Heat Pump Chronicles Vol2

This is the second in a series of posts on our journey to navigate government grants and loans available for home energy retrofits and to replace our natural gas furnace with a cold-climate heat pump. Click here to see all articles in the series.

A New Beginning

In the previous post I reported the 16-year-old natural gas furnace in Dayle’s and my home started acting up just before Christmas. We’d invested in a furnace maintenance call in the fall that resulted in a part being replaced, a reassurance that our furnace was in good shape, and a $200 bill. So, when the Christmas Eve repairman, left us without finding the problem, only another charge approaching $200, I was not amused. The weather turned really cold on Boxing Day. Our ailing furnace struggled to get the inside temperature above 18°C. I felt like Bob Cratchit, forced to wear double sweaters, tuque and mittens with the fingers cut out. But I was resolved not to replace our current furnace with another natural gas unit. I wanted a heat pump that would be fossil-fuel free.

Achieving our community climate targets means everyone must do their part to reduce fossil fuel use. Home heating, whether it be by burning oil or natural gas, produces lots of greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to climate change. Ontario has an electricity supply that is mostly fossil fuel free. So, moving from fossil fuel home heating to electricity is an effective way to reduce Ontario’s GHG emissions.

When our home was built in the early 1980s, little attention was placed on what is called, “building envelope integrity”. This means the house leaked like a sieve, lowering heating and air conditioning efficiency and driving up costs. Air sealing cracks around windows, doors, bathroom/kitchen fans, switch/outlet plates and baseboards are low-hanging fruit ways to reduce energy loss. The materials are relatively inexpensive, and the work can be done by most do-it-yourselfers. And the government now reimburses up to $1,300 to help offset the cost of air sealing a house.

Too bad for us. A decade ago we’d already done a pretty good job of crack sealing. We’d also upgraded our windows and added attic insulation to R62. A heat pump was the next logical step on our low-carbon journey.

A heat pump is like an air conditioner with superpowers. Its Clark Kent summer version acts like a standard air conditioner, collecting heat energy from inside the home and pumping it outside. In winter, however, the Super Man version emerges, when the heat pump jumps into the phone booth and turns itself into an air conditioner in reverse! Even at minus 30°C, there is still heat energy in the outside air. The heat pump collects this energy and releases it inside where it keeps occupants warm and comfortable. Since heat pumps merely move existing heat rather than creating it through resistance coils or burning fuel, they are by far the most efficient home heating systems available today.

Heat pumps are more expensive to purchase and install than a similar capacity natural gas unit. But the higher efficiency of heat pumps translates into lower operating costs, meaning a heat pump will pay for itself over a few years of operation. Even though it may cost less in the long-run to own and operate, the sticker price is still a bitter pill to swallow.

Governments are helping to make the choice easier by offering grants and interest free loans. At the beginning of this year, the Federal Government in Ontario partnered with Enbridge Gas to offer grants of up to $10,000 to cover part of the cost of eligible energy retrofits including $6,500 for eligible heat pumps. The program also offers up to $40,000 in interest free loans with a 10 year repayment.

There are, however, steps required to access this money.

Step 1. Go to the Enbridge Home Energy Rebate Plus website. Answer a few questions to see what grants you might be eligible for. What type of house do you live in? What’s your postal code? Does the homeowner live in the home? Are you or do you intend to be an Enbridge customer?

Step 2. Find a Registered Energy Advisor and schedule an initial home energy assessment Finding an energy auditor can be painful and time consuming although this process is improving. Green Communities Canada can help you find a federally licensed Energy Advisor who can also help with the next step.

Step 2 A. Perform the energy audit and receive the report. More on that in next week’s blog post. Kinda fascinating. Stay tuned!

Step 3. Submit a Home Energy Rebate Plus (HER+) application. This is different from the process I went through as I applied directly with NRCAN which means creating an account on the Greener Homes Grant Portal. After January 1st 2023 this option is no longer available. But I assume the process is similar, you just need to provide proof of address and of home ownership by providing a copy of a tax bill.

Step 3 B. – Apply for green home loan if desired. To apply for the loan you will need to create an account on the Greener Homes Grant Portal. There are several ways to do this. I found it easiest to create a log-in using my bank information. Note: don’t start any work before this step has been completed, otherwise your project will not be eligible for a loan.

Step 4. Complete at least one eligible upgrade. This is a multi-phase step that varies in complexity depending on the type of upgrade. Look for more blog posts in the coming weeks with stories about our interactions with contractor visits and trying to get quotes for heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. Interesting stuff!

Step 5. Schedule a follow-up home energy assessment once the retrofits are complete.

Step 6. Receive rebate check, including up to $600 to offset the cost of the assessment plus any applicable loan. I’ll write more on this topic once we have gone through the process.

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