How efficient is your house? Map project plans to publish ratings for all Calgary, Edmonton homes

An Alberta environmental charity and a software company plan to rate the energy efficiency of every single-family home in both cities and publish the ratings online this fall.

$400K pilot project aims to combat climate change by arming consumers with data

A residential neighbourhood in north Edmonton is seen from above. Alberta Ecotrust and Lightspark, a Vancouver software company, plan to rate the energy efficiency of every single-family home in Edmonton and Calgary. (David Bajer/CBC)

Albertans living in Calgary and Edmonton will soon be able to see how efficient their neighbours' homes are.

An Alberta environmental charity and a software company plan to rate the energy efficiency of every single-family home in both cities and publish the ratings online this fall.

The aim of the pilot is to combat climate change by encouraging Albertans to make energy upgrades to their homes.

"Studies have shown that the first three-to-five years after purchase is the most likely time to do upgrades and renovations, so by partnering with realtors in Calgary and Edmonton, we're hoping to put this information into the hands of realtors and their clients," said Jessica Lajoie, a program specialist for the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation.

The pilot project, which has a budget of about $400,000, would build on the City of Edmonton's home energy map, which shows the energy efficiency of a fraction of the city's homes.

That map shows only homes with EnerGuide labels — official ratings given to energy-audited homes — but the pilot would assess residential energy efficiency on a much wider scale.

"We're going to set a score for every single house in Edmonton and Calgary right off the bat," said James Riley, the CEO and founder of Lightspark, a Vancouver software company making a six-figure in-kind contribution to the project.

The company will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate the ratings. 

Its ratings will not be as accurate as those resulting from home audits but, Riley said, his company has spent two and a half years making sense of vast amounts of municipal and federal data and studying patterns in homes that have already been inspected.

"We've found that it's actually fairly accurate because most of the post-war houses were built in a very particular way," he said.

Lightspark's platform would show consumers how energy efficient their homes are and how their scores could be improved. (Submitted by James Riley)

In 2015, the company performed a similar but less-sophisticated energy analysis of thousands of homes in Nova Scotia, learning people wanted a convenient tool that simplified what can be a complicated landscape of energy metrics and government grants.

Lightspark plans to launch a beta version of the pilot this summer and roll out the official maps in the fall. 

A consumer-centric portal that includes information on grant opportunities and allows people to submit upgrades to improve their score will also be included and homeowners who don't like the idea of their rating being online will be able to opt out. 

Successful rollouts in Alberta's biggest cities could pave the way for similar maps across the country.

"Ultimately, we see the business model as cities and utilities licensing these platforms because it will help get more consumers reducing carbon faster and reducing energy faster," Riley said.

Real estate industry leaders in Ontario lobbied against a home energy label policy in 2018 but Alberta realtors are on board with the idea.

Presidents of real estate industry associations in Calgary and Edmonton praised the idea in a news release this week and Lajoie said the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation is working with the MLS platform's provider to get scores published in home listings.

Prospective home buyers often ask for utility bills to get a sense of a property's energy efficiency, but the bills can yield more information about previous homeowner's behaviour than the efficiency of the home itself, said Patti Morris, executive director of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

The real estate foundation is putting up more than half of the funds for the pilot.

"We think that it's going to really help to promote education of the public and the real estate industry around the value of energy home labelling," Morris said.

The project's federal government funding comes through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.


Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.