Aiming for net zero, or as close to it as you can get, is easier now, thanks to a range of innovative solutions and programs available to homeowners.
BY ERIN MCINTOSH
When Wendy Littlefield and her partner purchased their 1912 house on Fernwood Road, they made a commitment to the previous homeowners to keep the home intact. Of all the interested buyers, the Littlefields were the only ones who wouldn’t demolish it.
Without compromising the structure, the house underwent a massive retrofit and became completely net zero, a change that benefits not only the Littlefields but also the environment.
“I’m so happy with this house. It performs so great, and it’s so quiet,” says Wendy Littlefield. “It’s the easiest house I’ve ever lived in,”
The Littlefields removed the oil tank, replacing it with two electric heat pumps installed in the walls that control both upstairs and downstairs heating. Switching from oil to electric was a fundamental step when going net zero, as oil not only produces mass amounts of greenhouse gases, but it can also pollute the air inside your home.
A blower door test was performed, determining how much air, and therefore energy, was escaping. Littlefield says this is a crucial step when retrofitting your home. “[It] will tell you how to get the most bang for your buck and make your house more airtight.”
They added solar panels to the roof, put in a gutter-fed, 800-gallon (3,028-litre) cistern under the porch for garden irrigation, and installed triple-pane windows. They also used reclaimed wood, recycled materials and as many locally sourced products as possible. The house now produces 110 per cent of its energy, allowing them to give back to the grid.
All in the details
Motivation is Key
A net-zero home may be the end goal for some homeowners, but there are smaller steps you can take that will lower your carbon footprint and put money back into your pocket.
“People may or may not be motivated by climate change, but they may want to save money, they may want to be more comfortable and they may not want to be overheating in their home,” says Peter Sundberg, executive director at City Green Solutions. “There are so many other benefits beyond just saving money and being good for the environment.”
City Green Solutions is a non-profit organization offering free energy evaluations for homeowners. It provides educational activities and workshops to inform and inspire homeowners about energy-efficient solutions.
Sundberg suggests that one of the most important aspects for improving your home’s efficiency is air sealing. It offers a multitude of benefits including “improved indoor air quality, reduced risk of moisture damage, reduced heat loss/heat gain, increased thermal comfort, quieter home, less dust and cleaning, fewer rodents and insects, and lower energy bills.”
Several services are available in Victoria and across B.C. that can kickstart your home’s energy-efficient journey. One free service in the region, Bring it Home 4 the Climate, provides support to homeowners interested in going green, such as energy coaching, virtual home-energy check-ups, DIY energy-efficiency materials, access to the EnerGuide Home Evaluation Subsidy, and resources for retrofitting.
Golden Age of Incentives
With global temperatures rising, and B.C. having experienced one of the hottest summers on record last year, there’s not a more pressing time to make your home adaptable and livable for future generations. The provincial and federal governments are seeing the pressures for homeowners, and the incentives to go green are at a high, making it an opportune time to invest in climate-friendly renovations.
“It’s literally the golden age of incentives right now,” says John Ho, Community Energy Specialist for the City of Victoria.
Both provincial and federal governments are offering hefty rebates to get homeowners excited about retrofits. According to the City of Victoria’s website, there is currently up to $11,500 available in rebates when you upgrade your oil or natural gas heating system to an electric heat pump. These offers can be accessed by the CleanBC Better Homes program and the Canada Greener Homes grant.
Ho believes that one of the best investments to make in your home is insulation.
“One of the unsung heroes of climate action is insulation,” he says. “It can be really quick, really easy, and really cost effective. It keeps you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.”
CleanBC Better Homes is offering up to $5,500 in rebates for upgrading insulation.
“People may or may not be motivated by climate change, but they may want to save money, they may want to be more comfortable … in their home.” – Peter Sundberg, City Green Solutions
The Energy-Efficient Home
In any home, there are many small steps that can help lower its carbon footprint. While heat pumps and solar panels represent two of the most significant energy-efficiency measures, wall and roof insulation, air sealing and windows can also make a big difference. When it comes to appliances — stoves, fridges, dishwasher, washer/dryer — energy efficiency is a selling feature with any of the newer models. Replacing lighting fixtures — or even just the bulbs — can also help get a home pointed in the right direction towards a lower carbon footprint.
For the Littlefields, going net zero was a decision they’ll never regret. When asked how much their bills were each month, Wendy laughed. “You get the bill and it’s $12. That’s just a hookup. At the end of the year, they have to give us money back.”
“We love the house. We love everybody who was connected to it,” says Wendy Littlefield. “It’s not to say there weren’t struggles or difficult decisions along the way, but we’ve given the house another 100 years of life, and it costs nothing to operate.”
Resources for Homeowners
Regardless of where you are at in your climate-friendly home retrofit journey, there are plenty of support programs and available incentives to help you take the next step.
If you are not sure where to start or need help deciding on the next step, check Bring it Home 4 the Climate and get access to:
• a free virtual home energy checkup;
• enhanced retrofit decision-making and technical support; and
•free retrofit resources, testimonials and special offers such as webinars and workshops.
If you are looking for information on rebates, requirements, how to find a qualified contractor, or would like free energy coaching, go to Clean BC Better Homes, where you can also apply for rebates and find assistance for rebate applications.