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October 28, 2009

Home energy conservation a must

Nava Dabby

Home evaluationKrista Weltz-Gordon has been saving $160 on her energy bill every month since she did an energy assessment and efficiency retrofit of her Kitchener home 18 months ago. 

While home retrofitting may seem like a daunting task to some, for a homeowner like Krista it means a $2,000 increase in disposable income per year. 

On top of saving money over the long term, a retrofit also means conserving energy and “doing good” for the environment.

Peter Love, Ontario’s Chief Energy Conservation Officer, believes that the greatest barrier to energy conservation is its intangibility. “I want people to change the way they think about electricity and this will be hard because conservation is invisible.”

Love is concerned with creating a culture of conservation which he hopes to achieve with the help of 18 municipal energy efficiency officers, who collectively represent more than half of the province’s population.

Also, saving energy and money should soon be easier. By 2010, all of southern Ontario will be outfitted with new smart meters, which will charge users for energy at the time of use. 

Love envisions that time-of-use billing will be a powerful incentive for Ontarians to shift their energy consumption to off-peak times, reducing peak demand and the need to import energy.

Incentives for improving home energy efficiency can be found at all levels of government, but the most popular is the ecoENERGY retrofit program of Natural Resources Canada. 

This rebate of $1,000-$5,000 is offered to households that complete an energy evaluation of their home and then undertake recommended energy efficiency improvements. 

The rebates apply to many energy saving products including Energy Star qualified heating systems, ventilation systems, insulation and air sealing as well as the installation of low-flush toilets that conserve water as well as energy. 

Natural Resources Canada estimates that “since the program was launched in April of 2007, the federal government has delivered over $58 million in grants to more than 52,500 homeowners.”

Ontario and British Columbia have recently begun matching all federal grants awarded to homeowners under the ecoENERGY program, increasing the available amount of the grant to $10,000 per household in these provinces. 

There are also municipal incentives available.  The Greater Toronto Area offers rebates for the purchase of high efficiency clothes washers and energy efficient air conditioners.

The Ontario government recently announced plans that will require every home to have an audit when it is sold.

To qualify for grants, homeowners must have a home energy evaluation by a qualified ecoENERGY advisor before undertaking any renovations.

These evaluations are offered by not-for-profit organizations that have been certified by the federal program. The initial assessment requires an upfront fee, usually $150-$300, but in return, homeowners get informed recommendations from a professional who visits their home.

A follow-up visit is also required at a cost of about $150 and needs to be done within 18 months of the first visit to qualify for grants.

Mary Jane Patterson is Executive Director of the Residential Energy Efficiency Project (REEP) in Waterloo Region. REEP, the organization chosen by Weltz-Gordon to perform her assessment, is just one of many not-for profits that offer these services in Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. 

Most belong to Green Communities Canada, the leading service organization for residential energy efficiency assessments.

REEP is involved in community conservation activities and is working on retrofitting two century-old houses and turning them into models of efficiency. 

The goal for the first building is to see a 50-per cent reduction in energy use compared to the previous owners once it reverts back to community housing in 2009.

The second building retrofit is aiming for net-zero energy performance and will be a two-and-a-half-year project involving public workshops and outreach programs. 

The goal of the REEP houses is to “inspire homeowners to do the same to their homes,” says Patterson.  They will also show that often the most effective retrofits can be done for less than the cost of renovating your kitchen.

The idea behind energy retrofits is for homeowners to see quicker paybacks on their investment than they would get on a more typical investment, say, in a bank or in stocks. 

On top of this, renovating a home so it is more energy efficient often has the added bonus of making it a more comfortable place to live.

Weltz-Gordon and her family were once unable to use their home addition in the winter because it was simply too cold. Thanks to the renovations recommended by the REEP energy assessment, “it is now the coziest room in the house.”

Weltz-Gordon estimates the total investment, including the cost of the audits at about $7,450 and hopes to recover about $5,000 in grants.

While conservation is invisible, it remains one of the most powerful tools in energy reduction.

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) has set a goal to cut peak energy consumption by 6,300 megawatts by 2025.  According to Love, that’s equivalent to eliminating the demand from Toronto and Mississauga from the grid.  This “aggressive target is among the highest in North America,” and home energy use constitutes at least one-third of demand in Ontario, according to Love.

The Pembina Institute argues that the OPA’s own studies show that another 65 per cent savings above the current goal can be achieved via conservation and demand management as early as 2019.

“The focus on peak reduction decreases the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are produced by hours of use, not peak use.”  Pembina argues that the OPA should look towards decreasing baseline energy use and the overall power produced. That will ultimately result in peak reduction.

A report by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation mirrors these sentiments stating that Ontario is in an excellent position to conserve twice what the OPA has planned.

The province is set to close down all of its coal fired plants by 2014, eliminating 25 per cent of energy production right off the bat.  This will occur around the same time that the Bruce and Pickering nuclear plants reach the end of their lifespan.  The role of conservation and demand management is pivotal in negating the need for new mega projects.

For Peter Love the answer is clear, if Ontario and Canada are to meet their ongoing targets for reducing energy consumption, “we need everybody to participate in the creation of a culture of conservation.”

Nava Dabby is an MES Candidate in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo.

For more information:

British Columbia Community Energy,

Canadian Energy Efficiency Center,

Environment Canada Incentives and Rebates,

Green Communities Canada: EcoENERGY,

Home Performance,

Natural Resources Canada, “ecoENERGY: Retrofit Your Home and Qualify for a Grant!” Informational pamphlet, January 1, 2008.

Ontario Conservation Bureau, “2008 Chief Energy Conservation Officer’s Annual Report”,

Ontario Conservation Bureau, “Energy Conservation Report” (mail out flyer), Winter 2009

Ontario Conservation Bureau,

REEP Waterloo,

Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, and

Smart Meters Ontario,

Sustainable Communities,

Burda Cherise and Roger Peters, The Pembina Institute, “Plugging Ontario into a Green Future: A Renewable is Doable Action Plan,”

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