Jan 092013

How much do you spend to heat your house and heat your water? Imagine your heating costs averaged out to zero and your home stayed a uniform, comfortable temperature all year long. That’s Leanne and my dream for our upcoming home renovation, but it’s exhausting to try to do this on your own.

A few weeks ago I (James Rowley) went to a lecture at SFU that blew me away. Lorraine Gauthier of The Now House Project described how they retro-fitted one house north of Toronto, then five houses in Windsor, then 95 more houses in Windsor so that the houses produced more energy than they consumed over the course of the year. With each renovation they refined their technique and lowered costs. They identified two barriers stopping everyone from doing this: cost and local expertise.

The solution is simple: economy of scale. We all know that if we buy soup in bulk, it works out cheaper. Well, what if someone else did the research on the best way to retro-fit Maple Ridge houses and 50 home-owners banded together to do the renovation at the same time? Much cheaper. How about 200? What if you applied for Provincial grants? Up to $7000 cheaper. What if we all applied for a Federal Eco-action grant? Up to $100 000 cheaper for the group.

“Now House is a process for retrofitting existing older houses into net zero energy homes – homes that produce as much energy as they use on an annual basis. Just like a typical city house, a Now House is connected to and uses energy from the local utility. However, unlike typical homes, a Now House produces energy to send to the utility company. Annually, zero energy homes produce enough energy to offset the amount purchased from the utility provider, resulting in a net zero energy bill.” Doing this with existing houses saves all the cost, energy and waste of new construction.

Putting Maple Ridge on the Map

Now House is looking for other projects across the country. I contacted them and now the ball is rolling in Maple Ridge. The district is interested; Lorraine, our Now House contact, is talking to Vancity about financing; local contractors and developers are interested.

If you would like to help this process along, please share information about houses in Maple Ridge. How old is your house? How do you heat it? What insulation does it have? However, the best information will come out of an energy assessment.

How Much Energy is Your House Wasting?

The first step for any home to save energy, money and the planet, is to have an energy audit done by an assessment firm. It costs about $120. Our house was done by The House Whisperers. Other Hammond Neighbours also recommend the company, but other certified companies offer similar services. The inspection analyzes where (and why) your house is wasting energy and how much heating costs and carbon usage would be reduced by implementing specific upgrades.

Collecting this information will start to identify what upgrades would be most effective on Maple Ridge homes. I also think the more people do this, the more likely Now House will choose our town for their next project–no pressure!

A Community Project

With or without the help of The Now House Project, I think this idea of working together is inspiring and everyone I talk to agrees. I met with local developer Oasis Eco Group and people at the Maple Ridge municipality who are all enthusiastic. Oasis is working with a homeowner on a new home in Hammond with all the bells and whistles right now. I’m going to try and arrange a tour!

For Hammond, with its combination of older homes, later developments and vacant lots, this could be the tipping point for creating the neighbourhood we want.  The 1980s stock of houses are the most natural fit for the Now House treatment since they are similar to each other and have similar issues. However, these eco incentives combined with the District’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement program (with its tax-incentive) could see heritage homes not only rescued but made state-of-the-art.

Lorraine commented to me in an e-mail about the challenges of retro-fitting heritage homes. “From our experience working with the Heritage Association in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, on one of our Now House projects, we found that there were quite a few restrictions on what we could do to improve the energy efficiency of the home. Adding spray foam to the exterior of the building, even though it was clad in the traditional asbestos board siding, was not permitted. We did insulate the walls from the inside by using a cavity fill foam and added a spray foam to the attic and basement walls. We did a careful air sealing to improve the air tightness, which is done from the inside and of course doesn’t alter the appearance. The front door, although not an original feature, could not be changed so we literally altered the framing on the inside and insulated the door from the inside.”

What Upgrade Incentives are Available?

The LiveSmart BC Efficiency Incentive Program (provided by the provincial government) gives grants and rebates to qualified homeowners to encourage improvement in energy efficiency.

The EcoAction Community Funding Program is available from the federal government. This program “provides financial support to community-based, non-profit organizations for projects that have measurable, positive impacts on the environment.” We would partner with a non-profit society like the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition or The Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, and apply before November 2013 for work done in 2014.

Get in Touch!

If you are interested in learning more or getting an energy audit, please get in touch with me (James Rowley) via Facebook or add a comment to this post (which Jen will relay to James).

 Posted by at 9:37 pm

  One Response to “Community Project to Reduce Home Energy Use”

  1. Hi James. I have a solar thermal business here in Maple Ridge and have recently chatted with a lower mainland solar pv company to offer a package for those wishing to use solar for their net zero projects. If you are finding a good response to this idea and wished to speak more about solar in general, I will be most happy to be at your service for information. I am aware of the Hammond net zero roof that Oasis is/was working on as I was asked to install the line-set for the solar there.

    Best regards,
    Paul Sim, Sun Bright Solar.

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