Friday, December 17, 2010

Home retrofit program worth cashing in on

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

Last spring I wrote about the premature end to the federal ecoENERGY home retrofit grants. A popular and successful program which created good local jobs while helping Canadians save energy and money, there was no good reason to end it. (Unless, of course, to re-introduce it with much fanfare next spring, which is what I suspect and hope will happen.)

But in the meantime, there is still an option. The federal program offered $5,000 in rebates per home; provinces like Ontario matched it, getting you up to $10,000. And although federal funding stopped last spring, provincial grants continue for now. That means you can still get support to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Ontario will even put $150 towards your initial evaluation.

I took advantage of this program last year, accessing federal and provincial grants to replace doors and a furnace and add roof insulation. The rebates were good, but the energy savings are great. Looking forward, I predict our family will save thousands of dollars in heating, gas and water costs. That’s tax-free money in our pockets.

The first step is having your home audited by a certified inspector. They give you a custom report listing things you could do to improve efficiency, and how much each measure will save. Standard are replacing windows and doors with newer, better-insulated ones, or upgrading your furnace to a more efficient model. One of the best ways to use this program is with something you need to do anyway. If your furnace is getting on in years, or you plan to redo your windows, it can’t hurt to have the province pitch in.

Sometimes you can combine grants. Periodically the gas company offers rebates on furnace or water heater upgrades, which can be stacked with the provincial program. We replaced toilets with new low-flow dual-flush models on sale at Home Depot, received a City rebate for installing them, then got federal and Ontario grants on top of that. All told we got back more than the purchase price, so we are ahead from Day One, even before the water savings kick in.

Ontario’s Home Energy Savings Program expires in March and might not be renewed; no-one can predict when a federal program will be re-launched. But the sooner you lock in savings, the more you save. That’s why I recommend getting your home evaluated and doing some of the retrofits now. You have nothing to lose but waste, and that’s something we can all do without.

Update: last week I wrote about the Barrie Free Clothing Centre. They have a particular need for men’s clothing right now, so if you have any to spare, please donate. The Centre is open Thursday to Saturday, 12:30 – 3:30 pm, behind 110 Dunlop St. E.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.


  1. If these were anything else than loans than this is disgusting

    """That’s tax-free money in our pockets."""

    No thats tax free """TAXPAYERS""" money in your pockets !!!!!!!!!!!!

    The stupidity and bribery run amok in this country are to me criminal

    harpercrit is the worst and lousiest manager this country has ever seen...and its exploiters like you who make it happen

    And even a so called green loves how he sucks freely from the tax payer tit...NICE !!

    Go brag some more down town to your homeless and see if what I say is repeated

    No difference to you than big companies stealing far as I am concerned

    The rich get richer on the less fortunate ones backs


  2. Sorry Shavluk, this sounds like shallow neo-libertarianism without an understanding of the underlying economics.

    The “tax-free money in our pockets” I refer to isn’t grants, but savings on energy not wasted, thus not bought. Those savings aren’t taxpayer money, they are your own money that you can save or spend on something other than electric or gas bills. It’s the same money you’d save by turning everything off, but without the cold & darkness. The only taxpayer money is the initial grants.

    However, as I demonstrated in my column last spring, these grants don’t represent a loss for government. Their own studies show that each dollar of retrofit grant generates a total of $7 in spending. The HST alone on this $7 gets back most of the grant dollar, while the other payroll, profit, or income taxes on the rest of the $7 more than makes up the rest. So each $1 of grant brings in more than $1 of tax revenue. Using these grants ends up INCREASING government revenue from the get-go.

    But you’re overlooking the other public savings. Energy waste creates excess pollution with many costs on the public purse, and requires over-capacity in supply which also wastes taxpayer money. By reducing energy demand, these retrofits lower other public expenses in excess of the grant amount. Which is to say, it pays back twice over.

    Finally, spending on retrofits goes mostly into the local economy, on local jobs. That reduces costs of EI or other social supports, again saving the taxpayer money.

    To summarize, for each $1 the government distributes as a retrofit grant, the recipient spends $6 more, the government gets more than $1 back in taxes and reduces other public costs by a significant amount. This kind of priming-the-pump is a proven economic benefit for all. That’s certainly not stealing, and in no way does it harm the less fortunate. To the contrary, it helps everyone save energy, and in fact there are special grants available for retrofits on affordable public housing which increase the amount of money available to help the homeless (by reducing what is spent on wasted energy).