Roofing renovations can now include installing solar panels or creating a flat roof to maximize expensive living space
By Frank O’Brien
For many years roofing has been a separate contract in Canada’s multi-billion dollar home renovation industry, but today roofs are being seen as an extension of two big trends: energy saving and maximizing living space.
The former has fueled growth in solar roof panels, accelerated by generous provincial incentives that add to the payback potential. The latter is seen in the recent profusion of flat roofs as part of home renovations in high-priced housing markets, like Vancouver, where every extra square foot can be worth $1,000 at resale time.
“Solar has reached a point where the panels have become extremely reliable, efficient, and the costs have come down, with substantial cost reduction in the past five years,” said Ken Mayhew, president of Penfolds Roofing of Vancouver, the first Vancouver roofing firm to integrate photovoltaic (PV) panel installation into its existing roofing sales.
According to the BC Sustainable Energy Association, a solar PV module cost $100 per watt to install in 1980. Today, it costs between $2 to $3 per watt.
Although a typical 4-KW roof solar panel costs an estimated $16,000, the energy produced translates to a 540 per cent return on investment over the 40-year life cycle.
“Nothing is more reliable than the sun coming up tomorrow,” Mayhew said. “If you don’t have an immediate need for the power your panels are producing, it’s fed back into the grid, and you’ll get the same amount back from the grid whenever you need it.”
BC Hydro will pay for any excess power, currently 9.99 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). About 900 B.C. homeowners are feeding electricity back to the hydro grid and 95 per cent of them have installed solar PV systems.
Ontario once had an even more generous incentive program for qualified homeowners, including direct financial support to install solar panels and guaranteed 20-year contracts to purchase excess electricity at rates well above market values, but those subsidies have now largely ended.
Other provinces are now coming on board, including Alberta, which this year launched its Residential and Commercial Solar Program.
“There’s a lot of buzz in Alberta around small-scale solar. This program will make solar power affordable for more Albertans, leading to new panels on 10,000 Alberta rooftops by 2020,” according to Shannon Phillips, Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks and Minister Responsible for the Climate Change Office. Phillips noted that solar uptake has doubled in Alberta since 2015.
There are also solar shingles on the market that create less obtrusive solar rooflines.
A potential boost to residential rooftop solar is the ability to store the electricity generated for use on rainy days. By 2019, electric car maker Tesla will introduce its Powerwall home battery system to Canada. The wall-mounted batteries are already being tested. A pilot project was launched in New Brunswick last year and it now includes 25 test homes across Canada.
Soaring home prices and contemporary residential design have conspired to launch a new trend: flat roofs on detached houses.
For “green” builders it is often about making space for passive solar and storm water retention, but for others it just makes practical sense when a typical big-city house sells for $800 to $1,000 per square foot.
“The flat roof extends my living space and that is worth a lot,“ said Gladys Hepner who changed the traditional sloped roof on her Vancouver house into a flat-roofed patio that she accesses through an outside staircase.
Traditionally, detached house designs have shied away from flat roofs due to fears of higher costs for maintenance. But both design and modern materials are addressing those issues. The latest roofing materials, such as TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) and EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) used for flat roofs have warranties of up to 20 years. Built and flashed by a professional, they won’t leak.
Proponents note that the initial cost of installing a flat roof is low because the surface area of a flat roof is less than the surface area of a sloped roof. Flat roofs also don’t have the rafters or engineered trusses that sloped roofs have, which makes them less costly to build. It is also easier for roofing crews to work on a flat roof, which can save on labour costs.
For many Canadian renovators accustomed to installing roof dormers, the next step could be leveling off a roof to create additional living space that adds to the home’s comfort and resale value.