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New energy efficiency rebates worth a second look

New energy efficiency rebates from the Ontario government could substantially reduce your household energy bills, strike a blow against climate change and make your home more comfortable.

The four-year, $600-million GreenON Rebates program is part of the Green Ontario Fund, a not-for-profit provincial agency. The program pays you for selected energy-efficient renovations when they are done by approved contractors, which you’ll find at the GreenON Rebates website above.

Unlike previous federal and provincial renovation and energy-saving programs, this one has no complex tax credit schemes or requirements for a pre- or post-renovation energy audit. You prove the work has been done, and you get a cheque.

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Insulation incentives

The energy efficiency rebates are for the most part generous.

For instance, if you increase the insulation in your attic to R-50 – the minimum required to qualify for the rebate – you get back $1 per square foot up to $1,500. The only restriction is that you have to install at least R-20 worth of insulation to reach the total value of R-50; in other words, you can’t already have R-40, add R-10 and expect to get the rebate.

“It’s easy to upgrade your attic insulation and it costs very little,” says Roy Nandram, owner of Ottawa’s RND Construction and one of the program’s approved contractors.

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Nandram estimates that, depending on factors such as the construction of your home, it would cost between $1,300 and $2,300 to bring a 1,000-square-foot attic currently insulated to R-20 to the required level of R-50.

Your rebate would be $1,000, so your net cost to bring that attic up to snuff would be somewhere between $300 and $1,300.

The program also pays $2 per square foot for wall and basement insulation. In both cases, you need to have enough insulation installed to achieve a value of R-20. As in the attic, upgrading insulation means reduced energy costs and fewer greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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Window replacement

The program pays $500 per window when you replace older ones with high-performance, triple-glazed versions.

Nandram says upgrading a window in an average Ottawa home costs about $1,000. The program limits its payout to $5,000 or 10 windows, so if you had 10 new windows installed at a cost of $10,000, you’d get a rebate of $5,000.

“That’s a pretty good pop,” says Nandram, especially when you consider that good windows not only reduce energy consumption year-round, they can drastically cut those miserable wintery drafts.

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Heating and cooling systems

The energy efficiency rebates also cover both air-source heat pumps, which use outside air to heat and cool your home, and ground-source systems (also knows as geothermal systems), which use the earth to do the same.

Depending on the construction of your home and other factors, heat pumps can cut heating costs up to 50 per cent.

Costs vary for an air-source heat pump installation, but you should expect to pay around $15,000 for a high-performance model, according to green building expert Ross Elliott of Homesol Building Solutions. Rebates range from $1,900 to $5,800.

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A ground-source system runs about $30,000, according to Elliott. Rebates are either $15,000 or $20,000 depending on the type of installation.

Elliott adds that while air-source heat pumps have traditionally been seen as performing less well than geothermal systems, “in actual monitored results they’re now getting pretty close to each other. So geothermal is sort of dead technology.”

Along with heat-pump systems, GreenON Rebates will pay $100 toward the cost of a smart thermostat for any kind of heating system. The devices learn your heating and cooling habits and preferences, ensuring you spend money on energy only when you need it. The thermostats can also be controlled remotely via Wi-Fi.

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Where do you start?

Improving insulation and windows is the first step in energy efficiency, according to experts like Nandram. Once you’ve tightened up the building envelope as much as possible, you can turn your attention to heating and cooling system alternatives and other energy strategies.

Investing in a tight building envelope is “like buying a good thermos for your coffee,” he says. “It will stay warm for two days, but a cheap one won’t hold the heat.”

UPDATE: The provincial government cancelled this program June 19. Those already enrolled will be honoured, if work is completed by the end of August. Get details here.

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About the Author

Patrick Langston

Patrick Langston is the co-founder of All Things Home Inc. and a veteran journalist. He has written widely about the Ottawa housing industry since 2008.

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