Home Energy Assessments: Still a Good Idea!

The federal ecoENERGY program ended last spring, leaving many people disappointed at having missed the opportunity to get financial rebates for recommended improvements.  However, you can still have an energy efficiency consultation, and benefit financially through significant energy savings and lower operating costs for your home.

Chris Thompson was a certified energy auditor for four years, and conducted hundreds of assessments of houses throughout Toronto and southern Ontario. Chris offers his expertise through his business, Portico Home Inspections. He has provided the following comments about his experiences, illustrated by an example, of what homeowners can do to make their home more energy efficient.

“My experience as a certified energy auditor was that a great many homes were under insulated and not well sealed. They were drafty or uncomfortable, and were expensive to operate. Some homeowners had been literally spending upwards of 20-30 per cent of their heating bill providing warm air to the outdoors! They were at a loss as to where the heat was going and wondered how to solve the problem.

Understandably, homeowners want to know that their hard earned money will not be wasted. The cost of an investment or improvement has to be justified before people will make expensive upgrades, and few people want(ed) to make the initial effort to improve efficiency without the help of that government rebate. There’s a trust issue, and that is why often nothing gets done: if the government doesn’t validate the program (and give money as an incentive) many homeowners don’t see the value, so they simply do nothing. At the same time, many people seem willing to pay $50,000 to $100,000 dollars more when purchasing a new ‘energy efficient’ home….

Fortunately, many of the improvements that my clients made were relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone was willing to make the investment once they understood that the payback in savings over time would more than compensate for the expenditure. This is still true today. Many improvements are worth the effort and money, even without financial rewards from the government.

Here’s an example of the benefits of an energy assessment: I evaluated a house in which the owners had recently spent over twenty five thousand dollars on new windows. It was a fairly typical 75-year-old, two storey home. My clients had gone through a winter with the new windows and were discouraged that the house was still cold and drafty.  A blower door test was conducted and found the following:

  • headers (the ends of the joists spaces) in the basement were not well sealed or insulated;
  • the walls were uninsulated (double brick with a 1 1/4” air gap), which allowed lots of cold air to move behind the walls and up to the attic (which had less than R12 insulation);
  • the home had many leakage points.

The gaps in the basement were providing a good source of nice, cold air that pushed the warm air away from where it is needed (i.e. the living space), up into the attic and out (via the stack effect). An investment of about $2500.00 was made to blow cellulose insulation into the attic, and the headers were foam-sealed. Some air sealing of doors, outlets and interior trims was completed by the owners.

A second blower door test showed that the air leakage was drastically improved. As a result, we estimated that the money invested would be recovered within 3 to 4 years. Also, for the first time the house was cozy and the owners were content. Ultimately, a set of relatively inexpensive fixes made a big difference – and this could be true for many other houses across the GTA.”

Chris’ story serves as an example of why it can be a good idea to have your house assessed before making a large investment (e.g. new windows). Take time – and spend a bit of money – to determine your priorities. Relatively small investments to add insulation and seal gaps can make a big difference. This can be especially true if you purchase an older home. Consider getting an energy assessment by a qualified energy efficiency consultant (like Chris!), and find out if there is a way to generate savings that help pay for some home improvements. If your home is more comfortable and you are spending less money to heat (and cool) it, then it’s already a win-win. Down the road, when you want to sell, you’ll have another positive feature to market – and that’s another win!

The bottom line is that maintaining an energy efficient home is both environmentally friendly, and financially rewarding. You might want to consider getting one done at your house. 🙂


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