While homeownership certainly has its perks, a common downside is paying the energy bill, especially during high-consumption seasons. If you’ve been guilty of cranking the AC or revving the furnace, opening that hydro envelope can be cringe-inducing. While steep across Canada, Ontario residents will face even higher energy costs this year due to distribution and privatization issues plaguing the province.
The good news is, taking a greener approach to your home will translate to more green in your wallet, improve your house’s air quality, and could even improve its sale value; a recent survey from Royal LePage and The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB) finds 72 per cent of Canadians would look for a green-approved property for their next purchase, while 63 per cent were willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly home.
And, depending on your level of commitment, you can green your home with a few small measures, or invest in a large-scale reno to overhaul its efficiency.
As Green as it Gets
For those who want to achieve the greenest-possible standard, buying real estate (or retrofitting) a home with a LEED certification is the way to go. This U.S.-established standard is granted to homes with features that drastically reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint. The designation can apply to commercial and industrial sectors as well as residential, and, depending on how many measures have been taken within the home, provides a Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Certified designation. In order to be LEED certified, a home must have:
- Fully sealed openings and insulated walls
- Low-flow showers, toilets and faucets
- Have low-energy water heaters
- Been built with only non-toxic materials
- Indoor moisture controls to prohibit the growth of mold
- Outdoor-to-in air ventilation
LEED status is admittedly easier to achieve with newly-built houses and townhomes, as you can take these features into account during the planning process. Those looking to retrofit existing homes, though, could be looking at a pricey gut job, especially in older dwellings that may have been built using outdated materials, and have less-than-efficient electrical, heating, and plumbing systems. In fact, according to the Canadian Home Builder’s Association, a home built in 1985 uses twice the energy as one built today.
Easier Ways to Go Green
The reality is, not everyone is willing to completely overhaul their home in order to save a few bucks on their heating bill. If you’re not ready to replace your furnace or tear out your pipes, there are a few smaller-scale measures you can take that make a big difference:
- Swap out your bulbs: Eschew old incandescent bulbs for new, LED ones that have a longer lifespan and use far less electricity.
- Seal all drafts: One of the biggest energy (and money) suckers is unsealed cracks in your home’s exterior, roof or around doorways and windows. Ensure all openings are securely caulked, and invest in insulation or outer material repairs if you notice an intrusive breeze.
- Opt in for renewable energy: Depending on your province or city, you may have alternate forms of energy available beyond the traditional coal- or hydro-electric powered. Explore your solar and wind options to see a guaranteed break on your bill.
- Unplug appliances: Many homeowners are surprised to learn that appliances continue to sap power even when turned off. Referred to as energy vampires, you can expect to pay for leaving your toaster, TV or alarm clock plugged into the wall.
Get Paid for Going Green
The government highly encourages home owners to be eco-friendly, and there are a variety of incentives and rebates offered at the federal, provincial, and even at a corporate, level. Specific rebates differ from province to province, but common ones include:
- The CMHC Green Home program: This offers up to a 25% refund to borrowers who buy, build or renovate their home to be more energy efficient, as long as they’re using CMHC financing to pay for the improvements.
- Tap by Tap: This program offers those in participating communities kits to retrofit their water systems, including high-efficiency, low-energy shower heads.
- The Home Energy Loan Program: Offered by the City of Toronto, this program offers low-interest loans for home improvements that boost energy and water efficiency. Those who qualify will receive funding from the city for the renovations, to be paid back in installments on their property tax bill.
Penelope Graham is a managing editor at Zoocasa, a real estate brokerage based in Toronto.