Eco incentive

These days, there are numerous programs where people can access government grants to help make their homes more energy efficient.

When we bought the farm, Matt and I were able to qualify for the ecoEnergy retrofit program through the Government of Canada. Knowing that we had a long list of repairs that we needed to do, including improving the insulation in the house and replacing the furnace and air conditioning system, we were looking for any help we could find.

The ecoEnergy program “provided grants up to $5,000 to help homeowners make their homes more energy-efficient.” Ummm, $5,000 is pretty helpful!

The challenge for us with the ecoEnergy program was that it had a very tight deadline: the end of March 2012. We only took possession of the farm on March 2, so as soon as our offer was accepted in January, we went to work to get things in place to qualify for our grant.

Step 1: Register for the program.

A registration number was required for all steps of the program. Registration was free and easy to do online. By requiring homeowners to register in advance, the government could manage the budget for the program; there was only space for 250,000 homeowners to participate. I registered the farm on Jan. 27. The program reached its cap and stopped accepting registrations the very next day. This was just one of many times where I felt fate was on our side with this property.

Once we had registered, we were in a bit of a holding pattern. While we were able to enroll in the ecoEnergy program before we officially owned the farm, inspections and any actual work had to wait until the deal closed on March 2. But, March 31 was the deadline to complete any upgrades. We would have just 29 days to do all of the work. That meant I spent February finding an inspector to do our pre-retrofit evaluation, getting quotes for our geothermal system and insulation upgrade, hiring contractors and scheduling everything so that we were ready to go as soon as the farm was ours.

Step 2: Pre-retrofit evaluation

Before we did any work, we had to have the house inspected by an inspector licensed by Natural Resources Canada. We chose to go with Energuy. The pre-retrofit inspection was scheduled for 12 noon on March 3, the day we officially took possession.

Energuy inspector

Serge, one of our inspectors from Energuy

The inspector looked through the house from the attic to the foundation, documenting the insulation, the furnace and air conditioner, the hot water tank, the windows and the toilets (the areas that were eligible under the terms of the program). With the help of a big fan he put in the front door, he also performed a blower test which showed any air leaks that we had in the house. He also helped us fill out all of the paperwork required by the program.

Blower test for an energy audit

The blower test fan set up in the front door

At the first inspection, our house received a rating of 58 points (out of 100) on the EnerGuide Rating System (ERS) scale. The ERS compares the our home’s efficiency with other similar houses by estimating our annual energy consumption based on our house’s “location, size, mechanical equipment and systems, insulation levels and air tightness.”

According to Energuy, the average rating for a house like ours is 64. So we weren’t too far below the average, but that wasn’t much comfort to this over-achiever.

Step 3: If we wanted to improve our rating, we one option: Do the work

Obviously, the biggest upgrade we were making was the geothermal system. Installation started on March 5 — 26 days left in the program. The attic insulation was upgraded on March 16 — 15 days to go. And then just under the deadline, on March 25, we bought two new low-flow toilets — 6 days to complete install!

Attic hatch

Post upgrade, our energy auditor checks out the new insulation in the attic.

We did one additional upgrade that we weren’t able to squeak in before the March 31 deadline–the spray foam insulation in the basement, which happened at the start of May.

Step 4: Post-retrofit evaluation

The final step in the ecoEnergy program was the final inspection. We had until June 30 to complete this step. Matt and I scheduled our inspection on June 29, as we wanted the basement renovation to be as far along as possible before the inspector came. While none of the work we did in the basement counted towards our grant, sealing the broken windows and insulating the exterior walls all contributed to the overall air-tightness of our house.

Testing for air tightness

During the blower test, the inspector took eight readings at five different pressure points to test how air tight our house is.

Again, the inspector checked the house top to bottom, took pictures of all of our upgrades and did another blower test. We gave him copies of all of our receipts to prove that we completed the work before March 31 and filled out some more paperwork, and then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then, last week, this arrived.

Cheque from the government of Canada

Money coming in, rather than going out!

Yup. We maxed it out. We got the full $5,000 we were eligible for through the program!

The results from our second inspection spell out all of the details.

Remember that the rating from our first inspection was 58. Our first report, which included tips of how to improve our energy efficiency, said, “If you implement all of the recommendations in this report, you could reduce your energy consumption by up to 57 percent and increase your home’s energy efficiency rating to 80 points… and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions [such as CO2] by 9.0 tonnes per year.”

After all of our upgrades, our final ERS was 85. We beat the estimate of how much we could improve our efficiency by 5 points! Even better, we tied the “highest rating achieved by the most energy-efficient houses” in our category.

This over-achiever is satisfied.

The grant is a very nice acknowledgement of the improvements we’ve made to the farm and our commitment to be more energy conscious. The rebates offered by the government are not enough to make someone do repairs just to get the grant, but, for people like us who are planning to do the work anyways, the grant ends up being a nice bonus.

Anyone else out there ever participated in a government grant program? What are you doing to be energy conscious in your home?

Warm and toasty… and teal?

What do you think of our new colour scheme in the basement?

Spray foam insulation

It’s a little bit smurf, a little bit cotton candy.

Matt was hoping for blue. I’d say he got his wish.

Last week, we had spray foam insulation applied to all of the exterior walls.

As you’ll recall, the original plans for the basement reno were mostly cosmetic (replace carpet, remove paneling, relocate cabinetry, leave all the drywall in place and just patch and paint). Simple, easy, quick!

However, we’ve had a few surprises in the form of inadequate insulation and improper wiring. Our solution was to remove the drywall and the existing R7 insulation from all of the exterior walls and start fresh.

R7 insulation

The old insulation was actually stamped R7. I don’t think I’d admit it if I was that inadequate.

However, we couldn’t just simply put the new insulation into the old walls because all of the studs were laid flat on the concrete. This meant we only had 1 1/2 inches for insulation. We had to fur out all of the existing studs with new 2x4s.

Furring out studs

We screwed new 2x4s onto the existing studs.

The count was close to 100 studs for the whole basement. Each one had to be plumbed (make sure it’s perfectly vertical) and then toenailed (screwed on an angle) with three inch screws to the old studs. It took two people to do each stud (one to hold and one to screw), so this stage has taken us a little while to complete. Matt and I found it took us about two hours to do a wall.

It would have been easier to put the new studs flat onto the old studs, but we wanted the higher R factor that additional depth allowed us. We ended up with 5 inches of space and we had the option of R20 or R27 for the insulation. R20 application meant we’d have 3 1/4 inches of foam and R27 would be 4 1/2 inches. We chose to go with R20 because there was nearly a $1,000 price difference for just 7 more R factors, which wasn’t worth it for us. R20 is still a really good rating.

I’ve never done spray foam before (and to be clear we couldn’t find a DIY option for spray foam, so we hired an insulation contractor to do the work for us), but we chose this option over the traditional batts for a couple of reasons:

  1. Traditional insulation requires tar paper (or some other membrane) between the concrete and the studs, and there was no way we could do this and still leave the existing studs in place. We then would have to run a plastic vapor barrier over the insulation before we put up the drywall.
  2. We found about 6 mice (all dead) and numerous rodent highways in the old insulation.

Spray foam is tar paper, insulation and vapor barrier all in one. Plus it’s more rodent resistant, which is comforting given our discoveries.

The spray foam covers the wall space between each stud as well as the joist headers at the top of the walls. In the main room and long room the ceilings are all open so the sprayers had easy access (click here if you need a refresher on the floor plan for the basement). In the office we left the ceiling in place, so Matt cut back about 12 inches of drywall off the ceiling on the two exterior walls so that the sprayers would be able to access the joist headers and we’d have a good seal all the way around.

Spray foam insulation in the joist headers

These joist headers (which were completely uninsulated before) can be the source of a lot of drafts

To prepare for the spray foam we made sure all of the electrical and plumbing work that we wanted to do was completed in advance. Spray foam fills all of the nooks and crannies and hardens very quickly. It’s great for efficiency, but you can’t really change your mind and say, “Oh I really wish that plug was over here” after it’s all done.

Electrical outlets encased in spray foam insulation

This is the corner in Matt’s office where the desk is going to go. From left to right we have a double box for electrical outlets, a plastic conduit that will eventually house the internet wire (we’ll use the string to pull the wire through the pipe) and a phone jack.

The spray foam crew took a full day to do the whole basement. While the spray is being applied, it is toxic, so the crew wore respirators and my Dad (who was on-site supervising) couldn’t stay in the house. When we got home from work that night there was a slight odor, but we opened the windows and it dissipated quickly.

Insulation is a major step in putting the basement back together. As much as we love the teal, we’re anxious to move on to drywall… Or maybe just anxious about drywall. This next stage is going to be a biggie. We’ll keep you posted on how we make out!