The Greener Homes Grant was launched by the government of Canada in May 2021. That means that we have two full years of data to look back on to determine the efficacy of the program. The end goal of the program was to help create a country of net zero or near net zero housing for the future.
In Canada, buildings, including homes, account for 18 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the federal government. “Every efficient retrofit is an important component of Canada’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 while creating good jobs in every region of the country,” reports the government of Canada. It has a seven-year timeline, which means we are still very much in its infancy.
Getting to net zero
The end goal is set to be accomplished by reducing, to the point of elimination, the use of carbon-producing energy sources for indoor climate comfort. Additionally, it was created to produce more homes that maintain production of energy equal to or greater than its consumption.
If we take a look at the Greener Homes program, it makes sense. But there was a time before the induction of the program that should have involved more industry input and collaboration because, at this point, it doesn’t feel like the industry was set up for success. We weren’t properly prepared for what was coming down the pipe.
It should be simple enough for all new construction. The code writers can just implement an amendment that forces builders to produce homes that meet net-zero standards. To quote the illustrious Staples button, that was easy! But do the contractors possess the proper training to accomplish this goal? Do the manufacturers have the proper product ready for installation? New construction continues to feed the industry with homes that don’t meet the net zero standards; a conversation for another day.
There are approximately 310,000 homes built every year nationwide. The Greener Homes initiative will capture a sizable number of these homes through building code changes; changes that seem to be moving slowly.
At the time of publication, there are 7.67 million homes in Canada, many of which are still producing carbon. There are still homes being added to that total.
According to a report on global carbon dioxide emissions, and posted on Our World in Data, Canada is one of the top producers of CO2, with an average per capita footprint of 15.6 tonnes. That is more than three times higher than the global average, which in 2017 was 4.8 tonnes per person.
To achieve the expectation of the government’s objective, there needs to be a correction made to the more than seven million homes that are still producers of carbon. How is it possible to take a 50- to 75-year-old home and make it net zero without tearing it down and rebuilding?
Several things can be done to help make these homes suck up a little less energy. One solution could be to tighten the envelope. The heating and cooling load can be substantially reduced. Find where there are temperature exchanges within the home. Windows, doors, external sealing and internal duct sealing, and the improvement in insulation can lead to lower load capacities, which means that heat pumps can start to provide the entire home’s comfort requirements.
It became evident fairly quickly that many homeowners of older homes weren’t going to be able to afford the cost to make their homes near net zero. Oftentimes it could cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $40,000.
The Greener Homes Grant was founded to allow all homeowners some assistance in advancing their homes to a closer state of net zero ability. Grants that would cover large portions of the cost of windows, doors, sealing, insulation, and HVAC were all put into place. Topped off by an opportunity to obtain interest-free loans.
The intentions behind the program were admirable, but there are many pitfalls too that have occurred over these past two years. There is a surplus of training available but there needs to be more geared towards the technology that can be utilized under this program. There are still plenty of HVAC contractors that believe that heat pumps have no place in this country. Many contractors to this day are still selling carbon-producing equipment and lower SEER air conditioners, which lock consumers into energy expenses they may no longer be able to afford. It’s important to remember that a system typically has a life span of 12 to 15 years.
The lack of education at the consumer level puts the industry at a disadvantage. Large question marks around how to apply and what types of products qualify are still a leading cause for hesitation at the homeowner, contractor, and manufacturer levels.
Under the current setup, the Greener Homes Grant doesn’t extend rebates for rental equipment. I can understand why providing a significant cash rebate on something that isn’t owned by the homeowner wouldn’t qualify. On the other hand, companies that are built on renting parts of the mechanical room just had their lunch taken away from them by a program that didn’t consider the impact it would have.
For manufacturers, there was little lead time given to produce the products needed to fill the orders. To compound the situation, manufacturers were banking on a 13 to 14 SEER air conditioning market, filling their barns full of unwanted products.
Not only that, but the program has been wreaking havoc with home improvement loan companies. Consumers are having to look for ways to access interest-free loans through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The biggest flurry is on deferral loans to get the projects underway and pay off the higher-interest loans with the no interest government loans.
Lack of available equipment is forcing consumers into installing another central air conditioning unit, which completely deflects away from rebates and energy savings for another 10 to 12 years. Some rental companies have found a workaround by promoting furnaces and air conditioners by offering either a gas option or buying a qualifying heat pump.
There is plenty of time left within the program’s lifespan for the government to conduct more industry-led discussions concerning the Greener Homes Grant program. Today sounds like a good day to start. :