Insights from Germany put builder on path to a more comfortable, efficient home
It was a casual conversation that drove Squamish-based timber home manufacturer Kelvin Mooney to overhaul the building practices for his company, British Columbia Timberframe.
"I was speaking with one of my German collaborators," recalls Mooney. "He's my conduit to Europe, where they're already accessing sustainable building materials and advanced construction technologies on a broader scale than here in Canada. We're having a conversation and he asks, 'Kelvin, why don't you just decide to build good homes, like good German homes?'"
Mooney learned that homes in Germany are built with sustainable materials and constructed in such a way that would align his next project with the ENERGY STAR New Home standard.
That conversation set Mooney's company, British Columbia Timberframe, on a quest to improve not only the energy efficiency of its homes, but also to create a healthy living space for those who occupy them.
Continuous insulation and careful air sealing reduce heat loss in winter and improve comfort in summer.
Mooney is on a quest to help people understand the value of construction that is not readily apparent in a home, such as insulation. "Sometimes the quality is inside the wall and you don't see it," he says. "That's the hard part for people to understand: you're going to invest some money here, and you're not going to see a return on it until you get your electricity bill and it's 30 per cent less than your neighbours."
BC Timberframe uses natural wood fibreboard imported from Germany as continuous insulation to create a wall and roof enclosure system for the timberframe structure of the home. The fibreboard provides a thermal break that keeps heat in during winter, and ensures the home stays cool in summer. The product has also allowed the company to eliminate the use of foam in these houses.
A taping system, also imported, is used to seal every assembly element, with specialized tape for each application (wood to wood, wood to glass, glass to steel, etc.). According to Mooney, this keeps heat inside and has virtually eliminated drafts in the home.
The company installs an HRV (heat recovery ventilator) in the homes to ensure good indoor air quality. "They're great," says Mooney, who has installed one in his own home. "Growing up on the West Coast, I've always slept with my windows open. But with this HRV, now I can sleep with my windows closed because I'm getting fresh air all night long."
Better building practices produce healthier living spaces, energy-wise homes
To ensure construction quality and to reduce material waste, components of BC Timberframe homes are now pre-fabricated in a workshop. These components are then delivered to the job site and can accelerate the time to "lock-up" for builders and homeowners.
"We had to buy some specialized tools; we invested in the learning curve we had to follow," says Mooney. "But now we're ready and we applaud the changes to the [B.C. Building] Code."
After research, Mooney decided to adopt the ENERGY STAR for New Homes Standard, building the company's first certified home last year, with three more underway now. (The Power Smart New Home Program has also chosen ENERGY STAR as its baseline for incentives.)
After the pivotal conversation with his German collaborator, and two and a half years of energy efficient building, Mooney is excited about the direction in which home building is heading.
"These changes aren't easy ones to make for any company, and the decision to do so must allow for a different kind of value equation," he says. "Choosing energy-efficient and sustainable building materials as well as taping up a house and sealing it properly involves time and costs money; and the market is already so competitive. So I accept that not everyone will make these same choices, but I also know that building as we've always done in the past is not contributing to what we really need to be doing."
"I'm very positive," he adds. "I have children who are entering the home ownership world now, and I think moving forward with better building practices, healthier living spaces and energy-wise end products will make up the kind of home that I would want to see them occupy in the future."