With green constructions and renovations on the rise, more and more contractors are getting certified in eco-friendly construction. Whether you’re looking to serve the demand of this growing market or to engage in sustainable practices to better the environment, there are many ways to help build energy-efficient homes!
But what makes a building green? And how does it get built? Let’s look at some of the features of green homes and the certifications and courses available to help you become a greener contractor.
Green homes: Features
Green homes have become more popular over the last few decades; people are looking for houses with smaller carbon footprints than traditional ones. So, what makes a home green? From eco-friendly materials to energy efficiency, here are some elements to consider!
Some certifications require the use of green materials, such as
- Low or non-toxic materials
- Raw or recycled materials
- Sustainable and local materials
Other certifications are given to homes that are energy efficient or generate their own energy. Some examples include
- Passive heating (e.g., use of sunlight to help heat the house)
- A tight building envelope, insulation, and ventilation designed to optimize energy Efficiency
- Design and equipment (e.g., solar panels) that enable the house to produce part of its energy
Location and integration
Some certifications also require that you consider the home’s impact on its surroundings. For example, certain LEED certifications encourage proximity to public transportation to reduce car use.
That said, green homes don’t have to have all these features. As we’ll see below, some certifications require the use of green materials, while others focus on the home’s energy efficiency. You can combine them or mix and match – eco-friendly homes come in many shades of green!
Green renovation: Huge growth potential
Green construction applies to not only building new structures but also renovation. So, bathroom, kitchen, and basement renos in an existing house can be done according to new insulation standards, with efficient materials, better water consumption, and so on.
The renovation market is massive and being able to provide eco-friendly renovations is a definitive advantage. This study on Canada Green Building Trends paints a clear picture of the magnitude of this market’s potential and client desires to convert to greener building methods.
Incentives and grants for green builds and renovations
The government and several financial institutions have established programs to make green builds and renovations more accessible.
- The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers a rebate on mortgage loan insurance for energy-efficient homes.
- The Green Homes Program by Desjardins offers a better mortgage rate than the CMHC, cashback, and more.
- The federal government now has the Canada Greener Homes Grant.
- Hydro-Québec provides financial support for energy efficiency through its Efficient Solutions Program.
- Novoclimat offers financial assistance to construct homes that meet its standards.
Although a green build can be more costly at first, financial incentives and long-term energy savings more than make up for it.
How to become a green contractor
Contractors can undergo training to learn best practices if they want to offer clients certified green construction and renovation services. Whether it’s about building envelope airtightness, ventilation, building design according to the sun’s position, or installing renewable energy sources, there are many ways to construct a building that can be awarded green certification. We will review available certifications, training courses on how to build according to these standards, and more.
Achieve prestigious LEED certification for residential and commercial buildings
What is a LEED-certified building?
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification is internationally recognized and applies to environmentally friendly buildings that contribute to optimal human health. This flexible certification is available in four categories: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. It can be awarded to residential and commercial buildings. Here are some of the criteria met by LEED buildings:
- Innovation and design process
- Location (e.g., close to public transportation)
- Sustainable site development
- Layout with minimal environmental impact
- Efficient water management
- Energy efficiency in both heating and cooling
- Use of green materials and waste reduction
- Indoor environmental quality
Please note that not all these elements are necessarily required. It depends on the level of certification the house was designed and built to meet.
Building a LEED-certified home
You have to get in touch with an organization that awards certification upon completion of a project’s design phase. You can contact Ecohome or the Canada Green Building Council to apply for certification.
As for training, the Canada Green Building Council offers a course (in French) called LEED for Contractors: Roles and Responsibilities of General Contractors in a LEED Project. This course aims to help contractors understand and follow the steps of the LEED certification process. the LEED certification process.
Cost vs. the Code
If we compare the extra cost to the Code, costs can run from 0% to 20% (or more) higher, depending on the project. According to the APCHQ (French only) , the average is around 5% for residential buildings. The Green Homes Program by Desjardins and Novoclimat grants are some potential financial incentives available for a LEED building.
Here are some examples of LEED-certified buildings in Toronto.
Building Novoclimat-certified homes
What is a Novoclimat-certified home?
Novoclimat certification is an energy efficiency pledge. It exists exclusively in Quebec and acknowledges the high-performance of homes and multi-unit buildings with superior airtightness, efficient heating, and optimized ventilation.
According to Transition Énergétique Québec, owners of a Novoclimat home can save 20% on their energy bills. A Novoclimat home is the epitome of comfort, boasting better air quality, well-heated rooms, and more.
Training and certification
Only a Novoclimat-certified contractor can build these structures. Contractors have to take a recognized course, such as the APCHQ’s Novoclimat training (French only), then submit a request for certification to the Bureau de normalisation du Québec.
- Novoclimat-certified Contractor, to build single dwellings
- Novoclimat Select Group Contractor, to build single-family homes or small multi-unit buildings
Grants and cost under the Code
In both cases, financial assistance is available to contractors to complete their projects. According to the APCHQ, using available grants, the cost of an average-sized house could be equivalent to that of a house designed under Part 11 of the Code.
Being a Novoclimat contractor
Upon certification, a contractor can register their project in the program and advertise as a Novoclimat-certified contractor. They could also join the list of contractors certified by the Bureau de normalisation du Québec.
Passive House: Leveraging house orientation and an airtight building envelope
What is a Passive House?
Originally known as PassivHaus, this internationally recognized certification originated in Germany and was adapted for North America. Using the sun as a supplementary heat source lies at the heart of building a Passive House. Construction must meet all the criteria set by the organization, particularly in terms of superinsulation, building envelope airtightness, and ventilation.
A Passive House must meet the following criteria:
- Maximum annual heat demand of 15 kWh/m²a
- Maximum heating load of 10 W/m²
- Maximum pressurization test result of 0.6 ACH @ 50 Pa (both underpressure and overpressure)
Annual energy demand:
- Maximum total primary energy demand of 120 kWh/m²a
Depending on the build, a Passive House can consume between 75% and 95% less energy than a traditional house.
Building a Passive House
You must complete all the introductory courses offered and take a course for people working in construction in order to plan and oversee a Passive House build. Passive House Canada courses cover all these topics.
They allow you to
- plan a Passive House project;
- understand the stages of construction;
- learn how to use Passive House design software; and
- obtain certification as a site supervisor and certifier.
Grants and cost vs. the Code
There are no available grants to build a Passive House per se, but you can register for a program such as Novoclimat. Compared to the Code, Passive House builds usually cost 20% more. However, lower energy consumption will make up for this.
Building a Net Zero home
What is a Net Zero home?
Net Zero certification is pretty straightforward: a building’s energy consumption must be offset by its energy production (e.g., via solar panels or wind turbines). These homes are also built with a building envelope that is 33% more airtight than Code requirements, advanced framing that uses less wood, and thick windows set into walls.
According to the Code, Net Zero Ready homes are 80% more efficient than traditional homes. They are designed to be extremely energy efficient, and while they don’t have solar panels or wind turbines, they can accommodate them.
Net Zero homes are 100% more efficient than traditional homes. The energy produced by their solar panels and/or wind turbines can be stored in the house or sent back to the grid. This is what a family living in a Net Zero home (French only) in Mascouche ended up doing.
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association provides training to learn how to apply the Net Zero standard (available online, in English for now). EnerGuide certification is also required before construction can begin.
You must be a member of a Home Builders’ Association to have a Net Zero house certified. There is no such association in Quebec for now, so you can join the Home Builders’ Association in a neighbouring province. Certification of a Net Zero build takes place at the national level with a Net Zero Energy Advisor and a Net Zero Service Organization. Once their first home has been certified, a contractor may be authorized to use the Net Zero logo in their advertising.
Grants and cost vs. the Code
The cost is 10% to 15% higher compared to the Code, but the initial investment is quickly recouped as energy consumption is quite low, even nil. An energy efficiency grant from Hydro Québec could also be awarded for these builds.
Net Zero homes
ENERGY STAR standard for new homes (all provinces except Quebec)
What is an ENERGY STAR home?
Internationally recognized, the ENERGY STAR standard applies not only to household appliances with the famous symbol, but also to high-performance homes that meet the standards of ultra-airtightness, energy-efficient windows, heating, and cooling. Owners of an ENERGY STAR home benefit from approximately 20% in energy savings compared to traditional builds.
Building new ENERGY STAR homes: Training and cost vs. the Code
Certification and training
The standard applies to new ENERGY STAR-certified homes. Follow the steps on the ENERGY STAR for Builders page on the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) website to be recognized as an ENERGY STAR builder. NRCan manages the promotion of this standard in Canada.
- Training is recommended, but not mandatory.
- NRCan’s role is to register builders and issue permits.
- A licensed service organization (LSO) trains builders according to the standard.
In Quebec, the Novoclimat standard (certification managed by Transition Énergétique Québec) has similar objectives to the ENERGY STAR standard. The Novoclimat program is therefore more readily available to Quebecois contractors.
Being an ENERGY STAR builder
NRCan’s ENERGY STAR recognition provides the following:
- The right to display their widely recognized logo
- The listing of your ENERGY STAR-recognized business on the NRCan website
- Access to continuous updates
Green contractor certification by Ecohabitation
Unlike the programs outlined above, green contractor certification (French only) does not lead to building certification. Rather, it recognizes the use of environmentally friendly practices during construction. In fact, a contractor must employ at least six practices (French only) on each worksite. These practices include using local or recycled materials, installing low-flow appliances, and green waste management.
To become a green contractor, you need to undergo Écoentrepreneur training (French only). It will provide you with basic concepts in environmentally friendly construction and renovation. After passing a written test, you’ll then follow the green contractor code of ethics.
This certification can be included in your promotional materials and allows you to be part of Ecohabitation’s directory of environmentally friendly contractors.
Other training offered by EcoHabitation
If you want to expand your green building knowledge, training offered by Ecohabitation (French only) delves into various topics related to sustainable construction and renovation practices. These courses are usually open to all.
You can broaden your knowledge of the following:
- Energy-efficient renovations
- Renewable energy: solar and photovoltaic cells
- Self-generating electricity
- Sustainable housing, its criteria, and best practices
- High performance and energy efficiency
- Water management: best ways to save and use water
- New and efficient materials
- Non-toxic or low-emission materials
Some training courses, such as green builds (French only), are geared towards professionals.
Building a greener future
According to the Government of Canada, buildings produce approximately 12% of the country’s greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the Canada Green Building Council estimates that 35% of all landfill waste comes from construction and demolition activities. It also states that 70% of total municipal water consumption happens in or around buildings.
Building green homes therefore contributes to long-term efforts to better manage energy and resources.
Listening to a growing client base
The green construction and renovation trend is far from over: it’s here to stay and will only continue to grow. Consumer demands for comfort and energy performance will continue to evolve over time. It is a wise choice to stay on top of new trends and be able to position oneself as a contractor who offers relevant and exciting building methods to clients.
By Sylvain Lauzon
Sylvain Lauzon has been a journalist for several decades. He has covered topics ranging from economics, social affairs, and tourism to arts and entertainment. He has also worked as a program creator and producer for many television series on major Quebec networks. Sylvain has spent the last few years working as a freelance journalist. He is particularly interested in real estate, which has led him to write for RenoAssistance, where he covers topics related to current events, renovation, construction, and more.
Written in collaboration with the APCHQ.