When my husband and I bought our 1969 back-split home nearly nine years ago, we knew we weren't getting the most energy-efficient house. The windows had never been upgraded, the air conditioner was a 1975 model, and the gaps around the doors were so big, you could see sunlight shining through. I shudder to think now of the bills we cranked up during those first winters.
Over the years, we've made several upgrades to reduce our water and energy use, including low-flow toilets and energy-efficient appliances, for which we received small government rebates. But the best decision, by far, was hiring an energy auditor to help us identify where we could find the biggest savings.
We had a $350 audit done in 2009 as part of the federal government's EcoEnergy Retrofit program. The auditor did a thorough inspection of our house, including a blower test to determine how much air was leaking out, and advised us that we could make the best use of the government rebates available by replacing our 20-year-old medium-efficiency furnace and adding some insulation to our attic.
During the 18 months we were given to complete our renovations, we added insulation and replaced the furnace, air conditioner, five windows and four doors. With the added insulation and new high-efficiency furnace in place over the long, cold winter that just passed, our gas use dropped to about a quarter of what we used the previous winter. We figure the furnace will pay for itself in a few years time.
According to the recent Bosch Green Savings Survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, 70 per cent of Canadians think their energy bill costs will increase by more than 10 per cent over the next five years.
"Our research showed that 76 per cent Canadians are already making or planning to make environmental changes to their home and a tax credit would be further incentive," said Steve Preiner, Bosch's director of marketing.
Although the EcoEnergy program has ended, the Conservatives have promised to revive it when the budget is balanced. In the meantime, there are other grants and incentives available. Just keep it mind that energy-saving retrofits are not the sort of renovation that guarantees a big payback when you sell. According to the Appraisal Institute of Canada, replacing your heating system, windows or doors will return 50-80 per cent of what you invested, compared to a bathroom reno, which could return 75-100 per cent.
Wondering how much you can save? Here are some online tools to help you calculate the costs and savings associated with your water use, heating system and appliances. If you're not convinced a professional auditor is worth the price, there are several ways to do your own energy audit.
I'll admit that the furnace was not at the top of my wish list for our house. I would much rather have spent the money upgrading our 1969 kitchen to something more modern, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, maybe I'll frame my gas bills and hang them on the wall, so at least I'll have something to brag about when friends visit.