How to make the most of that new, federal, 'green' home retrofit grant
Homeowners are eligible for a federal grant worth up to $5,600 for upgrades and energy audits
When the federal government launched its Canada Greener Homes Grant a week ago, the interest level was high enough to crash the website temporarily. The program has received at least 30,000 applications so far.
Now, energy auditors and contractors say they're fielding a wave of inquiries from homeowners keen to apply for what could amount to $5,600 in federal support per household.
"There's literally thousands of homeowners calling," said Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, an energy efficiency non-profit in British Columbia. "I think there is extremely high demand already."
But despite the high uptake, there are early concerns about the size and scope of the grant program.
"There's a couple of challenges with this program," said Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, director of buildings and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute.
To answer some of those outstanding questions and explore the program's limits, CBC News took a deeper dive into the details of Canada Greener Homes Grant.
Who is eligible?
Homeowners, obviously. But applicants must also meet some other conditions before applying online:
- They must prove they live in the house; landlords who live off-site are not eligible.
- The home must be a single or semi-detached house, a row house, a townhome, an all-season cottage or a certain type of mobile home or houseboat.
- Although condos generally aren't eligible, condo owners in low-rise buildings may qualify.
- First Nation band councils, land claims organizations and Indigenous housing management bodies can apply for the grant.
- New homes are not eligible.
Which upgrades qualify?
According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), the federal department that administers the program, these are the projects that qualify for the grant:
- Insulation (up to $5,000)
- Air-sealing to improve air-tightness (up to $1,000)
- Replacing windows and doors (up to $5,000)
- Installing heat pumps and hot water equipment (up to $5,000)
- Installing solar panels (up to $5,000)
- Resiliency measures like batteries, foundation waterproofing and roofing membranes (up to $2,625)
- Installing a smart thermostat (up to $50 but must be combined with another retrofit)
Materials and equipment, NRCAN says, must be purchased in Canada or from a Canadian online distributor.
Are there strings attached?
Homeowners won't receive the money upfront. The grant only arrives after they've spent the money — in some cases a considerable amount. To qualify, a homeowner must first undergo an energy audit at their own expense, hire contractors, pay for materials and then pass a final follow-up energy audit — again, out of pocket.
Once the upgrades are certified, the government says it will reimburse homeowners and the money should arrive within a month. But a homeowner isn't guaranteed the maximum grant of $5,600. The amount of the grant depends on the audit conducted when the work is done.
The Pembina Institute says that the cost of extensive retrofits to cut energy bills and reduce emissions likely would exceed the value of the grant. Such work can range in cost from $30,000 up to $100,000 for a single family home.
"This is not free money," said Frappé-Sénéclauze.
How can a homeowner get the most bang for the buck?
Experts say that homeowners should carefully consider their renovation priorities before jumping in. Is the house too hot in the summer? Is it drafty in the winter? Is it time to fix that leaky foundation? How big is the building's carbon footprint? Homes and buildings account for 18 per cent of the country's carbon emissions.
Because the surge in demand for the program is driving up wait times for energy advisers and contractors, applicants probably will have to wait longer than they'd like for repairs to begin.
"I think there's such high demand right now, and there's only so much capacity in all the provinces and to be able to respond to this," Sundberg said. "It's probably best to pause for a moment, think about what the upgrades you might want to do, potentially think about what kind of contractors you would want to work with."
And there's no rush; the Greener Homes Grant will be available for the next seven years. In fact, by thinking through their home retrofit goals in advance, many homeowners may decide it's quicker and cheaper to do the work without waiting for government help.
On the other hand, it might be better to wait before applying — because other orders of government may end up getting into the grant game themselves. Although B.C., Quebec and Nova Scotia already offer similar supports, other regions could soon announce their own programs, which could be combined with the federal one.
Meanwhile, some municipal governments — including Edmonton and Toronto — are offering their own home retrofit assistance tied to a homeowner's property taxes. Such municipal programs are better known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE for short.
"So with the federal government getting involved, the hope is that this grant can really work in a larger system of supports for Canadians," said Brendan Haley, a policy director at Efficiency Canada.
And sometime over the summer, the federal government is expected to roll out an interest-free retrofit loan program that could provide up to $40,000 in loan capital per household.
Here's another possible reason to wait. Home renos frequently require multiple contractors. As demand for retrofits increases, we might see more companies offering homeowners one-stop or "turnkey" solutions, said Frappé-Sénéclauze.
What's available to those who don't qualify for this program?
Energy efficiency advocates say this is the glaring problem with the program: it leaves out renters and homeowners who can't afford to spend the money upfront.
"A policy gap is the lack of a program that's specifically targeted to low-income Canadians in particular," Haley said.
One non-profit that works with multilingual and multicultural communities suggests that, where possible, renters should upgrade to programmable or "smart" thermostats and plug any cracks in doors and windows that let cold air in.
"Heating your space and heating your water is what 60 per cent of your bill is made of," said Yasmin Abraham, the vice president and co-founder of Empower Me.
Ultimately, however, there's a limit to what low-income households and renters can afford to do. Abraham called on the federal government to provide programs that serve the needs of every Canadian household.