John Bleasby 2017-07-29 04:50:46
An interview with green building veteran Ben Polley, Evolve Builders Group, Guelph, Ontario Canadian homebuilders who think they can keep constructing their building envelopes the old fashioned way are in for a rude awakening. While extreme low-energy consumption standards like Net Zero Energy (NZE) and Passive House are “cutting edge” now, they will become mainstream tomorrow. In this interview, we asked one of Canada’s leading green builders, Ben Polley, Evolve Builders, Guelph, about how the standards are changing for all of us. There are many standards and certifications out there: LEED, BuiltGreen, NZE, R-2000, EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR, Passive House, and Living Building Challenges. Is it all too muddled to gain traction with consumers and builders? Think of it like the organic food industry. If we were to jump back in time, say 20 years, the bulk of organic foods were sold through mom-and-pop shops and other non-traditional retailers. They were early adopters and brought forward what was a nascent industry. Over time and through standardization they started to change the larger retailers, and in turn were bought up by the larger retailers, or became larger retailers themselves. The same sort of thing is happening in construction under these various certifications. Some are going to survive and some will fall away. However, ultimately each of them has contributed something to the path we are taking. If not for those certifications providing some guidance and a marketing tool for production builders, I don’t think we would have seen the market shift as it is now. As energy-efficiency awareness increases, how has it impacted innovators such as you? What I have observed is whereas 15 years ago I would have to spend a significant amount of time educating people on why they might want to consider specific upgrades because of certain energy saving outcomes, the reverse is now true. They’re now coming to us with an expectation at the outset of Net Zero or Passive House levels. You have said in the past that Passive House concepts are a key starting point. Why is that? If you don’t deal with the energy efficiency issue at the source of the problem, you’re spending more money to put in more expensive equipment. Energy demand will still be high and you’ll be trying to deal with it by using fuel-based solutions. Our clients are really keen on reducing demand at the start. They are most are interested in Passive House principles such as extraordinary insulation, but with particular attention to air barrier detailing to prevent losing heat in the winter or cool in the summer. Those things are non-mechanical and have one-time initial costs which are quantifiable. All they ever do afterwards is save money. How has increased awareness changed the discussion of costs versus benefits with your clients? It has changed the conversation, changed mindsets. Our clients all have very different expectations from site to site. However, increasingly and over the last 18 to 24 months, the starting point requested by clients is Passive House or Net Zero. Only if we can’t achieve that within their budget does it start dropping away. If the various certifications are due for a shake-out, how about a shake-out of builders themselves, particularly the stragglers? We understand that the province of Ontario wants to bring all new home construction to Passive House NZE-ready standards by 2030, less than 13 years from now. That probably means many of the builders you describe as ‘stragglers,’ people who have been in the industry so long that they don’t care to change, will be gone by that point through attrition. They can’t exist. Even the followers really can’t exist. The youth we’re seeing coming into the trades want to be early adopters or innovators and have a real interest in non-conventional building and better methods. The problem they encounter more often is that their teachers don’t know how to do it. Are the various energy-efficiency building courses available something all should consider, even a builder as advanced as your company? A few of us here recently took the certification course required to be Passive House builders. After the first day, I was disappointed; I was expecting some fairy dust to be sprinkled on me. However, on the second day I started to realize that we were very, very close, and that the incremental costs of change would be low. And that’s the point regarding innovators and early adopters: if they’re already doing a lot of these things, the change is going to be so shockingly little and surprisingly effective. I came back to the office feeling newly energized. It was very exciting to learn all these things that are out there of which I was not aware that are hugely impactful and easy to deploy. For a innovative builder like you, determined to stay ahead of the pack, is Net Zero Energy really enough? Going forward, I feel we are moving so quickly towards the concept of Net Zero Energy that the terms of reference will start to change. We will one day soon be talking about Energy Positive homes, those that actually put back more than they take out.
Published by Annex. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://magazine.canadiancontractor.ca/article/Ben+Polley+Interview/2845228/427374/article.html.