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Home Eco Ratings

Green renos can pay off

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Home Eco Ratings

Home energy audits may not sound as exciting as granite countertops, but they can make your home more attractive to buyers and save you money.

Want to save money, protect the planet, and increase your home’s value at the same time? Home energy audits and green labelling may not sound as exciting as granite countertops, but they can make your home more attractive to buyers and protect the environment from greenhouse gases.

But will homeowners make the investment? According to a recent survey, 57 percent of Canadians would be willing to spend 5 to 10 percent more for an energy-efficient home. In Ontario the provincial government passed a law in 2009 that gives home buyers the right to demand an energy audit on a property.

Audit your home for the market

When Debra and Ted Olson decided to sell their 1913 house on Salt Spring Island, BC, “green” realtor Gord Ellis recommended they participate in a pilot project to test the feasibility of following Ontario’s example. Ellis felt that a home energy audit would give prospective buyers the option of comparing the energy efficiency of the Olsons’ house with others on the market.

“We wanted factual information to give the realtor and potential buyers so they’ll know exactly what they’ll be getting in the insulation of the house and energy use,” says Ted Olson.
“The audit also gives us a checklist so we know what we need to do,” Debra Olson adds. “Some things are small fixes we just hadn’t thought about that are easy to do, such as weather-stripping and caulking around windows.”

By participating in the pilot project, called Time of Sale Home Energy Labelling, the couple received an incentive for the audit: the usual fee in their area is $150, but they will get a $75 rebate.

When Ellis markets the house, he’ll feature the EnerGuide rating the Olsons will receive after improvements are made (see sidebar). An official, government-approved rating label will be visible on their utility box, and the rating will be posted on the Multiple Listing Service.

Simple ways to save at home

Every little thing adds up—including every watt of electricity you can save by greening your home. Here are some easy investments that are worth their weight in green.

Kitchen
When it’s time to replace your refrigerator, choose a certified eco-friendly one and save enough energy to light your home for up to four months.

Bath
A 10-minute shower, when compared to taking a bath, uses one-third less water—enough to make 45 kg of ice. Save even more water by installing a low-flow aerator on your shower head.

And beyond
Install an Energy Star programmable thermostat and set it to automatically turn down the heat at night by 3 to 5 degrees. By doing so, you save up to 20 percent in energy spending—that’s about $600 annually for the average household.

Incentives for homeowners

Like this BC pilot project, partnerships between utility companies and provincial or territorial governments provide grants and rebates to help homeowners cover the cost of making energy improvements. (See oee.nrcan.gc.ca, click on “Grants and Incentives” on the left-hand side.)

Almost 250,000 households have participated in the Ontario Home Energy Savings Program; each has received a 50 percent rebate on a $150 audit. Those who followed up with upgrades to their home typically reduced their energy use by 30 percent, annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by about 3 tonnes, and saved about $600 on an annual $2,000 heating bill.

In only 18 months over 40,000 households enrolled in the provincial LiveSmart BC program for a home energy audit. Of these, 23,000 made recommended improvements and received an average rebate of $1,200.

Feds drop home energy program

Some provincial programs were co-supported by the popular federal ecoENERGY Retrofit rebate program, which provided a maximum of $5,000 per qualifying household or unit. The program was abruptly cancelled this spring, although households already registered in the program will be supported until March 31, 2011.

Almost 600,000 households have had an energy audit done through the federal EnerGuide program since 2007, and of these, 85,000 used the ecoENERGY Retrofit program to help cover the costs of replacing low-efficiency furnaces and hot water tanks, switch to renewable energy such as solar and geothermal, and upgrade appliances, among many other changes.

The average homeowner saved about $700 per year on energy costs, or $17,500 over a 25-year period, according to Peter Sundberg of City Green Solutions. City Green is a nonprofit enterprise that has helped thousands of homeowners arrange energy audits and obtain retrofitting advice.

“While the best investment a homeowner can make is getting a home energy audit,” Sundberg says, “the investment also pays off in contributing to a green economy.”

Natural Resources Canada estimates that for every $1 granted by the ecoENERGY Retrofit program, homeowners spent $10. Sundberg points out that these extra dollars went into local spending, with millions in GST added to federal coffers.

Although an independent study by the CD Howe Institute found that “energy retrofits appear to be a leading low-cost way to offer incentives to save energy and cut GHG emissions,” only 10 percent of Canadian housing has been audited and retrofitted to date.

Green from the ground up

There are few subsidy programs for new homes. SaskEnergy offers an Energy Efficiency Rebate for New Homes, which it provides to houses with an EnerGuide rating of 80 or above. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation offers a 10 percent refund on their mortgage loan insurance premium for new homes with the same rating.

Although there isn’t much out there in the way of incentives, this hasn’t stopped some home builders from driving the market toward environmentally responsible housing. The new president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, Victor Fiume, is also general manager of Durham Custom Homes in Oshawa, Ontario.

Durham Custom Homes was named 2009 Ontario Green Builder of the Year by the Ontario Builders’ Association for “raising the bar … and pushing the limits to help the planet.”

Durham builds with Energy Star and GreenHouse, two certified green label programs. “We can clearly demonstrate a new energy-efficient house can put money in your pocket,” says Fiume. “Energy Star costs about $4,000 per home, and very conservatively, that’ll save 20 percent on your utility costs every year.”

One way of accomplishing this, Fiume says, is by putting fan kits on gas fireplaces and building in cold air returns. Heat from the fireplace is captured and brought down to the furnace, where the furnace fan redistributes it throughout the house.

Other programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED Canada) and Built Green in Alberta and BC are point systems, where a rating is applied after consumers choose various options.

Fiume, however, believes, “The key for consumers is to stop looking for points, and ask if their builder has considered the house as a complete system. Ask if they are providing better energy efficiency, using wood from sustainable forests and recycled and locally produced components, and how they’ll provide the very best indoor air quality.”

It seems that, with incentives, a fair number of homeowners will go green and renovate for energy efficiency. But, according to Fiume, even with proven cost savings, a new green home is still “a tough sell.” Then he adds, with conviction, “In no way should that dissuade us from doing the right thing.” 

What to expect from a home energy audit

Only a certified energy advisor using the federal government’s EnerGuide Rating System can perform a home energy audit. To find an advisor in your area, go to oee.nrcan.gc.ca.

An energy advisor will

  • assess your home’s heating and cooling systems and ventilation
  • use a blower-door test to find drafts and air leaks
  • spot check for moisture and ventilation issues
  • plug appliances into a smart meter to measure energy use

The advisor will calculate your home’s current EnerGuide rating and potential rating on a scale from 1 to 100. You will be sent a report itemizing which upgrades would have the biggest impact on energy efficiency.

After you’ve made changes, a follow-up home assessment will give you an official EnerGuide rating and EnerGuide label.

Watch a home energy assessment at savehomeenergy.ca.

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