Nova Scotia

Free home upgrades help low-income Nova Scotians

It's the time of year when Nova Scotians are feeling the chill and thinking about switching on the home heating.

Efficiency Nova Scotia program aims to cut energy use

A blower test finds out where a home is leaking air.

Helen Drew was worried the cost of heating her drafty home would mean she could no longer afford to live on her own.

That changed when the 86-year-old Terrance Bay resident called Efficiency Nova Scotia, and found out she qualified for the Low Income Homeowners program. It helps people stay warm by offering free energy-saving upgrades.  

"They found the attic needed more insulation, the doors needed insulation desperately, my fridge downstairs in the basement was using more energy than what needed be," she said.

ENS installed new insulation, new light bulbs, taps and draft-proofed the house — and it didn't cost Drew a penny. 

"It's been wonderful since. My electricity has dropped. I feel secure that I can stay in my home."

Bill Turpin, manager of the residential sector for Efficiency Nova Scotia, said the independent, non-profit corporation is funded by a 3.5 per cent rider on power bills and a contract with the provincial government.  

The power bill surcharge is designed to reduce the province’s electricity usage and the government funding targets non-electric fuel.  

Energy audit

Homeowners who are qualified as low-income cut off simply call Efficiency Nova Scotia. They will send an expert to visit the home and conduct an energy audit to find the weak spots where heat is escaping, or wasting energy.  

First, they fix the little things, such as energy efficient light bulbs.

"That’s CFL lamps, an extra layer of insulation around your water tank, faucet aerators to reduce your hot water consumption, low-flow shower heads, those kinds of measures," Turpin said.  

It can then do deeper retrofits such as adding insulation and dealing with leaky windows and doors. "The most important thing you can do to reduce your energy costs is to draft-proof and ensures you're properly insulated," Turpin said.  

There is no charge to the homeowner.  

The program has been running for a year. So far, ENS has spent $9.5 million on 1,500 people, saving about $626,000 a year. Turpin says that adds up when because the savings recur for decades.  

"This is a solution that will be there year after year. That's the beauty of it," he said.  

He says most people who go through the program appreciate the average $500 a year in savings, or a little more than half a tank of oil, but the real benefit is that their home is warmer and more comfortable.   

"The first thing that comes to their mind is not the savings, but how much warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer their house is. It makes a big difference to quality of life to have a tight house," he said.  

The program is welcoming applications, but is just about full on the electrical side for next year. It has more room on the non-electrical heat side. Turpin says those interested should contact ENS now to get the process moving.  

ENS uses the Statistics Canada definition of the Low Income Cut Off:

People Living in home Annual Household Income
1 person $20,065
2 to 4 people $37,283
5 or more people $53,097