By Leon Wasser
Opportunities in energy awarenessCanadian Contractor Resources
Energy advisors are critical to access the new retrofit rebates. Here’s who they are and what they do.
Energy efficiency has become one of the key determinants of what the market now considers a high-quality
home. The energy design of a home may be invisible to the naked eye, but leading Canadian home builders and
renovators now recognize the business opportunities arising in green building. While there is no question that how a home looks from the outside is still important, industry leaders increasingly recognize the growing importance of optimized energy design in their projects. They now know that when it comes to energy it’s what’s inside the home that counts.
The field of efficient energy design is something complex, incorporating multiple building materials and systems. Energy analysis requires a systems approach because how a building performs from an energy perspective is dependent on the interaction of many building components and every building element is important to determining the overall energy performance of the structure.
The Canada Greener Homes Grant program
In the summer of 2021, the federal government announced a major new program to help Canada meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction obligations under the Paris Accord. Canadian housing generates about
40 percent of our GHG emissions. The government recognized that there was a great opportunity to meet our international climate change obligations and to meet other policy goals such as promoting the business sector and reducing energy costs for Canadian homeowners. The goal of this program is to improve the energy performance of Canada’s huge inventory of existing homes by subsidizing numerous types of energy
retrofits for individual homes. Overall, this massive federal program was provided a budget of $2.7 billion to
fund energy retrofits for to up to 700,000 existing homes over the seven-year span of the program, which will run to 2028. More specifically, the program offers homeowners up to $5,000 for approved energy retrofit projects as well as up to $600 for a mandatory energy audit.
The list of qualifying energy retrofits is extensive starting with energy conservation measures such as improving the home’s building envelope through upgraded windows and doors as well as applying increased insulation to attics, walls and basements. A second area of potential improvement is through a select range of HVAC system upgrades. A third focus for energy performance improvement is through the installation of renewable energy systems including geothermal, heat pump and solar photovoltaics systems.
Tapping into the program and its funding is a multistage process. First, individual homeowners need to register
individually for the CGHGP through a link on the Natural Resources Canada website.
Once approved by NRCan, the homeowner needs to engage a registered energy advisor from an extensive list of candidates listed on the NRCan program website. Registered energy advisors are specially trained and NRCan-approved professionals. Prospective energy advisors must undertake intensive training and complete two NRCan-administered exams to qualify to offer their services. There are only a limited number of training institutions that offer this instruction. Because of high demand for their services, it is important for homeowners to engage an energy advisor as early as possible. The energy advisor will visit their home, conduct
a mandatory comprehensive energy audit of the home’s current condition and recommend a detailed plan for
potential improvements. The energy advisor then submits their energy audit electronically to NRCan for review and approval.
Once approved, the homeowner can scope the market for contractors who can perform the desired home energy
improvements. The homeowner then needs to get quotations for any of the recommended measures they want to proceed with. Smart home renovators can market their ability to perform the types of home improvements typically recommended, such as envelope improvements, HVAC upgrades and renewable energy systems. Currently there is limited government guidance on the marketing of these services.
A skilled contractor can facilitate the energy retrofit process by developing a detailed knowledge of this program. They can help homeowners decide which measures to proceed with from the list recommended by the registered energy advisor based on which project may offer a better payback period, which are easiest to undertake, and which provide the best long-term value.
The renovator then implements the project and provides the homeowner with their invoice. As a final step the homeowner invites their registered energy advisor back to verify that the work performed was a measure which they recommended, and that the contractor or supplier invoice is valid. Once this is done, they complete the process by submitting their approval to NRCan. NRCan will then release the funds for the both energy upgrade up to $5,000 and for the energy audit up to $600.
In some provinces there are similar incentives through other levels of government or through utilities. In
Ontario, Enbridge offers a Home Energy Retrofit grant of $5,000 which operates is a very similar fashion to the
Canada Green Home Grant and uses an analogous process involving registered energy advisors.
Energy performance for new homes
The Canada Greener Homes program is generating substantial interest in green retrofits for existing homes. There is also growing demand for greener new homes.
Homebuilders in Ontario are aware of SB12, the sustainable building energy performance requirements for Part 9 of the Ontario Building Code, which governs the design and construction of new homes. Some savvy home builders have recognized the growing demand for high energy performance homes, such as those that are designed to meet the Passive House, net zero or Energy Star for New Homes standards. These high-performance homes consume less energy, are generally more comfortable and command a price premium from home buyers. Whichever high-performance standard is adopted for the home, the process begins with a comprehensive energy model. This brings to mind to the famous adage, measure twice, cut once. Green building
homes need to be planned effectively before construction starts.
This process begins with visualizing the energy performance of the proposed home with energy modelling software. In Canada, we generally use the HOT2000 software or the H2K energy modelling program. This software was developed by NRCan. In some cases, the project architect designing the home can also run the Hot2000 energy modelling for the project. There are also consultants who specialize in HOT2000 modelling.
Energy modelling considers many building elements including overall geometry, building materials, orientation and window location. Building envelope materials like insulation, window construction and sizing and HVAC equipment are also reflected in HOT2000 captures. HOT2000 also incorporates renewable energy systems for the home such as geothermal, air-source heat pump, solar photovoltaic or solar hot water systems.
The model may have to be run several times to optimize the building design. Once the digital twin of the house is finalized it is submitted to the municipality’s building department as part of the building permit review
process program, when and where required. Skilled municipal building officials can view, understand and approve the HOT2000 model.
In some jurisdictions and for certain projects, in addition to HOT2000 energy modelling, registered energy
advisors are required to review the new construction projects at key points during the project’s construction to verify that the project complies with the applicable green building standard and HOT200 energy model.
Training to become a home energy expert
High energy performance homes require deep expertise. Both becoming an energy advisor or a HOT2000
energy modeller requires a significant amount of professional training. It is clear, however, that due to both the
strategic direction of government policy regarding GHG emission reduction in many jurisdictions, and the ever-
increasing market demand for greener homes, there is a rapidly increasing demand for these energy experts.
HOT2000 energy modelling training involves developing a deep understanding of house construction
and how each element of the structure contributes to how structures use energy. Energy modellers need aptitude with both mathematics, especially complex geometry, as well as some comfort with computer programing.
Energy advisor training is far more challenging and involved. Energy advisors must first develop a very deep understanding of home construction if they do not come from the home building sector. In addition,
prospective energy advisors need to understand the full range of energy performance characteristics of the
wide variety of homes. They must be able to quickly identify energy optimization opportunities. For
existing home retrofits, this requires a combination of a sharp eye and a profound understanding of home
energy construction. They must also have an extensive understanding of the performance of the numerous energy measures available on the market.
In all cases, home-energy professionals need expert training to comprehend and assimilate the vast amount of background knowledge needed to operate credibly in this sector. Most importantly, individuals motivated
to become professionals in this growing area need to be willing and able to devote the time and resources
to truly become home energy experts. The rewards for this dedication can substantial. Both energy modellers and registered energy advisors will make a positive contribution to the future of the planet, and benefit from the solid foundation from a career in growing segments of the building sector.
Leon Wasser, MBA, P.Eng., is the director of the School of Energy of the Resilient World Institute and is the vice-chair on the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.