Hold on to your hats, everyone, Whitehorse is going to amend the building and plumbing bylaw.
At first glance this does not appear the most exciting of topics, but in environmental circles it is turning heads.
Whitehorse is proposing amending the bylaw to enforce minimum insulation values in all new buildings and additions.
This means that walls, attics, doors and even windows will be required to meet certain insulation values.
For example, the bylaw amendment would have walls be R28 and attics R50.
An example of a R28 wall would mean one layer of R20 insulation, typically six inches (15.24 cm) thick, with a second layer of R8 added, typically three inches (7.62 cm) thick.
The insulation value, or R, refers to the ability of a material to resist heat flow.
The higher the R value, the less heat loss will occur over a given period of time.
Insulation values have also been assigned to floors above unheated spaces, slabs on ground, crawl spaces, doors, windows and footings.
All new houses, condominiums and apartments buildings would be required to be built to these standards.
Another amendment to the bylaw would ensure heat recover ventilators in new housing.
These ventilators take warm, stale air from inside a house and vent it outside while transferring the heat to incoming cold fresh air.
One of the ironies of a well insulated air tight home is that fresh air must be introduced by mechanical means.
By ensuring a house is airtight, along with decent levels of insulation, heat loss is prevented but fresh air access is also denied.
Fresh air is important for human health.
It also prevents humidity buildup and mould getting established in buildings.
Just like humans, buildings have to breathe.
When done using a heat recovery ventilator, there is little heat loss.
Less heat loss means less energy will be needed for heating whether it is in the form of wood, oil, propane or electricity.
This is good news for the environment.
It is also good news for the pocketbook.
Less energy use means less money will be required to heat new homes built to the bylaw standards.
The new, better insulated residences will cost slightly more up front.
But the energy savings should pay for this extra cost within a decade or less.
A lot will depend on the size, style and use of the building.
Because all new residences will be built to the proposed amended bylaw standards it means all new home purchase prices will increase by a small amount.
It will not be a matter of homeowners having to choose between poorly insulated but cheap homes and adequately insulated but moderately priced homes.
Only adequately insulated homes will be available.
And the slight extra cost will be more than recovered through lower heating bills.
The proposed minimum thermal insulation values that Whitehorse is proposing in the amended bylaw are good, but not great.
They are good in the sense that they are better than nothing.
This is what the current building code has for insulation values at the moment.
They could be much better in that the R insulation values and other energy conservation design initiatives could be much higher.
There is an example of that right here in the Yukon.
The design that the Yukon Housing Corporation is using for its new projects is called Super GreenHome.
There are seven main criteria to meet this standard.
This includes having the building pass an air-leakage test and installing a ventilation system that is approved by a certified ventilation adviser.
Typical R values for a Super GreenHome are R60 for the walls, and R80 in the ceiling.
As can be imagined, the heating costs for a SuperGreen house are very low.
What Whitehorse is proposing does not come close to this, but it is a start.
Whitehorse is to be commended for introducing the bylaw amendment.
It is hoped that once it is implemented it will find wide acceptance from home owners, building contractors and architects.
Once the benefits are understood, perhaps then the bylaw can be amended again so that it matches the Yukon Housing Corporation SuperGreen standards.
For more information on the Yukon Housing Corporation Super GreenHome contact 667-5759 or visit www.housing.yk.ca.
Information on the city of Whitehorse proposed energy conservation amendments to the building and plumbing bylaw is available from City Building Inspections. The department can be reached at 668-8340 or on the city website at www.city.whitehorse.yk.ca.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.