Title: It’s time to energy-proof your house

Sub-title: Now more than ever it pays to invest in ways to make your residence more energy efficient

 

Many Canadian homeowners have been rejoicing at the fact that the prices that they will pay this winter for their home heating fuel, may not be as high as some experts had predicted. Oil prices, which some said would soon hit $200 per barrel have been recently trading at about half that level. Natural gas prices have come down significantly too. That said, it may be a little early to break out the champagne.

 

That’s because the 1.29 million Canadian homeowners who heat their residences with oil and the 5.7 million who opt for natural gas, are still in for one heck of a sticker shock. Prices for the commodities are still significantly above last year’s levels and many experts believe that with the energy-starved Chinese and Indian economies growing by leaps and bounds, they will continue to rise.

 

The upshot is that now, more than ever, it pays for Canadians to invest in ways to make homes more energy efficient so that they can keep their heating bills to a minimum.

 

Little improvements can go a long way

One interesting fact regarding energy-efficiency is how seemingly relatively minor initiatives can, when added up, go a long way.  For example the cost of adding a programmable thermostat, which can lower home temperatures at night and at other times when no one is home, can typically be recovered from savings that the purchase generates in its first year alone.

 

Another excellent way of reducing energy costs is to find and plug air leaks in the house. When air escapes from a house through foundation walls, attic doors, hatches and window and door frames, homeowners are basically paying to constantly reheat the same volume of air.

 

Simple initiatives such as sealing the joints between walls, windows and door frames, repairing leaky chimney flues are a must for anyone who is thinking seriously about reducing their energy costs. For fireplace owners, another more expensive investment, that can generate significant savings, is to switch from a conventional model to an energy-efficient insert model.

 

Renovation for energy efficiency

One of the major effects of the swings in energy prices of the last few years is how drastically they have altered the economics regarding investments in residential energy efficiency. That’s particularly true for Canadians who own one of the 550,000 one-story homes that were built in Canada during the 1960s and the 1970s, when oil cost only a few dollars per barrel.

 

The skyrocketing prices during the oil crisis of the early 1970s changed all that. During the ensuing years energy efficiency quickly jumped onto everyone’s radar screens. What is interesting to note, is that the run-up in oil prices during recent years has been almost as dramatic.

 

As a result, owners of these older homes are among those who have the most to gain from investments in energy efficiency. Even today, many of the houses built during the 1960s and 1970s have un-insulated basements, as well as substandard insulation in their exterior walls and ceilings. Worse, these houses are also often equipped with sub-standard ventilation systems. Taking care of these simple shortfalls and investing in energy-efficient single or double glazed windows, is increasingly becoming a must.

 

Short-term versus long-term energy efficiency investments

That said, despite the clear long-term rationale for building an energy efficient footprint, according to one expert, those thinking of doing so, should not rely on short-term increases in oil and natural gas prices as their sole rationale.

 

“Anyone who looks at a chart of energy prices can see that they fluctuate wildly,” says Don Fugler, a research analyst at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “Many investments in energy efficiency can only be justified if they generate savings consistently over several years. That means the long-term trend in energy prices is far more important.”

 

Another point to remember says Fugler, is that many of the articles that are written about energy efficiency are produced for the U.S. market, where average costs and usage are far lower than they are in Canada. That’s important because “if studies show that it pays to improve the efficiency of homes in California, then that conclusion surely applies even more so in Ontario,” says Fugler.

 

For more information regarding renovating to increase energy efficiency, you can check out the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation’s Web-site at:

http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/renoho/reensa/index.cfm

 

                      

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Montreal-based freelance business and economics writer.

 

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