As a particularly warm and sticky summer came to an end, new homeowner Jane Laird was working feverishly to finish the first stage of renovations to her Pictou property. While tearing out old flooring and scrubbing nicotine- stained ceilings late at night in the sultry summer air, any thoughts of keeping her new home cozy for her young family this winter seemed miles away.
However, in early fall when approached by At Home to help her arrange for an energy assessment, the single mum jumped on the opportunity, and now that the renovation dust has settled, she is focusing more attention on the operational aspects of the house. Like most homeowners, Jane didn’t fully understand how an energy assessment was conducted. She was surprised with the simple technology that revealed the energy leaks and was encouraged to learn about the government rebates to ease the immediate financial burden of the recommendations.
While new to Jane and her three children, the house is far from being a modern structure. Jane purchased in a neighbourhood originally constructed to house the influx of workers at the Pictou Shipyards during World War II. With any older home comes the investigation of old materials used for construction and insulation and any “upgrades” completed by previous homeowners.
Jerry Rodgers is a Certified Energy Advisor. He has been crawling around attic spaces and shining his flashlight into oft forgotten spaces for the last two years that he has worked with Trinity Inspection Services. The privately owned company is contracted by Efficiency Nova Scotia to facilitate energy audits for homeowners in this province. He will visit close to 250 homes in Nova Scotia this year with a territory that stretches from Amherst to Port Hawkesbury and New Glasgow to Peggy’s Cove.
In the 2015 spring budget the government modified the rebate and subsidization plan. Efficiency Nova Scotia will now only subsidize energy audits for homeowners that rely completely on electric heat.
Jerry says that there is not one particular demographic that he sees for his assessments; however, young homeowners like Jane are not the norm. “We are doing more assessments all of the time as homeowners try to improve the energy efficiency of their house and reduce escalating power bills. Most people are driven by the savings, but there are homeowners that are also looking at ways to reduce their carbon foot print.”
Heat pumps have become the most popular new technology that is almost always recommended following an energy assessment. If the heat pump is installed properly, homeowners are eligible for a healthy rebate that offsets the cost. All homeowners are advised to talk to heating and ventilation specialists for the heat pump installation.
Thermal storage is another technology that people are using to lower their costs. Storage units can be installed anywhere in the house. According to Nova Scotia Power, Electric Thermal Storage works much the same way as a thermos bottle, allowing for storage until the heat is needed. ETS automatically delivers savings by storing heat up at night when time of day power is at its lowest rate.
Homeowners should expect their audit to take anywhere from two to three hours, depending on the size of the home. Jerry follows normal procedures and takes some time photographing and taking measurements of the dwelling. He also looks for any structural oddities that tip him off as potential areas for energy leaks.
“Most people think that they are going to have the worst drafts around their windows and doors, but there are often other areas that most people wouldn’t think of,” he says. In older homes like Jane’s, there are usually renos or additions that might not have been completed properly or lack insulation. He takes a walk through the house and inspects the usual areas where people expect to find energy leaks and draughts and then looks at the more unsuspecting sources of energy leaks.
“Look up here,” he says pointing to the ceiling of the stairwell. “See those cobwebs? It might sound like an old tale but where there are cobwebs there are draughts. Spiders love a little air movement, it helps them catch their food.”
Once he does his initial investigation he goes back through the house to make sure that all of the windows and doors are sealed. He then starts to set up for the Blower Test that will measure the draughts. At the front entrance he attaches a tent-like material that drapes the entire door opening. There is space at the bottom for a large fan that will create a vacuum and essentially depressurize the house. He also sets up a computer with software to measure the cubic volume of the air in the house and its movement once the depressurization begins. While there are the usual suspects for leakage easily identified, some less obvious spots are worth noting and will make the list of recommendations. By placing a hand near a light switch and the electrical outlets you can immediately feel a cool stream of air from the spaces behind.
Homeowners generally receive the evaluation report within two weeks and their technician will explain their recommendations. “Not everyone chooses to go ahead with the recommendations.
We do not pressure anyone to proceed, but if they would like to move ahead, we will schedule another assessment and evaluate their upgrades. In order to meet the criteria for the rebate they have to follow the recommendations and a second Blower Test will be conducted. Homeowners also have to show all of their documentation for work completed to ensure that qualified contractors carried it out.
When Jane receives her report she is pleased to see that her house scored a 68 on the Energuide Scale. She is told that if she implements all of the recommendations in her report she could reduce the energy consumption of her house by up to 18 per cent and increase the homes energy efficiency rating to 74 points. The average rating for a house the same age as Jane’s is 51, while the highest rating achieved by the most energy efficient houses in this category is 80. By improving her energy rating to 74 points she will also reduce the home’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3.2 tonnes per year.
Some of the recommendations made in the report have already been completed as her renovations continued throughout the fall. She says she intends to have the heat pump installed by spring. “It was something that I had always intended to do.”
It is now late fall, the humid nights now have a chill in the air and soon she will be turning on the heat. “I am really quite happy with the overall results. It will be interesting to run the house for a few months and then compare the power bill once the heat pump has been installed.”
Although she doesn’t say it, no doubt Jane wishes she could somehow harness the energy of her three children to meet the power demands of a bustling household.