Are better insulated homes worth the money?
Better houses can be cheaper to live in from day one. Why build a less comfortable, and less efficient home if it actually costs more?
Ecohome's passively heated Edelweiss House © Ecohome
There are probably only two general desires we share when imagining a dream house - we all want the nicest one possible for the least amount of money. And we want both of those things right away, rather than waiting a lifetime to see the 'payback' for noble design choices we might have made to save polar bears, bees, pollution, energy, or baby seals for that matter.
The good news is, there's a 'too good to be true' fact that a lot of people have a hard time believing - the payback does not have to be after you've willed your house to your kids, it can be right away.
Yes, a better-insulated house costs more to build, but that's only half the equation. It also costs less to run, and added building costs can be instantly offset by savings in heating bills. So there is actually more money in your jeans at the end of every month, starting immediately, and tons waiting for you at the end of your mortgage.
Our engineer, Denis Boyer, did a true cost comparison between homes built to meet code, and ones that perform several times better, and better is often cheaper. A bit cheaper in the short term, much cheaper in the long run.
Source: Ecohome, feasibility study and implementation plan for a green home building on local resources, 34 pages. 2013. The price of heating costs assumes baseboards and includes taxes. The cost of borrowing is assumed to be a mortgage at a rate of 3.94% for a down payment of $70,000 and a 25 year amortization. A lower interest rate or higher energy costs will have the effect of improving the economic advantage of a better-insulated home. Higher mortgage rates will have the opposite effect. Worthy of note: A well-insulated passively heated house will require less frequent injections of heat, making it possible to limit heating to off-peak hours with lower rates.
So what's not to love? Why build a less comfortable, less durable and less efficient house if it's actually going to cost you more? Purely speculation on my part, but I think we assume that if it made THAT much sense then it would be the norm throughout the industry.
Well, it does make that much sense - just not for large scale developers as they would have to eat the added cost of additional insulation and the homeowner would get the savings.
I'm not trying to rip on developers, that's just the reality of the business. We shop for houses based on bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage; not many prospective buyers ask existing homeowners to cough up their utility bills, or developers to cough up energy modeling figures. If they did, then we would all see the merit of buying better performing houses.
And here's the really crazy part - building better houses means more money injected into the local economy through added labour and materials, and lower monthly overhead for occupants. And since buildings account for about half our carbon emissions, it would also be a painless way to meet emission reduction targets. That's a win, win, win hat trick.
Despite the fact that better-insulated houses would mean more money for builders and owners, our shopping habits force them to build to bare minimum performance requirements to remain competitive, so we remain in a holding pattern where we all lose.
What will eventually bring change to the industry is when there is greater consideration of operational costs by home shoppers, and owner-builders raising the bar by putting better homes out in the public eye so more people can see the windfall that awaits us all.