May 9, 2013

Greening Your Home : 5 Upgrades for Energy Efficiency

Being green doesn’t have to mean sacrificing convenience, comfort or quality in your house. ‘Green’ can get a bad rap, especially when people associate it with 30-second showers, no air conditioning in the summer, and having to wear three sweaters all winter. Those are all commendable green things to do, but there are also many opportunities for homeowners to reduce their environmental impact and upgrade the quality of their house without a downgrade in convenience or comfort. Not interested in ‘GREEN’? That’s ok, different strokes for different folks. How about SAVING MONEY? Are you into that? These upgrades can make your home much more energy efficient, save you lots of money in heating/cooling and electricity over the years, and add significant value to your home. There is even a little government support available. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Replace your windows – windows, especially older ones with aluminum frames, are very poorly insulated. A room with nice, thick, warm walls might actually get pretty cold in the winter if the windows in that room are old. Upgrade the ‘curb appeal’ of your house with nicer, more energy efficient windows, and be more comfortable on cold days.
  • Insulate your basement or attic – your roof is (most likely) black, and it gets really hot under the summer sun. If the insulation under it is old, rotten, or compacted, the rest of your house feels the heat. Increase the summer comfort levels of your upper floors by insulating your attic. Your basement is the opposite – cold and difficult to warm. Insulate it and install a games room, family area or, my personal favourite, a ping pong table.
  • Replace your furnace or central AC – Furnaces, especially older furnaces from the ‘70s, can be up to 50% less efficient than current models. The same goes for central air conditioning systems. New central air conditioning and furnace systems are quieter, and more advanced: for example, they can deliver ventilation, heating and hot water through one appliance. Plus, Toronto Hydro gives a bit of a subsidy of $250-$400. For details check out this link.
  • Replace old appliances – refrigerators sold today look nicer, are quieter, can give you filtered cold water and ice at the touch of a button, and a fridge today uses about ½ the energy of a 1970’s fridge. Same goes for washers, dryers, and dishwashers – sleek new designs won’t clog up with a few grains of rice, and use less electricity and water than older models.
  • Swap out older toilets – New toilets are clean! Plus a new model nowadays uses 1/3 of the water per flush of an older model.

Now, all of those activities will not only reduce your environmental impact, they will measurably maintain or improve the value of your house and involve no sacrifice of comfort on your part.

How can you pay for all these luxurious green upgrades? There is one little-known option for funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation mortgage insurance program. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it works like this: banks (and other lenders) don’t like giving mortgages to people with less than a 20% down payment. If you have less than a 20% down payment, CMHC insures your mortgage (for a nice little fee or course, but hey, it allows you to get yourself into the real estate market!)  so you can get your mortgage from the bank. This works well for the banks because if you default, they still get their money from CMHC. Here’s the green incentive: if you buy an energy efficient house, or do energy-efficiency renovations after you buy, you can get a refund of 10% on the fee you paid CMHC. Not a ton of money, but cash is cash and it may pay for that new refrigerator.

More details are available here.

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