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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.

Homes and buildings are responsible for 13 per cent of the country’s annual emissions, and large-scale retrofits are needed if Canada is to achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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.

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.

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.

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

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The last time I tried a government eco-renovation program, they wanted me to replace my windows, but the work had to be done in the dead of winter to fit the budget. Maybe it would be better to just subsidize the hardware and let people use their brains.

Government aid programs for individuals are a bit like government aid programs for starving countries: governments only do them when they improve their bottom line.
So not only do you have to have the work certified by trained/licensed personnel, but most such programs are delivered by lower-level governments, each of which adds in a bit of participation by their favorite revenue-builder.
City of Toronto, means a contractor with a Toronto city business license. It's no more likely that the license will make the work better, but it'll improve Toronto's, Ontario's and Canada's bottom line.
The crap of it is that programs available for "po' folk" are attached to a handful of professional leeches, that'll hire unlicensed sub-contractors, get a rock bottom price from them, double it and add on another 20-30% for themselves. All of a sudden, what was do-able with $X-amount ... disappears.
There are problems with the "door blowers" ... depending on the kind of furnace you have, they can suck garbage from the chimney into the furnace through the heat vents and cold-air return. Depending on what problems you might have with your front door, you might wind up with them telling you you don't need the door replaced (though the wind blows right through the door and in around the lock, etc.) because all of that is hidden by the fact that they're measuring method ensures all front doors will be deemed perfect.
Note to self: Don't get me started.

If all of this doesn't demand the question: How about the feds CHANGE what things the budget gets spent on, like, for instance, the military, then why bother?!!

There are other real-world constraints which influence the rate of uptake of more thorough energy efficiency upgrades by homeowners. "Deep retrofits" are just another kind of major home renovation project, and everyone knows someone whose home renovation project was turned into a living nightmare by unexpected interactions between contractor reliability/availability, budget escalation, and materials shortages. If you layer on additional bottlenecks resulting from delays in the inspections needed to unlock funding, it's no wonder that more ambitious retrofits aren't happening.

My house would be a prime candidate for a deep retrofit. It's 50 years old and would really benefit from better insulation and windows, as well as a bunch of other upgrades that a specialist with the right expertise could identify. But if it's up to me to do all of the wrangling of contractors - trying to find reliable ones in an industry which is notoriously opaque (e.g. work for cash etc.) - it ain't gonna happen any time soon. Life already has enough going on it that needs scheduling and there's no need to look for additional stresses! And I'd consider myself to be highly motivated to do the right things in terms of personal energy consumption. I don't need to government subsidy to fund this; I'm willing to dip into personal savings to make it happen.

But what would make the difference is community-wide coordination to certify and monitor contractors, as well as systematic, block-by-block assessments of the housing stock to come up with standardized prescriptions that could be implemented more efficiently, with centralized public inventories of tested and certified materials and equipment. This approach would work well in communities like mine which had a lot of its housing built in a short time with a limited range of floor plans and building styles. Until I see something like this emerging, I'll just conclude that governments aren't really serious.

Even if you have to bring in their industry standards people, nothing happens to the bad actors. They curse about eventually having to fix not only the things you asked them to, but a considerable list of others as well.
But there's nothing about sloppy and unprofessional workmanship, or fixing ceilings that got torn apart that shouldn't have ever been cut into in the first place ...
Live and learn.
Have kids. Encourage them to be tradespeople. 'Cuz the trades are worse than lawyers.
Block-by-block might work for apartment buildings. Kind of useless in typical city neighbourhoods, though.
On my block, there's everything from 100+ years old (with or without any renos at all), to built just before Covid, and the entire gamut of renos, build-ons, etc.
Cities can't even keep on top of their own services connections and replacements.
Literally millions of dollars are wasted every year, digging up things that should have been covered over last time, work to be done on entire blocks but no one checks to see if the work was actually done, etc.

Rather than some complicated program involving yet more bureaucracy, a simpler energy solution would be changing building codes to require that all new and replacement windows to be triple-glazed. In North America and the EU, buildings represent ~40% of total primary energy consumption. Heating and air conditioning account for ~50% of residential consumption. The best approach to reducing energy consumption is in the windows where energy loss is the highest, i.e. the highest thermal transmittance. Thermal transmittance is measured in watts passing through a square meter of glass divided by the difference in temperature in kelvins on either side. Single pane has the worst heat transfer coefficient at 5.7-6 watts per sq. meter per degree of kelvin. Double pane is 3.3, which can be reduced to 1.8 by applying coatings to minimize the passage of ultraviolet & infrared radiation. Inserting argon gas between panes can lower the coefficient to 1.1. Triple pane windows with coatings and argon between the panes lowers heat transfer to ~0.6 and 0.7. Substitute krypton for argon and the transfer is ~0.5. That's a whopping 90% loss reduction with a cost of about 15% more per window. So, if the outside temperature is say -18 Celsius, the inside is 21 Celsius, a very big comfort factor.