Fenestration Review

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Fenestration Forum: Measure twice before re-implementing EcoEnergy


August 17, 2012
By Brian Burton

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Written by Brian Burton

A little over a year ago, the federal government pulled the plug on the
EcoEnergy Retrofit Homes Program, which was designed to provide grants
to homeowners with up to $5,000 for pre-retrofit assessments and energy
retrofits.

A little over a year ago, the federal government pulled the plug on the EcoEnergy Retrofit Homes Program, which was designed to provide grants to homeowners with up to $5,000 for pre-retrofit assessments and energy retrofits.

When they suspended the extremely popular program they gave the public and the businesses involved approximately 24 hours’ notice.

The suspension came as a major surprise and there were several formal petitions to Parliament. According to NDP Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, “The program had proven economic benefits and realized significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” The petition also mentioned that the cancellation threatened an entire industry of professional renovation contractors across Canada.
Having worked extensively in the insulation industry for most of my career, I knew immediately that there was a lot more going on here than the general public would ever know about.

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The Conservatives were spending something like $150 million per year on the program. They topped the fund off with another $80 million in the budget that brought down the government and triggered the recent election.

The Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats all promised to reinstate the program because in theory energy efficiency measures help create economic activity. They also have the added benefit of saving homeowners more money on energy bills. This money can then be spent on other goods and services, providing another boost to the economy.

Unfortunately, this is a significant oversimplification of the issues relating to energy efficiency in residential structures, reduction of carbon emissions and predictions regarding consumer spending habits.

All of these government programs have serious limitations because close to half of the money is spent on government administration and conducting the actual energy audits rather than specific improvements or upgrades.

The C.D. Howe Institute went so far as to suggest we were literally “burning cash to warm our homes” in a recent report. In the report the Institute cited studies that show nearly half the people who receive grants for retrofitting would have completed the upgrades regardless of government incentives.

Although these programs are generally viewed in a positive light by the window, glass and fenestration industries, the plain fact of the matter is that undertaking a residential energy audit and accomplishing upgrades is much more complicated than it first appears.

In Canada a typical home contains over 100,000 individual building components and functions as an integrated system in which alterations made to one element will affect the other components.
Effective evaluation of energy performance requires consideration of the elements that affect heat, air and water vapour flow while at the same time recognizing environmental factors, including weather, humidity, solar radiation, air quality, durability and the safety of the occupants.

In most cases the greatest improvements are typically obtained by simultaneously reducing unwanted air leakage, improving thermal characteristics of the building enclosure and using techniques to recover energy, while at the same time replacing and/or modifying any environmental control systems that consume energy.

Effective energy audits should also include recommendations with regard to moisture control, ventilation and reducing demand by improving the occupant’s knowledge of the factors that affect energy consumption.

In my view, before reinstating the program, we would be well advised to lobby the Canadian Construction Materials Centre to put out an open RFP tender to study the entire issue to ensure the program functions efficiently. •


Brian Burton is a Business Development Consultant for Kleinfeldt Consultants. He can be reached at bburton@kcl.ca.