Canadian homeowners are lining up for federal dollars to make their homes more energy efficient, but experts say without additional programs, there’s a risk people won’t pursue the renovations needed to help Canada cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
But government programs seeking to incentivize home renovations are failing to keep up with demand, and supplementary programs have yet to be announced, despite being promised months ago.
The federal Greener Homes Grant, for example, was launched in May and aims to provide 700,000 homeowners with up to $5,000 in grants to make energy efficient retrofits to their homes and up to $600 to help cover energy evaluations used to track greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Just seven months into the program’s seven-year lifespan, over 25 per cent of its available grants have been applied for (this does not mean they are all guaranteed), Natural Resources Canada ministry spokesperson Joanna Sivasankaran told Canada’s National Observer.
“This early surge of interest has caused significant strain in the energy audit industry, which has led to longer than anticipated wait times for some homeowners,” Sivasankaran said.
To date, over 130,000 applications have been submitted to Natural Resources Canada, and another 50,000-plus applications have been made through Quebec and Nova Scotia’s partner programs.
Nearly 1,600 applicants — excluding those from Quebec and Nova Scotia — have completed their retrofits and had a final energy assessment, according to Natural Resources Canada.
This may sound sparse, but low numbers and long wait times are not surprising, nor are they cause for concern, according to Brendan Haley, policy director of Efficiency Canada.
While delays can pose a problem for homeowners, the program created a clear demand for energy advisers, which signals to both industry and workers that now is the time to join the retrofit economy, Haley said.
The biggest problem with the #GreenerHomesGrant is not delays caused by lack of energy advisers, it's that it doesn't offer enough $ for deep retrofits and isn't designed to scale for the retrofit wave Canada desperately needs, says @EfficiencyCAN.
Starting small and scaling is also a realistic approach in the early days of the program and gives the government a chance to address bottlenecks that would impede future progress on mass retrofits. At this point, wait times and the number of applications matter less than ensuring newly renovated homes have significant energy savings, said Haley, though he doubts the current grant program is achieving that goal.
“If this grant is only incentivizing shallow retrofits, we actually create missed opportunities to move each home to a standard consistent with a net-zero emission economy,” said Haley.
Renovations that reduce a building’s energy use by 50 per cent — often referred to as “deep retrofits” — require a combination of costly projects, including replacing the roof, upgrading insulation or switching heat and ventilation systems to renewable technologies. These types of retrofits can range from $50,000 to $100,000, which is a problem when only a $5,000 grant is available, said Haley.
To him, the real success of the Greener Homes Grant depends on how it works alongside other retrofit programs, including the yet-to-be-launched interest-free loans the federal government promised.
The last federal budget earmarked $4.4 billion for the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to administer interest-free loans worth up to $40,000 to homeowners and landlords who pursue retrofits identified through an EnerGuide energy assessment.
The program was supposed to be available last summer but has yet to be announced.
Haley says the federal government should have launched the grant and interest-free loans simultaneously so people can afford more costly retrofits and achieve bigger energy savings.
For example, if a homeowner upgrades their heating system but does not install a zero-emissions option like a heat pump, they probably won’t be keen to do another big renovation for many years, which could lock in carbon emissions, said Haley. An interest-free loan would make homeowners more likely to do the big retrofits now, instead of down the line.
When asked why the program’s launch has been delayed, CMHC did not answer directly but said: “The government is working as fast as it can to ensure Canadian homeowners across the country can access the Canada Greener Home Loan.”
CMHC did not disclose when the loan will launch, but the corporation’s senior communications officer Audrey-Anne Coulombe said in a statement: “More details will become available on the loan at launch date.”
Although the loan could help homeowners achieve bigger energy savings, Haley said programs that put the onus on Canadians to manage retrofits and assume financial risk won’t get the country’s buildings to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Organizations like Passive House Canada say residential towers from the 1970s and ’80s are in need of renovations and would be a simple and cost-effective place to start slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
To address the rest of Canada’s buildings, federal investment and policies are needed to grow the retrofit economy to the point where three per cent of the building stock is retrofitted each year, according to Haley.
“There are a lot of solutions we need to try out, and they're all very focused on reshaping the markets that currently deliver building retrofits,” he said.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer