Keeping Warm in a Changing Climate: Home Efficiency Rebates

March 3rd, 2020

Thermostat control pannelBy Leif Einarson, Communications & Marketing Specialist at GreenUP

Homeowners who are still feeling the chill of winter and the cost of heating can take advantage of the Enbridge Home Energy Conservation Program. This rebate program offers up to $5000 in financial incentives to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Previously called the Enbridge Home Energy Conservation Program, this program has been merged with the Union Gas Home Reno Rebate Program. The result is the Enbridge Home Efficiency Rebate Program.

Program Information is available at https://www.greenup.on.ca/program/enbridge-home-efficiency-rebate/

What are the benefits for going through this rebate program? Individually, improving the efficiency of your home means you spend less money on your heating and cooling, and you get to enjoy a more comfortable interior environment year-round with improved indoor air quality and a quieter home thanks to better insulation. It is not uncommon to see improved home resale value after the program.

“An additional benefit from participating in this program is that you get independent advice from a Registered Energy Advisor,” says Kai Millyard, an advisor and consultant who has been doing energy audits and retrofits on houses for over 25 years and training energy auditors for almost as long. “Your advisor is an expert in the technical options for improving energy efficiency, and yet they do not have interest in selling particular options to you. These advisors are independent and because of this they can provide valuable information to help homeowners make informed decisions.”

Collectively, these programs help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings in Ontario. In Ontario, the operation of buildings (heating, cooling, etc.) accounts for about 19% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Two thirds of those emissions (approx. 13%) come from the natural gas we use to heat our interior spaces and our water.

We need to make dramatic changes to those numbers if we are to reduce our emissions by half this decade and to net zero by 2050. There are two ways we can achieve those reduction goals.

First, we can make our homes more efficient at retaining heat in winter and keeping cool in summer. The Enbridge Home Efficiency Program is a useful resource to make your home more efficient with the support of financial rebates.

The Enbridge Home Efficiency Rebate program is open only to households that use natural gas for heating via a furnace or boiler. In other words, this program targets the three quarters of homes in Ontario that rely on natural gas for heating.

Improving draft proofing, insulation, and the quality of windows and doors can help create homes that require far less energy to maintain comfortable interior temperatures. Retrofits in the program have saved up to 50% of space heating energy.

The second way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the operation of buildings is to stop using natural gas entirely.

“Natural gas accounts for close to one third of the greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario,” observes Kai Millyard. “Significant shifts off natural gas are necessary to reach our greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

Natural gas is sometimes touted as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels. Natural gas is, however, still a fossil fuel and cleaner emissions numbers at your house do not account for the significantly negative environmental impacts of extracting, transporting, and storing natural gas. In the big picture, the costs of using natural gas are neither affordable nor sustainable.

There is viable technology on the market right now that can replace natural gas furnaces, boilers, and hot water tanks. Heat pumps are basically the opposite of air conditioners: instead of pumping heat out of the house, they pump heat into the house.

There are two general types of heat pumps. First is a ground-source heat pump system (GSHP) that harnesses underground heat. A GSHP requires drilling deep holes or trenches.

The up-front cost of ground-source systems can be $10,000 or more. Once installed, GSHP systems can be up to 500% more efficient than electric baseboard heating. The challenge with ground-source systems is that installing them can be difficult in dense urban areas where space may be at a premium.

The second kind of heat pump is an air-source heat pump (ASHP). ASHP uses electricity to harness latent heat in the air outside your home. Yes, that’s right: we have the technology to extract residual heat from the air even when it is 20 below zero outside.

Air-source heat pumps may sound like magic, but they have been common for decades in communities and countries where natural gas is either not available or not affordable. For example, the Peterborough-based Endeavour Centre uses an ASHP system. ASHP cost less to install than ground-source heat pumps and are about 250% more efficient than electric baseboard heating.

Because both types of heath pump use electricity, they are as sustainable as our electrical grid. The electrical grid in Ontario is now approximately 94% fossil-fuel free.

In the fight to reduce emissions to zero in Ontario, the end of coal power plants in 2014 marked a decisive shift towards a sustainable energy grid. As soon as you fix the weakest link in a chain however, the next weakest link becomes evident. In this case, the next weakest link is our reliance on natural gas to heat our interior spaces and our water.

What do we need to transition our homes and buildings off natural gas? Government action at federal, provincial, and municipal levels is required to establish procurement programs, and reinforce timelines for the transition away from natural gas.

The first step for many homeowners may be to seize the opportunity to make their homes more energy efficient by taking advantage of the Enbridge Home Energy Conservation Program. Homeowners can then replace gas-powered appliances with sustainable alternatives and enjoy year-round comfort with less of an impact on the environment.

Posted in energy