• Scott Rivard

Welcome to ZONest!

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Can I let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret? Canadians sure love their energy.

Between 1990 and 2013, residential and commercial energy use has risen by 7% and 23%, respectively. According to the World Energy Council, in 2014 Canadians used an average of 4,384 kWh of electricity per capita, and Canadian households averaged 11,135 kWh per year. Both of these numbers peg us as the 7th highest ranked country of electricity consumers, just behind the United States in both categories.

At the same time, however, we've also become aware of how much energy we use day-to-day...well, at least we're aware of how much it costs us when the utility bills come in each month. Between the same 1990 and 2013 period, residential energy intensity decreased by 24% per household, and energy efficiency improved by 45%. On the commercial side, energy intensity decreased by 15% and energy efficiency improved by 33%.

So while we're still using a lot of energy, we've taken great strides to implement energy efficiency measures through a variety of means - whether it's building tighter, more efficient homes, renovating our homes to require less energy for heating and cooling, or a number of other steps to reduce our environmental impact and, coincidentally, the impact on our wallets.

Are you still there? Okay, great!

LEED'ing The Way Since Day 1

When ZON was founded in 2010, it was built on the ethos of social, environmental and financial sustainability. At this point in North America, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was the primary measure for a building's environmental impact and, consequently, was the most relevant marker for a building or home's sustainability. Released in Canada in 2004, the LEED rating system has done wonders for educating the building industry on-site development impacts on the natural environment, water and energy efficiency measures, pushing manufacturer's to more environmentally conscious products and creating healthier indoor environments for occupants of all building types. Our primary service for the first several years was LEED consulting, and by offering this service we helped certify dozens of projects across the country over the years, but we weren't stopping there!

Time to Catch Some Sun!

The word zon is Dutch for 'sun', so it seemed only fitting that the company adopted the principles that everything on earth is powered by the sun, and our services should reflect the same. Since 2010, we've engineered over 400 solar photovoltaic projects, reviewed over 600 more existing arrays, and our portfolio of solar projects exceeds over 150 MW of installed capacity...I'd say we're sticking true to that founding vision. During the era of the FIT (Feed-In-Tariff) programs in Ontario, we took on massive portfolios across the province. When the sun was setting on the FIT program (see what I did there?) and incentives were drying up, our Renewables team has been able to focus on net-metered solar arrays, battery storage, micro-grid projects and generally educating our client base on the benefits of net-metered solar generation.

Not Resting on Our Laurels

In 2016, our buildings group shifted from offering LEED consulting services to focusing our talent and energy on overall building consulting through Net-Zero, Passive House and Mechanical Design services. Our projects include dozens of single and multi-family homes across the province, several of which have targeted and achieved various levels of Passive House certification and/or were designed to meet net-zero energy targets; additionally, we've been fortunate enough to work on several commercial projects and worked with the project team to design buildings that minimize the space conditioning loads, enabling us to design a mechanical system that is right-sized for the building.

Information Overload

As we've recently passed our tenth anniversary, and our list of services and clients continues to grow, I've found that there is A LOT of information on the internet regarding Passive House, Net-Zero, mechanical equipment, building envelopes, insulation, renewable energy, the list goes on and on. As designers and consultants, we try and stay at the forefront of this information on all fronts so that we can better inform our clients- after all, that's what consultants are there for, right? This includes subscribing to podcasts, newsletters, mailing groups, blogs and old-fashioned magazine subscriptions. What we've found is that a lot of the information is geared towards the U.S., specifically climates that we aren't subjected to here in Ontario.

That's not entirely helpful in a climate where we are heating dominant but are also subjected to humidity levels that give Florida a run for its money.

A few weeks ago, I was on a call with a client where we were running through a 'mechanical concept design' - identifying a client's wants, needs, house layout, environmental concerns and, most important, budget; weighing all of these items in an effort to identify the mechanical system that meets all of these metrics and doesn't break the bank is no easy feat. Thankfully I work with an amazing team, and we were able to come up with a solution that the client was happy with.

The client at the time noted that there is so much information out in the vastness of the internet - often conflicting at times - that they felt overwhelmed when trying to figure out what they need mechanically and what would work for their home. The other concern: what does the building code require for homes in 2020 concerning space conditioning and ventilation? While architects and builders can provide some insight as to what the client has to consider mechanically, it ultimately rests on us to arm the client with the most relevant information possible.

Light Bulb (LED, obviously)

During this call a few weeks ago, I realized that even the most studious clients don't know where to start their research, other than by jumping onto Google and typing keywords until it auto-completes the query they hope to answer. I've always felt that education is the key to success; if we can provide straight-forward articles summarizing key questions, system types, definitions and design considerations, we can help clients in achieving their needs in a more efficient manner (we're all about efficiency, after all!).

Just Tell Us What We Can Expect, Already!

Alright, fair enough. I've talked long enough about the history of the company and what we do. Here's what you can expect - regular updates that touch on the basics of mechanical, net-zero, passive house and renewable energy systems, a breakdown of common energy metrics, pros and cons of various equipment and design strategies, and lessons learned over the years.

And maybe...just maybe...a few anecdotes along the way. After all, if we can't have a bit of fun, then what's the point of all this?

Hopefully, you're still here at the end, and you'll stick around as we figure out this blog together.

- Scott


Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada, NRCan, 2013 (https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/energy/pdf/trends2013.pdf)

Energy Efficiency Indicators, World Energy Council, 2014

( https://wec-indicators.enerdata.net/household-electricity-use.html )

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