By Jennifer Hoegg
An innovative New Minas company is making the idea of a home covering its own energy bills a reality.
Denim Homes’ owners Caleb Howden and Steve Lockhart started with a focus on flexible, custom home design. Efficiency soon became their calling card and Howden said the goal is to “become the premier energy efficient builder in the province.”
“It made sense,” Howden said, of the company’s focus on energy efficiency.
“We’re trying to make a case for how practical it is.
“To us it means an energy efficient home costs you very little in the long run.”
Even if a home costs slightly more to build, reduced energy expenses save money over time. Along with efficiency, Denim Homes considers how “green” materials are, from local sourcing to energy use to bring in custom requests. Solar hot water and photovoltaic panels are other features it offers.
Then there are the small touches that save energy, like using the home’s heat recovery ventilation system to create a drying closet, to replace a drier.
A hallmark of Denim Homes’ work is attention to the building envelope. It starts from the bottom up, with an engineered foundation slab encased in R-25 foam, so the concrete never touches the ground. The next step is to eliminate thermal bridging – areas where heat escapes through the framing – with a double studded wall.
The walls are filled with wet applied cellulose – a recycled wood product – that creates “a solid sponge” of insulation. Howden said, while the product requires a specialty application, it offers distinct advantages, in addition to high insulation value, because it is low-VOC and is a recycled product.
Hiring local specialists in skilled trades as needed, instead of keeping them on staff, is part of the company’s business plan, Howden added.
“One of our major philosophies in this business is a ‘jack of all is a master of none,’ ” he said. “You get a better product if you hire a professional … they know the quality we want.”
Drafting and design is done in house, to suit customers’ preferences.
“People come to us with a dream,” Howden said, and the mission is to make it come true. “Ninety-eight per cent of what we do is custom and focused around our customers.”
Part of pleasing customers is offering an efficient product at a good price, Howden added. Denim Homes’ expertise allows them to bring costs down.
“No one builds what we do as a standard,” Howden said. “When you make something your standard, it’s easy to bring (the price) down.”
Denim Homes has been building 15 to 25 units a year, including a number in Canaan Heights, Eagle Landing and MacDougal Heights, Kings County. The company is seeing increased interest from customers in the Halifax area.
A great deal of time, research and education has gone into the company’s development and the efforts are paying off.
“This year was a huge year for proving ourselves,” Howden said.
The company has been recognized by the Eastern Kings Chamber of Commerce twice in the past six months, in the fall as outstanding small business of the year and last week, as best contractor by popular vote during the Best of Kings competition.
The men have also been recognized by their peers.
The company won five Peak Home Awards at the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association (NSHBA) convention last fall and is now up for Green Home of the Year at the Canadian Home Builders’ Association conference this month.
“The national award (nomination) is because of the work we have done over four or five years,” Howden said. “Building practical understanding and analyzing what works.
“It’s something we never thought was in reach of a small town, Nova Scotia builder.”
Denim Homes’ contribution to the Efficiency Nova Scotia/NSHBA demonstration home project has helped bring attention to the company’s work. It won a design competition to build the home, meeting the requirements of an EnerGuide rating of 92 or higher (a rating scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most efficient), including advanced standards for energy efficiency, a style that suited the province and a price point to fit the budget of the average Nova Scotian homebuyer. The products used also had to be as local as possible.
“We won that design competition, hands down,” Howden said.
And their design was so affordable the project partners were able to build two demonstration homes, one in Dartmouth and one in Sackville.
Denim Homes built the Sackville home, with an end EnerGuide rating of 96. It is a 2,300-square foot, two-storey home costing about $275,000 (over and above the cost of the lot). With the addition of photovoltaic panels, the home should have net-zero energy cost, he said.
“As the cost of energy rises, homeowners need to explore different ways to conserve energy to lower their monthly costs,” Paul Pettipas, NSHBA chief executive officer, said last week. “Programs such as the Efficiency Nova Scotia Demonstration Home … are designed to educate Nova Scotian homeowners and builders about the latest technology in energy efficient home construction.”
The marketing of the home that followed was an amazing opportunity for the company, with hundreds of people visiting over 10 weeks, including groups of students, developers and prospective buyers. Firefighters are also interested in knowing more about the homes, in case they have to fight a fire in one, and the Denim Homes owners have been on the road giving presentations with Efficiency Nova Scotia.
“In doing it we learned a lot that will help us learn, too. We have gotten a lot of work and recognition from it,” Howden said. “It has brought a huge awareness to who Denim Homes are. “
Pettipas suggested energy-efficient homes will be the new normal for the industry.
“The Efficiency Nova Scotia Demonstration Homes represent the future of the residential construction industry and we hope to start a new trend in environmental initiatives through projects such as this one.”
As Howden points out, it’s a practical way to go. By building more efficiently, energy costs can be financed over time and monthly energy bills will be minimal.
“You are going to pay it one way or another,” Howden said. “You’re either giving (money) to NS Power or you are investing in an asset.”
Sackville Efficiency Nova Scotia home
Energy efficient features
Walls: 2′ x 10′ with staggered 2″ x 4″ studs for optimal insulation.
Windows: Triple glazed low E argon on the north, east and west sides of the home for heat retention. Double glazed low E argon on the south side of the home to take advantage of solar gain.
Insulation: Wet sprayed cellulose made from recycled materials in walls, at a R-42 value. Cellulose made from recycled materials in the roof, at aR-60 value.
Water: Two 60” drain water heat recovery units installed on drains to recover and transfer heat from wastewater to heat domestic hot water. Solar boiler with two thermal collectors uses solar energy to heat domestic hot water for showers and washing.
Heating: A heat pump, complemented by solar heat entering through windows on the south side. Excess water from the drain water heat recovery units distributed to a radiant heating system in the floor.
Renewable energy: Sixteen 235-watt photovoltaic panels located on the east and west sides of the roof to collect solar energy and redirect it to the power grid.
Source: Efficiency Nova Scotia
Keep the heat, save money
The federal energy efficiency rebate program ends this month, but there are still rewards available through the Nova Scotia’s EnerGuide for Existing Houses program, up to $1,500. A number of upgrades are eligible, including:
• Drain water heat recovery units;
• Solar water heating systems;
• Adding insulation to an attic, walls, or basement;
• Replacing old windows and doors with ENERGY STAR models air sealing and weather stripping windows and doors;
• Low-flush toilets, and heat pumps.
For new homes, registration in the Performance Plus program can result in a rebate upto $7,000 depending on the final EnerGuide rating. Rebates for solar water and solar air heating are also available. Contact Efficiency Nova Scotia for details.