A grey house with a white garage

Getting My Home to Net Zero: Part 1

Part 1: Greater comfort with energy efficiency upgrades

Written by Heather McDiarmid

Our household is on a mission to cut our home’s carbon footprint to as low as possible.

The goal is a net zero energy home: a home in which annual renewable energy from rooftop solar panels can offset our total annual energy use for all operations in the home.

As I noted in the previous post, Could my home go net zero?, this quest will mean reducing our home’s energy use, shifting to a highly efficient heat pump for heating and cooling, and adding solar panels. That first step, energy efficiency upgrades to the home, is described here.

We started our journey toward net zero several years ago by arranging a home energy audit from Reep. 

The Energy Advisor went through our 1992 semi-detached home; poked their head in the attic; took notes on our furnace water, heater and windows; and finished with a blower door test. The audit gave us an understanding of the prime culprits for heat loss in the home and which upgrades would be most appropriate for us.

One of the main audit recommendations was to add insulation to the attic. This was a quick and easy job: we added a layer of fibreglass
insulation over the existing insulation.

My husband, who has some experience in the construction industry, wouldn’t let me do it myself as he was afraid that I would put my
foot through the ceiling. Seeing as my neighbour did just that, it is probably best that it wasn’t me doing the work.

We noticed a difference the first year: our bedroom didn’t get as unbearably hot as before in the summer.

Our next energy efficiency improvement also made our home more comfortable. When we replaced the carpet on main floor with a floating floor, we took the opportunity to add a layer of insulation to the slab on grade concrete. Whereas before when I worked in that room, my feet would regularly turn to blocks of ice on cold days (and proceed to suck the heat from the rest of my body), I now rarely get cold feet.  We made the same upgrade a few years later when we added flooring to our basement. However, if I had known then what I
know now about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture of XPF insulation sheets, I would have chosen a
different form of insulation

We switched to an electric water heater several years ago to cut back on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with operating our home. We made sure to right-size the water tank and added extra insulation around it. Low-flow shower heads and aerators on taps help to ensure we can save money by having a smaller tank.

We have also replaced several windows as the seals have failed.  We opted for double-pane, low-E argon windows at the time. In future, we may choose triple-pane windows that offer greater comfort and energy savings.

We still need to do some work to get our home energy use low enough that we can offset all of our energy use with rooftop solar panels. The next project will be to improve the insulation and air sealing around our front bay window. It is an area that is always cold and drafty in winter.

We have managed to significantly reduce the total energy  that our home uses without resorting to freezing in the dark. We try to do most of the work in conjunction with renovations and maintenance jobs that we would do otherwise: it saves us money and time, and minimizes disruption. We are more comfortable than ever before, we are saving money on all of our utility bills, and we have cut our greenhouse gas emissions – it was well worth the effort!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Electrifying our space heating, or why I love heat pumps.

Heather McDiarmid is the founder of McDiarmid Climate Consulting, which offers research and analysis to help communities, organizations and everyday people chart a course toward a healthier, more equitable and low-carbon future.

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