Home energy retrofits a climate change priority

January 25, 2017

Home energy retrofit

Many governments in Canada are renewing their efforts to fight climate change.  As they do, the renovation of existing homes emerges as a priority.  Existing Canadian homes are a significant contributor to national emissions.  Governments at all levels are dusting off old retrofit programs and ramping up new ones.

Renovation is also one of the least expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The technologies are not fancy or exciting.  They include triple-glazed windows, weather-stripping and high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters.  And yet there is an opportunity to double the energy performance of Canada’s residential sector.

Energy retrofits save money.

The savings for the homeowner over time often outweigh the investment in an energy efficiency retrofit of their home.  Despite good financial arguments, there are many barriers that prevent homeowners from taking action. A homeowner might not fully appreciate the extent to which they can improve the energy performance of their home. They simply might not know how to start.  Not knowing who to trust with their home or high up-front costs can also be deterrents.

There have been many programs launched in North America with clever approaches to addressing these barriers, and many more.  For example, the EnerGuide for Houses program provided a home energy audit to give homeowners good information and a financial incentive to help them undertake the recommended retrofit.

Energy retrofit program have poor uptake.

The EnerGuide for Houses program, and many others like it, have one feature in common.  They have failed to persuade many homeowners to act.

It is not that these programs aren’t necessary.  They are.  These barriers are real.  However, a top-down approach to delivering these programs aimed exclusively at changing household behaviour is not sufficient.  Experience has shown that it really doesn’t matter how much compelling data and analysis, or even solutions, you throw at a homeowner.  They remain stubbornly resistant to making structural changes to their home.

Community engagement can increase demand.

So more of the same this time around is not going to deliver the emission reductions we need from this sector.  Instead, we need to start engaging communities in a conversation that create demand for energy retrofits. We need a bottom up approach that doesn’t focus on behavioural change but on engagement that empowers homeowners to act.  Rather than focus on behaviour or identify behavioural-level barriers – that work has been done – we need to understand how to connect the conversation about energy efficiency to actual community-level conversations among various communities and stakeholder groups within those communities.  A one-size fits all program or marketing campaign won’t be successful but that is all that top-down government- and utility-led program have in their arsenal.

Demand for energy retrofits will only be built from the ground up. So, we need to take a community-engaged approach to figure out the best strategy for product differentiation and program delivery within communities.

Check out this partnership that is working to do just this.