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Achieving net zero energy efficiency Add to ...

An energy-efficient building generates as much energy as it uses, a concept known as net zero. With wildly fluctuating energy prices, such buildings bring obvious benefits. Not only do they reduce costs, but they also help protect the environment by reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy efficiency considerations should encompass all aspects of a construction project, including heating, cooling, lighting and the building's envelope — the walls, roof and insulation that ensure a building is airtight.

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Measure your energy consumption

Measuring your energy consumption is an essential part of the process. Be sure you have an operational plan specifying targets in key areas such as heating, cooling and air quality. An environmental or building expert can help you take these measurements to see where improvements can be made.

One way of measuring the environmental performance of your building is by using rating systems such as LEED. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system can help entrepreneurs identify green design strategies and measure and monitor progress.

Be sure that your employees buy into your efforts to reduce your building's energy consumption and that they are aware of your objectives. Their contribution and input will be vital to your success in meeting the net-zero goal. Keep your eye on the market for high-performance, energy-efficient systems and equipment. These products evolve quickly, so it's important to stay informed about new developments. Here are some pointers.

Use more environmentally friendly construction materials

Use finishing materials selected for their low toxicity and minimal environmental impact. These products tend to be natural or minimally processed and are environmentally friendly because they are unlikely to release chemicals while being manufactured.

Wood, for example, is preferable to plastic in this respect. Likewise, avoid products such as benzene that are associated with volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are usually produced by sulphur emissions from paper mills, paint factories and printing presses, and contribute to urban smog. Condensable organic compounds, or COCs, are also harmful; these are fine pollution particles that condense in the air, and are produced by paper manufacturers, among others.

Wherever possible, use recycled materials, reduce construction waste with an efficient waste management program and insulate using straw bales and recycled newspaper in commercial buildings.

Some tips on heat recovery and energy efficiency

There are many ways one can avoid burning fossil fuels and using conventional electricity. Among the alternatives are solar water heaters and wind turbines. As well, systems can be installed to purify fume emissions, and the energy required for this can often be reused. Such systems can recover up to 95% of the heat used. They remove odours and emit only small amounts of greenhouse gases.

Better-insulated water heaters that retain more heat and heat water twice as fast as older models are also a good investment.

Applying sustainable design principles such as adding daylight to your building can also save you money. Adding more windows and skylights to a building can reduce heating costs.

Air heating systems — which recover leftover heat contained in the steam produced by combustion products — are also worth considering. These allow a building's temperature to be more easily regulated, and enhance the comfort of its occupants.

As well, ground-source heat pumps can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 40%. Radiant heating systems can reduce energy use, as can longer-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs. Occupancy sensors that detect human presence can optimize your energy use.

Benefit from government incentives

Investing in meeting environmental protection standards will also save you money in the long run, despite substantial up-front costs. Since environmentally friendly systems typically remain in good working order for many years, the additional cost is amortized over a long time period.

A number of government and corporate programs and agencies can finance a part of your high-performance energy system. The Energy Efficiency in New Buildings Program of Natural Resources Canada (Office of Energy Efficiency) provides financial assistance of up to $60,000 for integrating ecology- and energy-saving features into the design of new commercial buildings.

Incentives to purchase high-performance energy systems should be written into an energy efficiency plan. Such a plan should cover your company's past, present and future activities, and can help you obtain financing from energy-efficiency agencies and programs.

Employees of the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation, another program of the Office of Energy Efficiency, can help you identify all your needs and provide you with information on the most economical and efficient means of addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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