Solar-ready home construction gets cloudy view from industry

A Red Deer city councillor’s wish to see all newly built homes become solar panel-ready is receiving lukewarm reviews from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association-Central Alberta office.

A Red Deer city councillor’s wish to see all newly built homes become solar panel-ready is receiving lukewarm reviews from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association-Central Alberta office.

Paul Harris believes the housing industry can change building practices at little additional cost during construction to allow for future solar technologies.

On Monday, he introduced a notion of motion in council chambers. That means it will be discussed and come up for a vote at the next council meeting on April 2.

Harris said he’d like to see council call upon staff to look into how to include solar-ready requirements within the new community design standards now under development.

Plus, he’d like to see staff research opportunities for establishing a bylaw that would require new home construction to be built solar-ready.

“Any new homes would essentially have a conduit from the roof to the utility room for electricity and potentially water heating,” said Harris later.

“It’s an empty closet essentially where you could put pipes through. For a few hundred dollars, you are getting the solar-ready capability. When the technology starts to drop in price, then you can buy the panels and you’re not faced with a huge bill to retrofit your house.”

He’d like to see an informal dialogue begin between builders.

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association-Central Alberta in Red Deer discussed the idea during its board meeting on Wednesday.

Association president Dan Ouwehand said home builders are offering the solar panel-ready option already, but the association would disagree with seeing an extra cost placed on every home for this.

He said the estimated cost for a solar-ready unit is between $500 and $1,500.

“It’s hard for us to say we’re in support of it,” said Ouwehand. “What it’s doing is prescribing one more cost that has to be borne by homeowners in those new areas, which is a real challenge . . . there are some people who can barely afford to get into a new home or the home they want to buy.”

Ouwehand said it’s difficult to argue against this proposal because homebuilders are keen to protect the environment, too. A number of practices, such as installing high-energy efficiency furnaces, are now standard, he said.

He suggested the city could share the cost of developing energy efficiency.

“I’d love to see some kind of rebate, but they’d rather make the cost higher,” said Ouwehand.

Harris said that building solar-ready reduces the cost and environmental impacts of retrofitting homes later, enabling citizens to adapt more easily to climate change and rising energy costs.

The city’s Environmental Master Plan suggests reducing dependency on fossil fuels as soon as possible.

There was a 50 per cent decrease in solar panel costs in 2011 and costs are expected to continue to fall, said Harris.

Harris also claims that solar energy is expected to be less expensive than coal-generated electricity by the end of this decade.

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