeowners can get for financing,” he stated.
On the builders’ side of things, Richard said the biggest challenge seems to be the resistance to change.
“It's easy to do status quo when you’re doing volume than it is to try and make every single home energy efficient – it’s more work. If you’re focused on volume as a builder, you don’t see the benefit, and some will continue to reach for the status quo.
I think it’s important to understand energy efficiency and the different ways you can build a home. We do what we’ve always done because that’s how we learned from someone around us, or a sub-trade telling us how it should be done. As builders, we must learn how to do things properly because it’s our name and reputation on the project and you need to be able to build something you’re going to be proud of. By learning more you’re able to build better homes.”
For builders interested in a challenge and getting the necessary training to get them future-ready, Richard recommended the training from Canadian Home Builders’ Association – New Brunswick.
“Take every single course out there that’s available to you, and research, research, research. Read until articles become repetitive so you can form opinions and merge ideas to understand what’s best for your clients,” he encouraged.
He also recommended a visit to the Canadian Home Builder’s Association – New Brunswick website for homeowners interested in finding qualified builders with energy efficient training.
“I think clients are starting to look to the Canadian Home Builder’s Association as a resource for credible builders, to see who stands out and who’s up to date on their training, because what better place to look than an Association that provides energy efficiency training to builders and can verify that they’ve passed the necessary courses and have the skills needed to do the job well?”
The world around us is always changing and we must learn to change with it; adapting to new practices and encouraging new ways of thinking better enables us to deal with our ever-evolving situations and needs. While we often look at changes like those facing the housing industry as a challenge, it’s important to recognize the opportunities that lie just on the other side. Because once we open ourselves up to possibility, we can achieve incredible things.
Richard LeBlanc is the President and Owner of Riko Passive Homes located in Dieppe, New Brunswick. He is a Platinum-level Registered Energy Efficient Builder, a Qualified CHBA Net Zero Builder, a proud member of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association – New Brunswick, and a Certified CHBA-NB Master Builder™.
Certifications: ENERGY STAR® | R-2000 | Net Zero | Passive House | CHBA-NB Master Builder™
For more about the team at Riko Passive Homes, visit www.rikohomes.com