Hope for Oil Burners!

imageDo you heat your home with an oil furnace like we did?

If you could afford to switch it out for a much more efficient heat pump, would you do it?

What’s stopping you? Cost? Time? Knowing what the heck to do?

Well I have good news for you, my friend!

It’s true that the Federal Government cancelled the incentives in 2013 that could have helped you with the cost.

Dr. Doug Bing, MLA, and James Rowley, Eco-Warrior
Dr. Doug Bing, MLA, and James Rowley, Eco-Warrior

It’s also true that the BC Government eliminated its LiveSmartBC grants and passed the buck to BC Hydro and Fortis BC. If you heat with oil or wood, you are not eligible for BC Hydro’s incentives and with Fortis BC you are only eligible if you switch to a natural gas system–a much more efficient way to heat, but a fossil fuel nonetheless. Switching from the worst environmental options (heating with oil or wood) to the best environmental options (electric heat pumps) was not supported. I can tell you that I made sure to mention this gap to my Provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly, Dr. Doug Bing, when I met him in his office and when he visited the house.

However, now there is a new program just for us (can I thank you Dr. Bing for that?)

Oil burners rejoice!

My new best friend, Grace, who is the Senior Officer of Air Quality and Climate Change¬†Planning, Policy and Environment at Metro Vancouver sent me the media release last week. Here’s what it says:

New Oil to Heat Pump Incentive Program for B.C. Homeowners

2 Sept 2015, Victoria, BC – Up to $1,700 per home is available to help British Columbians upgrade from oil heating to efficient electric air source heat pumps through the Oil to Heat Pump Incentive Program.

The program is funded by the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund and administered by City Green Solutions, a non-profit energy efficiency organization.

“With the cooler weather of fall and winter approaching this is an excellent time for homeowners to think about investing in energy efficient heating solutions. Incentives of up to $1,700 to upgrade from oil heat to electric heat pumps will make it easier for British Columbians to lower their heating bills and reduce household greenhouse gas emissions,” says Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines.

“An oil to heat pump upgrade is one of the most important things we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing homes. Participating homes’ typical carbon reductions will be better than taking a car off the road for 15 years,” explains Glenys Verhulst, Oil to Heat Pump Program Manager.

“Heat pumps are very efficient home heating systems because they use only a small amount of electricity to move a large amount of heat, to provide comfortable temperatures in the home year-round. An oil to heat pump upgrade will reduce a typical home’s energy bills by $1,300 to $2,700 every year, and will eliminate the risk of costly damage to air, soil, and waterways from home heating oil leaks,” adds Verhulst.

To qualify, homeowners must install a qualifying central or mini-split heat pump and remove their oil tank and oil heating system. Incentives are available on a first-come, first-served basis while funds last.

The Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund is designed to support the B.C. government’s energy, economic, environmental, and greenhouse gas reduction priorities and advance B.C.’s clean energy sector.

To learn more, or to register for the Oil to Heat Pump Incentive Program,visit www.oiltoheatpump.ca or call 1.877.545.6247.

Media Contact
Glenys Verhulst
Oil to Heat Pump Incentive Program Manager
[email protected]


  • A heat pump system typically pays for itself in energy savings quickly and can deliver a return on investment of 20 – 39%.
  • Cleanup costs from home heating oil spills typically range from $65,000 to $118,000, are the responsibility of the homeowner, and are generally not covered by home insurance.
  • Heating oil spills can be environmentally damaging. Oil can contaminate soil and water; harm or kill fish, pets, and other animals; and pollute air in the neighbourhood.
  • Heat pumps provide comfortable, clean, and affordable heating and cooling year round.

The Oil to Heat Pump Incentive Program is funded by the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund, designed to support the B.C. government’s energy, economic, environmental, and greenhouse gas reduction priorities and advance B.C.’s clean energy sector. This program is administered by City Green Solutions.

<a href=If there is justice in the world, Leanne and I should be able to get in on that action, right? a) We have (had) an oil furnace b) we want to switch to a heat pump and c) we could really use some financial assistance.

But what is so great about heat pumps, anyway? Well, if you recall what Monte Paulsen, Energy Advisor, wrote in his notes on our energy model:

In this climate region, nothing is as cost-effective as a high-performance ASHP [Air-Source Heat Pump] with a low balance point. These ASHPs operate close to 300% efficient in our climate. Compare that to 100% for AC baseboards, 95% for condensing gas boilers, or about 70% for most oil-fired furnaces.
I recommend planning for a high-performance ASHP from the outset, regardless of other decisions.

An energy advisor is someone you pay solely for their expert opinion. Monte does not sell heat pumps and his reputation is based on the quality of his advice. If you ignore such advice, why did you hire the expert in the first place? By the way, Monte Paulsen also worked for City Green Solutions, who administer the program, before starting his own company, Reddoor Energy Design. My point is that this is good information.

I applied for the program yesterday. The only things that make me nervous are a) we haven’t used our oil furnace for over two years (but we didn’t use any other central heating during that time either) b) we haven’t decided what heat pump we will replace the oil furnace with and c) we were going to do it even without any support from anybody (we’re just stubborn that way).

The reason I mention c is because of something that my Conservative MP, Randy Kamp, said about incentives when he visited Hammond Forever House in July. He said one concern with incentives is that you want them to encourage people to do things they would not have done otherwise. The image this conjures up for me is of a homeowner buying a heat pump at a store and her MLA* cutting her a cheque as she leaves the store. “What’s this?” asks the homeowner. “You bought a heat pump,” says the MLA “good for you.” She didn’t buy the heat pump because of the incentive, so the point of the incentive is lost.

<a href=In the real world, in my opinion,¬†incentives work–but not in the simple way we want them to. People don’t hear about the incentive and run out and buy a heat pump, but there is always a media campaign which catches people’s attention and gets them thinking about switching to heat pumps in the future. The effect is cumulative and takes time. There is a risk that the public, being cynical, will get the impression that if somebody has to bribe them to do it, it must not be a very good idea, but in general all press is good press. The monetary incentive mostly serves to catch our attention and hold it for longer, which is good.

What I heard from energy advisors when I was working on the community home energy retrofit project was that homeowners typically wait until their furnace needs replacing and then find out about the rebate/grant/incentive from the salesperson. The incentive may steer them towards a more efficient furnace but most of the time they do not take the opportunity to improve their home’s efficiency in other ways such as insulation or sealing. In these cases we consumers just want to get the heat back on and get on with our lives because, hey, we’re busier than any generation before us.

How a heat pump works.

My conclusion was that incentives are very good for economic stimulus (they build a localized green economy) and they also work well to change behaviours gradually over years. People gradually become aware that other people are buying heat pumps and start to lean towards doing it, too. It takes time, however, because we’re not talking about switching to Fairtrade coffee we’re talking about something that will last decades: our homes.

The problem with the home energy efficiency grants that have come and gone over the past decade has been that they are inconsistent. They change year by year–even die and are re-born–making the home energy retrofit industry, including energy advisors and green reno experts, a bad choice for a career right when we are in desperate need of these skills. Consequently, homeowners have trouble finding contractors who are familiar with green renovation practices that are commonplace in other countries.

Now, if the green renovation and renewable energy industries could get a bigger piece of some of those subsidies to the oil and gas industries our government refuses to touch…

Green renovations don’t have to be as expensive and troublesome as ours. If more people were doing this, it would be easier and cheaper. It’s not a technical challenge, but a societal one. Incentives help push us to that tipping point of economies of scale where it makes economic sense not just for Canada and the world (both of which will see some pay-off in mitigating the mounting costs of climate change) but also for homeowners.

So, oil burners, do a quick calculation of how much in heating bills you will save, how nice it will be to have heating and cooling in one unit, and how much greenhouse gas you are emitting now and then check into that oil to heat pump program. Good luck!

*I had to use MLA in my fantasy instead of MP because there are no federal incentive cheques to be had. The oil to heat pump deal is a Provincial initiative (but you can expect the federal government to take credit internationally for the reduction in greenhouse gases that results from it. Too political? Sorry, there’s a federal election on Oct. 19th and I couldn’t resist.)

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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