The White House.  10 Downing Street.  24 Sussex Drive.  For those outside of Canada, the latter address is the lesser known official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada.  Unlike the other two, it is in a state of decrepitude, and now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to leave the house empty so the long overdue renovations can take place, many Canadians are debating what should take priority.

Much of the discussion that has taken place has revolved around whether it should be torn down or preserved, whether it should become a model of sustainable housing, and, more recently, whether the pool should be removed.  In a recent statement, the National Capital Commission (NCC), the government organization that manages the property, revealed that they are considering improving security, the livability and functionality, the building’s sustainability, and its status as a national symbol.

The NCC recognizes that the house currently does not meet basic tests for energy efficiency, and as the Chief Executive of the NCC stated, it is “certainly not emblematic of where we think the built infrastructure of the country should be heading in terms of carbon emissions.

To improve the building’s sustainability, there has been talk of adding solar panels, insulation, and energy efficient windows, with much of the discussion pertaining to solar panels.  Solar panels make a public statement, and this may appeal to those who want to express their green values or their desire to be “different” or “trendy”.  Meanwhile, insulation hides behind the walls and in attics.

Insulation and its benefits may not be obvious, but infrared photography is becoming common-place and has the ability to visually demonstrate the hot and cold spots on a building.  Photographs of 24 Sussex could be taken and published, and the story could either frame the Prime Minister as a champion or a laggard of energy efficiency.

Insulation can help 24 Sussex conserve energy.  Given that the cheapest energy source is energy efficiency, conservation methods should take precedence over other energy sources.  A leaky home – one that is not well insulated, well ventilated, or well sealed – will waste a lot of energy, no matter how economical or efficient or renewable the energy source is.  In other words, the solar panels will likely be an ineffective source of energy, as much of the energy produced will leak through the walls and attic.

Solar panels are also not always an effective source of energy.  To be effective, rooftops should be oriented south so that the panels can produce the maximum amount of energy.  In a CBC article, Greg Furlong, senior energy strategist for EnviroCentre, pointed out that the roof of the Prime Minister’s home is oriented east and west.

Whether the residence that has housed 11 prime ministers is demolished or renovated, it is important that the NCC keeps energy conservation in mind, and remembers how insulation can also make a statement about our government’s environmental values while helping to keep Canadian families more comfortable and healthier, all while saving money on their energy bills.