March 10, 2021

High Performance Residential Construction – Building for Net Zero

Canada’s recent 2030 net zero-ready and 2050 net zero emissions reductions goals create the need for high performance and net zero ready buildings. SAIT’s Green Building Technologies research division has been working with industry for more than a decade to develop environmentally sound technologies, processes, programs, systems and services to address these goals. A growing interest in building greener, more sustainable buildings has created the need for high performance residential and commercial construction: increasing the performance of a building, primarily in terms of energy use, above and beyond current code requirements.

But encouraging the construction industry to adopt high performance building construction practices isn’t always easy.

Green Building Technologies researchers have worked with builders on approximately a dozen high performance or net zero homes, though there is one example in particular that stands out to Principal Investigator Benjamin Hildebrandt. In 2015, Mattamy Homes in Calgary released five identical net zero homes. The homes were built exactly the same, but their building costs varied significantly.

“On the first home, the labour premium was up roughly 40%, but by the time they got to the fourth home, it was about 10%,” Hildebrandt says. “It took time and hands-on experience for the trades workers to gain familiarity with building high performance homes.”

This need for education and experience, a willingness to invest in the cost of training staff in new practices, and additional construction labour and materials are some of the barriers to widespread adoption of high performance building construction practices in Alberta.

With $555,000 in funding from Alberta Innovates, SAIT was able to develop the High-Performance Residential Design and Construction certificate program. The program is designed to fill the knowledge gap for existing professionals—architects, engineers, designers, project managers, estimators, trades—in the residential construction industry. Hildebrandt hopes that the program will help address the builder knowledge barrier to adoption and, in turn, help to reduce some of the building costs.

“With these courses, we want to take some of that cost of adoption off of the job site and away from the homeowner and into the classroom, and help the trades move forward,” Hildebrandt says.

The program consists of four (currently online) courses and a two-day in-person, hands-on lab.

More than 100 professionals from the Alberta residential construction industry were consulted in the design and the development of the courses.

“We know that we’re teaching exactly what the industry needs to build these higher efficiency homes and inspire confidence in trades workers,” Hildebrandt says. “And we hope to dispel some myths around high performance construction. There is a lot of middle ground that is more achievable while we work on finding greater efficiencies. We want people to understand that they can build homes that are incrementally better— 20% better than code, all the way up to net zero.”

The program is a forward-thinking opportunity to help builders get ahead of eventual regulated code changes in preparation for the eventual net zero requirements. It can also help builders pass on education to homebuyers and realtors about the value of a high-performance home.

“High-performance and net zero ready buildings create new opportunities for technology developers, entrepreneurs and businesses focused on the future of Canada’s construction sector,” says David Van Den Assem, the Senior Manager of Clean Technology at Alberta Innovates.  “Alberta Innovates is proud to support SAIT’s program. The program is good for business and good for the environment, as it allows for new innovations to be tested and implemented in a partnership with industry.”

“The funding from Alberta Innovates has been instrumental in moving this program forward and making it possible,” Hildebrandt says. “There is no other educational program like this in Alberta right now.”

Learn more and register for the certificate program.