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Architectural House Plans

Debunking the Green House Plan Myth

By Judy Penz Sheluk, Homebuilder Canada Magazine
Fall 2009

According to the 16th annual RBC Homeownership Study — released in January of this year — 95 per cent of Canadians now say that low energy consumption is an important consideration when buying a home, while 94 per cent rated energy efficiency as “just as important as the look and appearance of the home.”

“Our study indicates that low mortgage rates and favourable housing prices are definitely influencing buying intentions this year,” says Bernice Dunsby, senior manager, Home Equity Client Acquisition at RBC Royal Bank. “But in today’s economy, we’re also seeing that many Canadians are increasingly mindful of longer term home features that will reduce their monthly energy costs.”
Does that mean that energy efficient features are starting to take precedence over granite countertops and hardwood flooring? One survey surely isn’t capable of definitively answering that question, but it may explain the growing market for so-called green house plans.

“Stock plans that are classified ‘green’ always make me smile,” says Yves Carignan, president, chief executive officer and partner of Drummond House Plans. “Every house plan could be green; it depends what you put inside, how you will heat the house, how you will use the solar orientation, etc. If you look at these designs, what makes them greener than any other plan?”

Increasingly, house plan Web sites are offering plans with the ubiquitous green label attached to them. However, some in the industry feel customers are being given the impression that a home built from a green house plan is inherently more energy efficient than one built from a regular house plan could be. 

“When people ask us if we do green designs, we answer yes, and we will soon get our LEED certification as designers. But 99 per cent of the green house will be done during the construction itself,” notes Carignan. “We have one typical green home [pictured above] that was designed for specific energy efficiency demands by a customer, on a specific spot. But calling a stock plan a ‘green’ plan? They surely do not follow the LEED philosophy.”

Thomas Roedoc, president of Architectural House Plans agrees. “What makes a house green has very little to do with the design, and it has everything to do with systems, materials and construction techniques.”

While house plans often include electrical schematic drawings for each floor — showing the locations of the switches, outlets and fixtures that the original client asked for — code variations from province to province mean that plans don’t include wiring diagrams and source or panel locations.

 “Part of the electrical subcontractor’s job is to come up with the final design,” says Roedoc. “This is also true of plumbing plans, except that there are no schematic drawings, as the locations of the different fixtures are shown on the detailed floor plans. Mechanical plans are only occasionally included for all of the same reasons, along with the fact that the climate is different in each place where the home will be built. The only time ‘green’ comes into play is in passive solar design, which requires a lot of glass and a passive solar specific plan.”

Good Intentions Fuel Demand

That’s not to say there’s nothing to the green house plan trend. What they provide customers with are designs that were conceived with energy efficient systems in place. Jane Cameron has witnessed first-hand how home buyers’ desire to incorporate green features has blossomed in recent years.

“I would say that most people are doing what they can from a green perspective,” says Cameron, owner of Life Home Design. “I’m not yet seeing much demand for photo voltaic panels, or solar panels, because the cost is still high and the payback period quite long, but clients are often willing to do rough-ins — green ‘future-proofing’ for lack of a better term.”
As much as green house plans open up energy efficient options, ultimately it’s up to the home buyer and his or her builder to turn that potential into a reality.

“You don’t design a house based on energy efficiency,” says Jim Verhaest, general manager of Lifestyle HomeDesign. “When we put a set of plans together, it’s up to the home buyer and the builder to add on those energy efficient features.”