Canadian Contractor

Editorial: Sell comfort


August 8, 2021
By Patrick Flannery

After a lot of talk, Ottawa has launched its Greener Homes Grant program. It’s worth about $4 billion over five years and gives homeowners up to $5,000 towards home renovations that meet standards for energy efficiency. Windows, insulation and HVAC systems are the main targets. The feds say up to 700,000 projects will be funded.

The bottom line is the homeowner has to commission an EnerGuide evaluation of their home and the work and the products have to be signed off on by the auditor. Windows and HVAC have to be Energy Star-certified. Normally I’d predict the need for the evaluation and the cost and aggravation of arranging it would kill the program, but the amounts on offer are significant enough to make it worthwhile and the Grant reimburses the homeowner for the evaluation cost once the work is done.

So the question becomes, is providing energy-efficient solutions the kind of thing we should be aligning our businesses toward, or is this a pipe dream that’s going to fizzle in the face of market resistance, as previous energy-efficiency drives have?

The question is more pressing in light of the fact that the Greener Homes Grant can only be viewed as a small gesture towards the scale of the work needed to meet the government’s stated objectives. When Ontario implemented its short-lived GreenON program in 2017, it looked set to burn through its budget of $377 million in less than a year. The Pembina Institute estimates the actual investment needed to bring Canadian homes up to the net-zero-ready standard is more like 13 times the amount budgeted for the program – $26 billion per year. What it means is the whole plan is resting on us selling energy efficiency to our clients, and their willingness to buy it.

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In a recent episode of The Hammer, I had a great conversation with Gord Cooke of Building Knowledge about this issue. His insight was that we’ve tried to sell energy efficiency the wrong way for the last 50 years. Most salesmen have traditionally tried to upsell more efficient designs by showing the ROI over time in saved energy costs. This is a tough move to pull off. You’re essentially saying, “Pay me today and I promise you money back tomorrow.” A lot of people have too many trust issues to go for that one. Also, in the past, it was often hard to make those numbers come out attractively with Canada’s relatively low energy prices.

Instead, Cooke recommends a quality, longevity and comfort message. In most cases, building for energy efficiency simply means building to a higher quality standard. Airtightness of the building envelope is the single biggest contributor to a home’s overall efficiency. Aside from being resistant to thermal transmission, energy-efficient windows, doors and walls tend to use more durable materials with longer warranties. As for comfort, Cooke relates the story of his grandparents’ home that had a big single-pane picture window in the dining room looking out on a beautiful view…to the west. You needed a bathing suit and sunscreen to sit there on a sunny day. Installing low-E glass in that window returned 200 square feet of living space to the home.

Cooke’s killer close is to point out that we don’t think about ROI when buying TVs or furniture, so why is that the pitch for energy-efficient home upgrades? It’s time to shift toward a conversation about the benefits homeowners will experience right away.