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CEEA’s Efficiency Matters Blog

How to make more energy efficient buildings: Better codes, a tax credit and continued innovation

Energy Efficiency Q & A: Mike Burt, Dow Chemical Canada

Dow combines the power of science and technology to innovate. Dow Chemical Canada ULC has been in Canada for over 70 years. Its head office is in Calgary with manufacturing facilities in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Based in Calgary, Mike Burt is the Director Government Affairs, Public Affairs and Public Policy and Regulatory Services Leader for Canada.

Mike Burt

Dow Canada’s Mike Burt says the global company has reduced its own energy use by 20% since 2005.

Q.  How does energy efficiency and sustainability fit into Dow’s vision?

A. Dow has a long history of leadership in energy efficiency, generating significant cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions. From a sustainability standpoint, Dow’s products dramatically improve the efficiency of every major industry operating today.

We have a large STYROFOAM™ facility in Varennes outside of Montreal – it saves residential and business owners about $10 billion in energy costs annually through its water resistance, high insulation value and strength. Dow is also pioneering renewable energy solutions such as the DOW POWERHOUSE™ solar shingle. Embedded with solar cells, the roofing shingle reduces dependency on fossil fuels and can be used in residential and light commercial buildings.

Energy efficiency is also good for business. As a global company we’ve become more competitive by  eliminating over $26 billion in energy costs since 1990 and we’ve reduced our absolute energy use by 20% since 2005 (119 trillion BTUs). That has significantly reduced our greenhouse gas emissions — over 270 million metric tons of emissions since 1990 and a savings of more than $10 billion in energy costs annually.

Q. What are the easiest and most difficult ways to improve a building’s energy efficiency?

A. The goal for any organization or consumer is to be net-zero. And better building envelopes are one of the keys to accomplishing this goal. Dow has products to help builders and homeowners manage thermal issues, air, and moisture throughout the entire building envelope, making buildings more comfortable. For example products like our WEATHERMATE™ line include house wrap, construction tape, water proof sill and door pans and more.

Constructing a good building envelope is much easier when starting with new structures.  Older buildings are a little more difficult to improve but it’s important to improve existing buildings as energy costs are typically our largest operational expense. Cost is always a concern in new construction and renovation, but with high-performing building envelopes, owners can earn the payback in lower utility bills with savings of up to 30%.

Q. What will make energy efficient buildings a priority?

A. Dow would like minimum building codes for energy efficiency either provincially or federally. That would not only create savings for building owners, but would also reduce overall energy consumption and assist Canada in reaching its greenhouse gas objectives. Energy efficiency standards for buildings haven’t really been addressed to the level they should be.

In 2009 the Canadian government introduced the Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC), providing homeowners with up to $1,350 for renovation projects geared to energy efficiency. The number of Canadians that took advantage of that was overwhelming, but unfortunately it was temporary. A home improvement tax credit focusing on energy efficiencies and building envelopes should be a permanent tax incentive. It gives homeowners up-front help with retrofitting and helps motivate manufacturers to make energy efficiency products and building materials.

Q. What has been the most successful energy efficiency innovation Dow has created?

A. In the building and construction industry the products I mentioned earlier are all leading-edge products and have been very successful for Dow. Weathermate is a woven non-insulating polyolefin-based wrap, basically a wind blocking material that breathes, allowing moisture to escape while resisting air infiltration. Think of it as a Gor-Tex shell for your house. FROTH-PAK™ m and GREAT STUFF™ are expanding polyurethane foam air sealing products that fill gaps and cracks around your home or building. Stryofoam  and THERMAX™ are rigid foam insulation board products that are used in above and below grade walls, roofs and under concrete slabs in foundations.

Q. What energy efficiency building trends will have the most traction in the next two years?

A. I’m a high-tech junkie so I think the trend that will gain the most traction in the next few years is the goal of building and delivering net-zero, or as close to net-zero housing, as possible. The best way to accomplish that is continual improvement of building materials, building envelopes, energy use management and incorporating renewable power generation systems. Also technology advancements to appliances and home electronics that are ENERGY STAR™ rated help reduce overall energy consumption. And federal, provincial, and even municipal governments have a part to play in helping home and building owners with these efficiency costs.

Q. How is Dow Canada different from Dow in the US?

A. There is not a lot of difference between Dow Canada and Dow US. We have the same individuals steering the company and our objectives are focused on the same opportunities. Many of the building materials I’ve mentioned are manufactured in the US, but we also have a large presence in Canada. Our objective is to get Dow’s advanced building materials in use throughout North America.

Q. What do you personally do to be energy efficient or conserve?

A. I like to consider myself an early adopter of technology and years ago I built a home on an acreage in Alberta.  It was one of the first homes to have installed solar thermal and photovoltaic panels for heat and power. It was a grid-tie system so that we had power coming into the house but no natural gas. All the heat for the house was provided via the solar thermal panels and a back-up electric boiler. It’s different for each province but in Alberta at that time, if I made excess electricity during the day I’d get a small credit for the extra energy I made (basically the power meter ran backwards), and on a cold day I can pull electricity from the grid. In summer the utility bills were basically zero, but unfortunately, in the cold Alberta winters my power bill was over $1,000 per month. So you live and learn!  To take advantage, of the system I already had in place, and to be more energy-wise, I brought in natural gas and swapped out the electric hot water system for a natural gas heating system. It cost about $15,000 eight to 10 years ago, but it ended up improving efficiency in the house and dropped the bill down to about $150 a month. We used the federal credit to help with the costs and it took about six years to pay back.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dow’s building solutions you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted February 18, 2014

Elizabeth is the president of CEEA.