More than 20 years ago, the Canadian Home Builders' Association (CHBA) was heavily involved in developing the R-2000 standard for super energy efficient homes. The program was refined and expanded over the years, but only a small percentage of the homes built each year were constructed to the R-2000 standards. Builders said the homes were a tough sell, and that buyers were more likely to choose upgraded finishes than spend their money on energy efficiency.

Now, there's new-found interest in homes that feature high energy efficiency and sustainable building practices, and that has prompted a number of new "green" programs and standards ( Real Estate Appraisal Expert House Appraiser Advice Market Value ) in Canada. Most of the talk is about a new standard called LEED-H that is currently being developed for this country by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC).

While a number of home builders are working on pilot projects for the new standards, the CHBA is not happy. The association's board of directors recently decided to develop a toolkit for provincial and local home builders' associations that will explain to consumers why the proposed LEED standards are a bad idea.

John Hrynkow, a first vice-president of the association, told the CHBA National newsletter that the LEED standards were not developed by Canadian home builders, and that they do not reflect an approach that makes sense.

"We are particularly concerned by recurring suggestions that municipalities can regulate home building by requiring LEED compliance -- something that is clearly intended to circumvent our system of codes and standards," says Hrynkow. "The codes and standards development processes are rigorous, transparent, and involve a lot of accountability. LEED is developed by a private group to suit their own agenda. That is not the way that regulation is done in our country, nor should it be."

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is currently being used in Canada for commercial and multifamily buildings. The standards were adapted for the Canadian climate from the U.S. Green Building Council's system, and are based on five principal categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Standards for LEED-H, for individual houses, are currently being developed by the CaGBC.

The council describes itself as "a broad-based inclusive coalition of representatives from different segments of the design and building industry." Its stated mission is to work to change industry standards, develop best design practices and guidelines, advocate for green buildings, and develop educational tools to support its members in implementing sustainable design and construction practices.

Greg Christenson, chair of the CHBA's Vision Action Committee, says there's a need for sound, responsible approaches to green community development. "This is an area where there are many interests involved," he says. "As an industry, we need to keep the focus on practical, responsible actions that will make a real difference."

The CHBA says it's time to update the R-2000 standard "to serve its original purpose -- providing an elite standard of energy and environmental performance that will stimulate innovation within the home building industry."

"R-2000 always represented a very high bar for builders," says Hrynkow. "We think it's time to push that bar to new heights, so that R-2000 is, once again, the best of the best."

The CHBA is also concerned that some provinces may use another program, the EnerGuide for New Houses rating system, to regulate the building of new homes. EnerGuide for New Houses, developed by Natural Resources Canada, is a program in which certified energy advisors review new home blueprints, and then recommend ways to make the home more energy efficient. Builders can then strive to attain an energy rating similar to the EnerGuide ratings found on new appliances.

"EnerGuide is useful for rating homes to encourage energy conservation, but it should not be used to regulate our industry -- that's not what it was designed for," says Christenson. "There are a variety of technical issues involved with applying EnerGuide in this way, and these are not being considered by those proposing such regulation. That's just not responsible."

Building codes in Canada are developed in a consensus-based review process, but changes to the EnerGuide for New Houses rating system could be made at any time, without input from the housing industry, he says.

"Imagine if government officials could change the Model National Building Code whenever they wanted to, without any discussions," says Christenson. "Such arbitrary actions would create complete chaos in the industry."

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