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Home retrofits make sense for everyone

Communities, environment benefit from fewer demands on energy

Times Colonist, July 24, 2011

Is the way we use energy in our homes contributing to the unusual weather patterns we have been experiencing? Quite likely the answer is yes.

Heating, cooling and electricity use in buildings account for 28 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions from energy use.

While people who study climate point out that weather is different from climate, it's hard not to notice that there are many more floods and fires in the news. In fact, sudden natural disasters displaced 42 million people in 2010 --twice as many as the year before.

These dramatic climate events may be a sign of what our planet is in for if we don't clean up our act and dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions - fast.

Energy efficiency retrofits are likely the fastest, and most affordable, way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. As it turns out, there are homeowner and community benefits too.

Retrofits mean a more comfortable and less expensive house to run for homeowners and local jobs for people who will spend their earnings in the local economy. Everyone wins; homeowners, the community and the environment.

The question is how to scale up retrofit programs to make the difference we need to make.

Federal and provincial programs in themselves are not meeting the need. It might be time to look at loans provided at the municipal level, paid back on property tax.

Successful programs in San Francisco, Portland and Colorado show that these programs are both affordable and effective. This month, Vancouver launched the first such program in Canada.

Closer to home, the Colwood has launched Solar Colwood, an ambitious program that will see solar hot water panels on 1,000 of the 6,000 homes in the municipality. While not directly lending to homeowners, the municipality actively pursued federal funding for the project, which they are sharing with homeowners.

The Colwood initiative is the kind of big, bold action we need to see if we are to make the difference on greenhouse-gas emissions that we need to make.

Our research shows that modest investments in energy conservation in homes can save Canadian homeowners thousands of dollars, and dramatically and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. With energy efficiency retrofits, Canadian homeowners have earned average energy savings of between 26 and 35 per cent per home.

And that's not all. Energy efficiency retrofits create 20 jobs - green jobs - for each $1 million invested, compared with the oil and gas industry in Canada, which creates only 5.2 jobs for each $1 million invested. Clearly, energy efficiency retrofits don't just make good environmental sense - they make good economic sense, too.

The next step is getting the regulatory changes necessary to make these kinds of partnerships possible in communities across Canada. Municipalities need the support of their provincial governments to establish municipal retrofit financing mechanisms.

A modest investment in energy conservation will save homeowners thousands over time - and help save the environment as well. The time for action is now.

Charley Beresford is executive director of the Columbia Institute, a national charitable organization with the goal of fostering inclusive, sustainable communities.

A full copy of This Green House: Building Fast Action on Climate Change and Green Jobs is available at

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist 

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