Green Jobs

The sink drain from below. Water damage!
The sink drain from below. Water damage!

When you own a home there is always something that needs fixing. We’re all busier and busier these days, so if there’s a larger project, like insulating the house, it is often done piece by piece over years. I grew up with a kitchen with no cupboard doors because my Dad never got around to putting them on.

One thing we know about improving a home’s energy efficiency is that the piece-meal approach has limited effectiveness. Weather-stripping is great, but only a start. Insulating one space at a time leaves gaps.

Energy advisors encourage us to look at the whole house as a system and do it all at once. The results are significantly better and we save money in the long run.

I have spent a few years pondering what is keeping people from cutting their energy use the way that we are planning to. The upfront cost is a barrier but there is also a distinct lack of expertise in the trades, too, because not enough people are doing it.DSCN0498

A third problem is simply that insulation is out of sight, out of mind. The projects that get done are the ones in sight, like the kitchen countertops.

We’re no different in that respect, the first things we updated when we arrived in 2007 were the bedroom and the kitchen. But in 2008, when Leanne’s Dad offered to help us insulate, it was government incentives that drove us to take a “whole house” approach and do it all at once.

My father-in-law Dave helped us do a DIY home energy retrofit to insulate and seal the house better. Foam was injected into the exterior walls, Roxul batt insulation was piled high in the attic spaces and pressed into walls in the basement and attic walls. We also stapled heavy plastic vapour barrier on the inside of the walls wherever we could reach and taped the seams and holes with pretty red tape.

For more details and photos, check out my post about it here.

All this to reduce our heating bills and our carbon footprint.

At the time, there were two grant programs available, the Federal ecoENERGY Grants and the British Columbia LiveSmart BC grants. The Energy Advising companies were growing, homes were becoming more efficient, pollution was dropping, homeowners were saving money, the economy was being helped through a rough patch. It was all good.

Here’s how it worked:

Step 1: get a pre-retrofit audit by an Energy Advisor (ours was The House Whisperers in the Fraser Valley)
Step 2: follow your advisor’s advice
Step 3: invite your advisor back when you’re done who will give you as sticker with your home’s EnerGuide rating
Step 4: receive your cheque

The current, reduced incentives from BC Hydro and Fortis BC still work basically the same way. It’s easy and you should do it. (Read about the new oil to heat-pump incentive here.)

It was 2009 when we completed this process and by October, 2014, when I was writing this blog, I had misplaced our pre-retrofit Energy Audit. I wanted to write about it, so I wrote to The House Whisperers.

Garry Lowney, the president, replied and confirmed my fears about the effects of governments cutting their support for retrofitting homes.

On October 3, 2014 he wrote:

Thank you for the update. I like your blog.

I have attached a copy of your original report from 2008. There is no follow up report. Your home rated a 40 at the time of the first evaluation and increased to a 65 after upgrades were completed. I can send you a hard copy of your EnerGuide label if you like.

Since we last communicated…the Federal ecoENERGY program has been terminated along with all ecoENERGY branding. There is no Federal support for retrofits. Also the Province of BC has terminated the LiveSmart retrofit program and terminated energy evaluation subsidies for homeowners. Collectively the Federal and Provincial governments have killed the energy efficiency retrofit industries and killed energy advisors at the same time. My firm used to conduct 400 energy evaluations a month now we conduct 1 or 2 a month. At our peak we employed 15 energy advisors and 5 office staff. Today we have no employees. All of our employees moved on to other sectors.

In 2015 EnerGuide testing becomes mandatory for NEW construction. We hope that mandate will employ more energy advisors/testers.

Currently the only rebates available to homeowners are the Fortis/BCHYDRO rebates. No energy audit is required (optional).

My personal opinion is that government and utilities do not want energy savvy homeowners or voters. I think the focus is on extracting and selling fossil fuels (Tar sands, LNG Fracking, etc…). For example Fortis is providing FREE gas pipe to any builder who will install several gas fittings into a home (cook top, dryer, fireplace, furnace, outside gas fire pit, etc..). Interesting stuff in an age of conservation, air pollution and climate change.

If I sound jaded. I am.

Cheers my friend,

Garry Lowney – President

This breaks my heart. These were high quality jobs in our community which were apparently sacrificed in exchange for jobs in the tarsands far away. Furthermore, with the concrete costs of climate change increasing every year, cutting ecoENERGY and continuing to subsidize fossil fuel corporations is In My Humble Opinion, running in the wrong direction.

Personally, I didn’t think of these grants as an economic stimulus. I thought they were a reasonable investment in reducing Canada’s pollution, greenhouse gas emissions (to meet our international obligations and fight climate change) as well as a good way to shift Canada’s economy from exporting raw materials (oil) to be burned overseas in dirtier facilities to complex local jobs in “the green sector.”

Can’t afford them? When you’re thinking long-term, you consider healthcare costs from air pollution, the costs of fighting forest fires, cleaning up after extreme storms, assisting farmers in drought-stricken regions, etc. All these costs can be mitigated by addressing climate change now and leading the world as we used to do.

Imagine if we showed the emerging economies of the world how to live sustainably with a high standard of living and…they did it!

Coming soon: for the geeks in the audience: the full pre-retrofit energy audit from 2008. Compare it to our more recent energy modelling notes.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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