Municipality: City of Guelph Implementation: 2010-11-01
Policy Name: Blue Built Home Contact: Julie Anne Lamberts
Department: Water Services Title: Water Conservation Program Coordinator
Focus:
Community profile:

The City of Guelph is located in the heart of southern Ontario, 100 kilometres from the City of Toronto. The City has a population of 121,668 (2011 census) and Guelph Planning Services (2012) projects further population growth of up to 169,000 by 2031. The municipality occupies a land area of 87.20 square kilometres.

 

 

 

Guelph features a diversified industrial base including agri-food, life science, information technology, environmental enterprise, automotive and advanced high-technology industries. The University of Guelph is world renowned for its research and development facilities including its unique Research Park, a cluster of government and industry focusing on agri-food research.

 

 

 

There are 4 major business and industrial areas in Guelph which include the new Hanlon Creek Business Park, the City-owned Hanlon Business Park, the mature Northwest Industrial Area, and the University of Guelph’s Research Park. Additional industrial and commercial land can be found dispersed throughout the City.  The City has annexed land in the south end for future industrial and commercial development.  A strong service industry sector combined with a strategically important location makes Guelph an ideal launch pad to supply goods and services to millions of consumers and businesses in both Canadian and American markets.

 

 

 

Guelph has well developed commuter and commercial/industrial transportation networks. The City is a single day's drive, or less, to major centres in both Canada and the US, and is served by four major highways: MacDonald Cartier Freeway (Highway #401) and Highways #6, 7 and 124.  Local public transportation is available and inter-city transportation includes bus services and passenger rail services, including Via Rail and Go Rail. The City's own Guelph Junction Railway provides industry with freight handling facilities and connections to the Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway lines. The close proximity of Lester B. Pearson International Airport (Toronto International Airport) and the deep water seaports of Toronto and Hamilton offer easy links to international markets.

 

 

Residential housing is the primary dwelling type within the community. The 2011 Census found that 54.7 percent of private households in Guelph lived in single-detached houses, 12.4 percent lived in row houses, and 4.6 percent lived in semi-detached houses. The number of private households has increased from 44,705 in 2006 to 48,115 in 2011.  However, over the past five years the number of single-detached housing permits approved by the City has declined, while the number of semi-detached building units has remained fairly consistent. The number of building permits for townhouses and apartment buildings increased from 2011 to 2012 indicating the priority of high-density buildings.  Overall, the total number of building permits peaked in 2008 at 1678, but these numbers have not been reached since.

 

Short Description:

The Blue Built Home program is a water efficiency standards and rebate program for new residential homes.

Background:

Guelph is one of Canada’s largest communities relying solely on groundwater for its drinking water supply. The City is committed to reducing municipal water use, striving to be a leader in water conservation and efficiency.  Improving water efficiency in new buildings plays an important role in reducing municipal water consumption. The Blue Built Home Water Efficiency Standards and Rebate program (BBH) is a means to further municipal water conservation objectives through advancing water efficiency in new residential housing development.

 

 

 

BBH is a certification program for new residential homes that uses an approved set of high-quality home fixtures and appliances designed and third-party tested to save water and reduce utility bills by as much as 54 percent. New homeowners who purchase an approved BBH are provided a rebate from the City of Guelph; incentive levels vary depending on the level of certification attained.

 

 

 

Three BBH water efficiency standards have been developed for the Program, which employ a tiered level system - Bronze, Silver, Gold - as indication of increased household water efficiency. The water efficiency standards include products above the minimum requirements of the Ontario Building Code. To be eligible for a rebate it is required that the home be serviced via the municipal water and wastewater supply, be constructed within the City of Guelph by a registered Tarion home builder, as well as be constructed in alignment with one of the City’s three BBH standards.

 

 

 

Builders can choose to offer any or all of the certification levels as an option to home buyers. If builders choose to build a BBH they must complete and submit a BBH application form along with their Building Permit application.

 

 

 

Installation of the home’s fixtures and appliances is confirmed during the final plumbing inspection by the City’s Building Services Division. At this time the City’s inspector goes through a list of the home’s fixtures and their supported documentation (eg. fixture specifications) with the plumber employed by the home builder.

 

Step by Step Process:

 

-        City of Guelph Water Conservation and Efficiency Strategy Update (2009) recommended water efficiency standards for new home construction.

 

-        The City assessed green building programs and practices in North America (eg. Built Green, ENERGY STAR® for New Homes, WaterSense® for New Homes, LEED Canada for Homes, GreenHouse Certified Construction, Region of Durham Efficient Community).

 

-        Average annual household water use was estimated based on industry standard residential water end use studies and a family size of three persons. In addition, average annual household water use for “new” homes was estimated using an analysis of 2009 City of Guelph water billing records for homes built between 2006 and 2008.

 

-        Cost comparison was completed between the cost of new local water supply versus the cost of water reclaimed through conservation (i.e. the anticipated cost of implementing the Blue Built Home program).

 

-        Initial program design was agreed to between Water and Building Services. This included the recommendation of the individual water efficient fixtures, appliances, auxiliary water systems for inclusion in each certification level. The anticipated savings for each certification level were estimated.

 

-        The City’s Building Services (plan reviewers, permit processing, city plumbing inspectors) assisted with the development of a Building Services procedure for the Blue Built Home permit application process and inspection process.

 

-        The City’s Legal Services and Finance reviewed the Program’s Terms and Conditions and rebate application process. Legal Services were pivotal in achieving CIPO trademark on the Blue Built Home name and logo in perpetuity. The Program was trademarked to protect the name and credibility being built within the program.

 

-        Consultation with members of Guelph's Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee was completed to provide feedback on the Program as well as identify future possibilities for program growth.

 

-        Collaboration with the local building community through initial program design meetings, workshops, and regular consultation was essential to provide current market conditions, evaluate acceptance and feasibility of home water efficiency standards, sales staff delivery and discuss marketing and promotion opportunities for the Program. 

 

-        Corporate communications developed the signature look, promotional pieces, and marketing plan to achieve program and brand recognition in the community. A Blue Built Home advertisement series for local print media was created and included a promotional video highlighting the advantages to a Blue Built Home. This video is displayed in demonstration homes, on the Program website and is used for general outreach purposes.

 

-        Building partners were established, demo Blue Built Homes were built.

 

-        To ensure the technical aspects of the Program resonated with the building community, a workshop was held for plumbing contractors working with the Program's participating builders. It was also essential to ensure local plumbing contractors were capable and familiar with installation of the auxiliary water systems required within the Program.

 

-        Home builder sales staff were versed on water efficiency standard details to have a full understanding to ensure effective communication and promotion to interested home buyers.

 

-        Reference material providing Program details was developed for building partners, their sales staff, and home buyers which included a descriptive brochure, and folder containing fact sheets, FAQs and a brand use guideline. This material was also made available to the builders on the Program's website. 

 

-        A detailed monitoring program was developed in consultation with the City’s Water Services metering staff to measure on-going household water use in Blue Built Homes.

 

 

Primary Drivers:

The City of Guelph relies on a finite groundwater source for its water supply and there is a strong public demand for the City to remain on local groundwater sources as the City grows. This influenced the development of the City Council approved Water Conservation and Efficiency Strategy Update (2009). The Update identified increased water use amongst homes built between1996-2009 and recommended new home based water efficiency programming to reduce the impacts of growth on the City’s water resources. Based on this recommendation, the Blue Built Home program was developed as a way to encourage home builders to build more efficient housing stock and increase market demand for water efficient homes.

 

Secondary Drivers:

The public has an appetite for the use of advanced water efficient technology within the City. This and the fact that the City of Guelph has a progressive Building Services department interested and educated in supporting advanced water efficient technology was essential for the trial of the greywater and rainwater harvesting systems through the Program. 

 

 

 

Partnerships with builders were also essential for the success of this Program. Because the City of Guelph is considered to be environmentally conscious and there is a potential market for water efficient homes, builders were interested in taking a risk and building these homes with little incentive.

 

Enablers:

The support from the Mayor and Council were critical in the implementation of the Program.

 

 

 

Guelph created a trademark on the Blue Built Home name and logo aligning it with a number of internationally-recognized environmental specifications and building standards such as LEED and Energy Star. This enables the Program to be easily understood by buyers and adds value and credibility to the product.

 

Champions:

The Mayor and Council have been very supportive of the Program. Further support stems from three local builders – Reid’s Heritage Homes, Sloot Construction Ltd., Terra View Homes – who have partnered with the City on the Program. Of these builders, Reid’s Heritage Homes has been a leader in terms of building Blue Built Homes. To date, Reid’s has 29 homes built to the Blue Built Home bronze standard and 1 home built to the Blue Built Home silver standard.

Obstacles:

The Blue Built Home program was initially designed to have the rebate be received by the home builder as this would provide an incentive for the construction of these homes.  The Municipal Act provided a challenge however, because providing home building businesses with rebates is considered bonusing. As a result, the Program was reconfigured to allow the homeowner to receive the rebate.

 

Opportunities:

As mentioned above, the City of Guelph has a progressive Building Services department interested and educated in supporting advanced water efficient technology. This was essential for the trial of the greywater and rainwater harvesting systems through the Program.

 

Obstacles:

Water conservation through development of a voluntary green building program relies on a number of factors including the level of difficulty in meeting eligibility requirements by the builders and plumbers, affordability of the home to the buyer, and creating a market for water efficient homes.

 

 

 

For example, the Program requires hot water recirculation systems for all BBH certifications. These systems have been determined to be time intensive to install by plumbing contractors during the building process, and as such carry forward these costs to new home buyers. Cost increases may contribute to longer than accepted payback on investment periods for new home buyers, even with the incentive provided through the Program, and as such deters home buyers from choosing a Blue Built Home. Through revisions to BBH standard requirements, it is hoped that home buyer affordability of the BBH standard is enhanced, and that uptake of this program will increase.

 

 

 

Other Program requirements, such as the ENERGY STAR® washing machine, are also required for all BBH certifications. Currently, the selection, purchase, and installation of such appliances are the responsibility of the homeowner. As a result, the builder assumes no liability for the appliance. The challenge in this process is that homeowners bringing such appliances with them into their new home do not receive any rebate and cannot be certified if their appliance does not meet the BBH standards.

 

 

 

As a relatively new brand in the marketplace, the Program relies on consumer awareness and perceived consumer value stemming from paid and earned media. The Program also relies on promotion completed by partner home builder sales staff sharing the opportunity for BBH options when working with home buyers to choose preferences for their new home. Depending on the priority given to this content by the sales person, BBH options may not receive as much promotion as other custom options such as granite countertops or hardwood floors. These challenges could be removed if incentives are transferred from the home buyer to the builder, as legally possible.

 

Opportunities:

As mentioned above, partnerships with builders were essential for the success of this Program. Because the City of Guelph is considered to be environmentally conscious and there is a potential market for water efficient homes, builders were interested in taking a risk and building these homes with little incentive.

 

 

 

To date many home builders have identified an appetite to build all of their future homes to such standards should BBH processes be revised to create builder direct incentives.

 

Outcome:

To date, 32 homes have been built under the Program. Staff are currently optimizing the Program to increase the number of builder participants and the affordability and awareness of Blue Built Homes.

 

 

 

Water Services has implemented a water use monitoring program at each Blue Built Home after it has become occupied. Water use is monitored in hourly intervals via a Flexible Axis Meter with all household data downloads completed via remote radio communication system on a monthly basis. Comparison of BBH water usage to the estimated standard average new home was completed to determine overall water savings and whether the home is performing to standard. Thus far, the estimated water usage for a Bronze standard is 144.48 m3/yr, while the actual usage is 158.34 m3/yr, as shown from monitoring data. However, the monitoring data is based on only 15 homes with individual household data collected over varying lengths of time depending on possession of the home (e.g. anywhere from 1 to 14 months).

 

Lessons Learned:

 

Because the incentive is paid to the home buyer rather than the builder, builder participation is low. A program that provides greater direct builder incentives, such as reduced development charges, would result in increased builder participation and more affordable homes.

 

 

 

Until the BBH brand becomes established, promotion of the Program is largely a result of building sales staff.  Although the building partners support the Program, their sales staff may not be ‘dedicated to the cause’ and so the water efficient features may not be their first priority.

 

 

 

Additional education and support for homeowners may be needed in order to increase water conservation in Blue Built Homes.

 

 

Home buyers drive the market for change. They are an important target audience for consultation and would be beneficial in supporting program optimization.

Applicability Across Ontario:

When designing the Blue Built Home program, it was hoped the program could easily be replicated in other municipalities, recognizing plan review and building permit processes differ between agencies. There are a few key aspects of this Program that could be replicated by other municipal governments including incorporation of the building application into municipal applications already in use, as well as incorporation of the validation process into the municipal building inspections. This affects the ease in which builders can apply to the Program and eliminates the need to rely on external third-party inspections. To maintain the integrity of the trademarked name and Program, it would be important to maintain the same water efficiency standard specifications (i.e. fixture, appliance and auxiliary water system requirements) across all municipalities interested in delivering this Program.

 

Similar Tools Used by Other Municipalities:

Green Building Incentive Programs and Initiatives:

 

Caledon Green Development Pilot Program

 

Hamilton Community Improvement Plan: LEED Grant Program

 

Kitchener Green Housing Incentive Program

 

Saanich (BC) Green Home Building Rebate Program

 

Toronto Green Standard

 

Region of York Sustainable Housing Incentive Program

 

Region of Durham Efficient Community

 

Built Green

 

GreenHouse Certified Construction

 

ENERGY STAR® for New Homes

 

LEED Canada for Homes

 

WaterSense® for New Homes (United States)

 

Further Information:

 

Email adress:  bluebuilthome@guelph.ca

 

Blue Built Home webpage:  http://www.bluebuilthome.ca

 

 

Policy Document: Blue Built Home Terms and Conditions.pdf