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Home > Lowe's for Pros > Retrofitting 101

Retrofitting 101

Retrofitting 101

By: Fiona Wagner

Perhaps you've heard a customer-or potential customer-complain of a home or building with high utility bills, drafts or poor indoor air quality.

While you have solutions to these common problems, it can be tough talking to customers about spending money now to save money and headaches later. But the federal ecoENERGY Retrofit — Homes program has made the conversation that much easier.

Here's the deal: Property owners who make energy efficient upgrades before March 31, 2011 may qualify for up to $5,000 in grants.

The purpose of the four-year program, sponsored by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), is to give owners of single-family homes, low-rise multi-unit buildings and some multi-use buildings financial assistance with energy efficiency improvements.

The savings from an energy efficient retrofit can be significant. NRCan estimates that a typical homeowner could potentially save $700 a year on a $2,000 annual heating bill, while reducing energy use by 30 percent and approximately four tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is, not only will these retrofits help your customer's bottom line, but they'll also help the environment.

"While taking care of comfort issues and utility bills, you can also contribute to the better health of the environment by reducing the production of greenhouse gases," says Suzanne Deschênes, acting deputy director, housing division, of NRCan's Office of Energy Efficiency.

How it works

A certified energy advisor conducts a detailed on-site evaluation of the building's energy use, looking for sources of heat and energy loss in the basement, attic and walls, as well as the efficiency of the space heating, water heating and air conditioning systems. The advisor also conducts an air leakage test using a blower door.

It takes between two and four hours to complete the audit and costs between $300 and $400 dollars, though provincial rebates may partially offset that. (For example, Ontario pays 50 percent of the cost of the initial evaluation, up to $150.)

Afterwards, the advisor provides a customized report that lists the recommended energy saving retrofits and corresponding grant amounts should those retrofits be completed on the building.

"[The advisor] will make recommendations on not only what you should do but what will give you the biggest bang for your buck," says Deschênes.

The building is also assigned an EnerGuide rating, which represents the building's current level of energy efficiency on a scale of 0 to 100 (an R-2000 house rates 80.)
The building owner is allowed 18 months to install any retrofits and have a second follow-up evaluation. Once the advisor verifies the work and submits the grant application, the owner usually receives a cheque within 90 days. The average grant for a single property is $1,400.

Common Recommendations

While buildings older than six months are eligible, those built prior to 1985 will benefit the most because of their potential for significant energy improvements. Put simply: the worse off the building, the more grant money the owner may qualify for. However, even new buildings can take advantage of technologies such as solar hot water heaters, instantaneous hot water heaters or heat recovery ventilators.

While renewable technologies are popular, it's economical for most building owners to consider conservation first. That's why the most common recommendations address issues with air leakage, inefficient heating systems and insulation.

"Of course, solar panels are sexy and insulation is not. But that's one of the most important upgrades," says Julian van Mossel-Forrester, outreach coordinator with Kitchener, Ont.-based Residential Energy Efficiency Project. "One way to make insulation appealing is the grants-they're so large that you hardly need to talk about return on investment because oftentimes the grants pay for the entire job."

Key Points

The key to explaining the program to customers, says Dave Apostolov, president of Mississauga, Ont.-based C&D Mechanical Ltd., is to be clear that the disbursement isn't instant. "Some companies don't explain the process of what [the customer] has to go through. I find that causes a lot of problems," he says.

Apostolov explains to his customers right away that receiving their grants requires a process that begins with the energy audit.

Also, it's imperative that the building owner completes an energy audit before any work is started: any renovations completed prior to the assessment are not eligible for the grant.
The bottom line is that even though spending money on energy-efficient-and sometimes pricey-upgrades can be tough to swallow, the long-term benefits to the building owner can be significant.

"We really like to look at it as an investment. You're not spending money that's just going into a black hole," says van Mossel-Forrester. "You only get the grant once, but the savings you get every year."

Retrofit Incentives for Homes

Homeowners interested in improving the energy efficiency of their homes have a long list of eligible retrofits to choose from. What's more, as of March 2009, existing grants are worth 25 percent more, so a $500 furnace upgrade is now worth $625, to a maximum of $5,000.

Upgrades that save the most energy have the highest value: so think insulation, air leakage and heating systems. For example, by installing an Energy Star qualified gas furnace with a 92 percent AFUE and a DC variable-speed motor while increasing the insulation in the basement walls from R-10 to R-24, a house that rated 54 on the EnerGuide scale could gain more than 20 points and be eligible for more than $1,250 in grants. However, replacing six windows will only increase the rating by 0.2 points and generate an eligible federal grant of $225.

The potential grant is calculated by adding the total incentive amounts recommended in the energy advisor's evaluation report. Grants are not dependent on the cost of the upgrade, so one Energy Star window is eligible for a $40 grant, regardless of the cost of the unit and installation.

The final grant disbursed is based on the actual work completed and the relative improvement to the home's overall energy efficiency.

Keep in mind, there may be other provincial and municipal grants and incentives available. For example, the Home Energy Ontario program [//] will match the federal grant dollar-for-dollar. Local gas companies may also offer instant rebates.

Here's a partial list of retrofits and their corresponding credits to choose from:

  • Energy Star gas furnace: $375 - $790

  • Earth energy system: $4,375

  • Energy Star 14.5 SEER central AC system: $250

  • Heat-recovery ventilator: $375

  • Solar hot water heater: $1,250

  • Instantaneous hot water heater: $375

  • Attic insulation: $500 - $750

  • Crawl space insulation $500 - $1,000

  • Energy Star windows: $40 each

  • Low-flush/dual-flush toilet: $65/unit

Retrofit Grants and Incentives for Small- and Medium-Sized Organizations

The ecoENERGY Retrofit Incentive for Buildings can help owners and operators of small and medium-sized buildings in the commercial and institutional sector improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.

"When a business reduces their energy use by becoming more efficient, it lowers its operating costs over the life of the new equipment, making the business more competitive," says Jim Comtois, chief, Incentives Programs, Buildings Division of NRCan's Office of Energy Efficiency.

Business owners could receive up to $10 per gigajoule (277.8 kilowatt hours) of estimated annual energy savings, 25 percent of eligible project costs or $50,000 per project ($250,000 per organization), whichever amount is lowest.
Common upgrades address deficiencies in a building's envelope, HVAC systems, water heating, electric motors and major appliances.

"While the program accepts single measures such as lighting retrofits or boiler replacements, it encourages comprehensive retrofits that maximize the long term benefit to the building owner," says Comtois.

Before starting any project, the business owner must have a pre-project energy audit completed either by an in-house energy professional or hired consultant.

Once NRCan approves the project submission (it takes about six to eight weeks), the business must sign and return a Contribution Agreement that outlines the terms of the project. The business then has 12 months to implement the retrofits. Once NRCan verifies the completed work, a cheque is usually issued within 30 days.

The program is open to owner/operators of commercial and institutional buildings, multi-unit residential buildings and mixed-used commercial/residential buildings up to 20,000 square metres. Buildings must be at least five years old.

The program runs until March 31, 2012 or until all the funds have been dispersed.

Become an Energy Advisor

Can you identify the R-value of different insulations by sight? Or perhaps you know the fuel efficiency of a furnace by its model. Then you might have the technical know-how to become a Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) certified energy advisor.

As of June 2009, NRCan has certified approximately 1,290 advisors since the ecoENERGY program launched in April 2007 and the field is only expected to grow.

The first step to finding employment is to contact a licensed ecoENERGY Retrofit - Homes Services Organization (HSO), which is responsible for the recruitment and training of advisors. You can find a list of companies at the Office of Energy Efficiency website at //

While hiring specifications vary by organization, most require an individual to have a background in building science and understand the principles of the "house as a system."You'll also need to know your basic residential materials including insulation types, windows, sealants and moisture barriers and have knowledge of residential HVAC systems and building practices for the region. That's in addition to basic arithmetic and geometry, Internet and email skills and a good way with people.

Qualified candidates must attend a standard energy advisor course and then write an exam that is administered by NRCan. Once the candidate passes the exam, he or she must perform a minimum of two supervised pre-retrofit energy evaluations and five unsupervised evaluations as part of a field training period before becoming eligible for full certification.

To date, most advisors have backgrounds as home inspectors, HVAC professionals, construction or building engineers, and the demand for energy audits is predicted to increase. "We really need to bring buildings to a level of energy efficiency that will allow us to live sustainably," says van Mossel-Forrester.


  • As of June 2009, 330,000 Canadian homeowners had their pre-assessment and 110,000 have applied for grants totaling $117 million

  • Since the launch of the ecoENERGY program in April 2007, Natural Resources Canada has certified 1,288 energy advisors (as of June 2009)

  • The average grant paid out since March 2009 is $1,409

  • Average utility bills savings for people who followed audit recommendations is 28 percent

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