Energy Efficiency: a tool for environmental sustainability and affordable housing

Winter is coming. At least that’s what people’s energy bills are telling them. As temperatures drop, people across the country are seeing the numbers on their bills start to climb.

Energy in buildings is used for things like heating, cooling, lighting and other amenities needed for living and working. In 2016, buildings were responsible for 21% of Ontario’s GHG emissions. Most of these building emissions are attributed to energy use. But as temperatures get colder, many people aren’t necessarily concerned about their emissions, it’s often their utility bills that’s making them nervous.

Access to basic energy amenities like heating, cooling and lighting in a home is a key component of affordable living. Since Canada is susceptible to a broad range of climates, utility bills can be a burden for those struggling to make ends meet. A recent study in England found that too often, vulnerable populations are frozen out of schemes to support fuel-efficient households. Energy efficiency should be a tool that can be used to help more vulnerable populations while also helping out the environment. A great example of how this can be done is in Oxford County.

Oxford County, an Ontario municipality, is using new affordable housing projects to demonstrate how building better for energy efficiency can result in more affordable and comfortable units and also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Through a Council resolution, the municipality was the first in Ontario to join a global movement and commit to targets for 100% renewable energy by 2050. It’s stacking up projects that will help achieve their goals of moving away from fossil fuels, support industries that undertake green construction, and encourage renewable energy. These goals and others are outlined in their Future Oxford Community Sustainability Plan.

The municipality is working with many housing stakeholders to increase housing supply. Indwell is a non-profit organization building a project called Blossom Park in the community of Woodstock, Ontario. It’s a multi-residential development that will be built to the passive house standard. The passive house is a standard aimed at reducing a building’s ecological footprint so that less energy is needed for heating and cooling. The passive design uses up to 90% less energy than conventional buildings. This level of efficiency is reached by buildings being heated passively from the sun along with internal heat sources and heat recovery methods. The design offers both energy savings and reduced GHG emissions.

The development is expected to be completed in late spring of 2019 and includes 34 rental units. The rental units will offer lower rent and accommodate individuals that require support services. On-site resident support and a meal program will be provided by the Indwell team. The fluctuations of a Canadian energy bill can be stressful for anyone, but it can be particularly scary for those on a fixed or low income. Blossom Park is an excellent example of how energy efficiency can be used as a tool for not only environmental sustainability, but as a means of financial relief for vulnerable populations.

With a passive design, Blossom Park will offer residents affordable rental units as well as reduced utilities in the winter and summer months, when heating and cooling are required. This conjunction enhances affordability for both the owner and tenants. Another bonus is that residents would be less susceptible to fluctuating prices of energy. Fluctuations could come due to a number of reasons such as policy changes, trade, and environmental conditions. By being more energy efficient, residents won’t be hit as hard by increased energy prices.

The development highlights the synergies between reducing the carbon footprint of buildings while also lowering utility expenses. With Oxford County aiming to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050, building higher performing buildings plays a significant role in achieving this goal. Blossom Park will influence other development projects and help the county reach their environmental goals while simultaneously supporting the residences that need it the most.

For more information please visit www.oxfordcounty.ca/buildbetter

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