How the Saskatchewan Conservation House of the Past Led to the Net Zero Homes of the Future

Published on October 24, 2018

How the Saskatchewan Conservation House of the Past Led to the Net Zero Homes of the Future

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the demand for more energy efficient homes rose drastically as homeowners and home buyers were concerned with obtaining the lowest energy bills possible. Acknowledging that little was known about home energy conservation and energy loss at the time, a research project called the Saskatchewan Conservation House was built to better understand and demonstrate what an energy efficient home would require. The findings from this project were significant, as they demonstrated that the building standards of the time were inadequate, while also establishing basic design principles for energy efficient housing.  

What Made the Saskatchewan Conservation House Special and Important?

Although some of the more novel ideas in the Saskatchewan Conservation House didn’t hold up through the winter, it was immensely beneficial to the future construction of homes, as it provided new information on where heat was escaping. It found that in the average home of the time: 30% of heat was lost through air leakage, 25% was lost through the basement, and 15% was escaping through the ceiling, walls, doors, and windows.

The Saskatchewan Conservation House, managed and constructed by the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), also helped to establish the basic energy efficient design principles,   which have now been built upon to reach the extreme levels of energy efficiency required of a Net Zero Home. These designs include: tight air-vapour barriers, higher levels of insulation, controlled and efficient air management, as well as tight and well insulated windows, frames, and exterior doors with weather stripping. This laid out the foundation for building homes with energy efficiency in mind, and provided a physical structure for home builders to reference during planning and construction.

How Far Have We Come in Home Energy Conservation Since the Saskatchewan Conservation House?

Since the 1970s, homes with the lowest energy bills have always been high on the list of desirability for potential home buyers. Four more energy-efficient demonstration homes have been constructed and researched since then, with the most recent one (the Factor 9 Home) consuming 90% less energy and 50% less water than the average home of the 1970s.

Today, homes in Ontario are concerned with the Air Changes per Hour (ACH) of a home, with recently built homes typically having an ACH of 2.5 - 3.5. This is a stark difference from homes built even as recently as the 1980s, as they have an average of 5.0 ACH. Although not reaching the Net Zero Ready qualifications for peak energy performance by meeting an ACH of 1.0 or less, we have seen a significant improvement in home energy efficiency since the construction of the Saskatchewan Conservation House in 1977.

Measuring the ACH of a home can be done by our Registered Energy Advisors through a blower door test, which calculates airtightness and locates areas where air is leaking. With the upcoming mandatory airtightness tests that will require every newly-built home in Ontario to receive an ACH score, we are happy to see that efforts are being put forward to motivate builders to work towards more energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes.

The Canada Greener Homes Grant offers home efficiency renovation grants up to $5,000.

Homeowners Canada-wide are eligible for the Canada Greener Homes Grant, announced on May 27, 2021. This new incentive offers up to $5,000 in grants for home efficiency retrofit renovations, plus a $600 reimbursement for pre- and post-work EnerGuide evaluations. Eligible retrofit scopes include home insulation, heating, doors, windows, photovoltaic solar panels, resiliency measures, and thermostats.

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