Imagine spending just $125 a year to heat your home (taxes and service charges not included). That’s what it costs to heat a home built to Passive House standards. The cozy layers of insulation, triple glazed windows, meticulous attention to blocking drafts, and the conscious design measures to let the sun shine-in, combine to eliminate the lion’s share of heating costs. In doing so, the household carbon footprint becomes more of a pawprint, cutting carbon emissions by 85%. Fighting climate change means lower heating costs.
What about solar energy? Seventy percent of the heat supplied to these homes is created simply by ensuring the sun shines through south-facing windows - simple and free.
As reported in this newspaper two years ago, a local business called Southern Exposure Construction, owned by Tim Naugler, has been building these homes in the Fredericton area for a number of years.
How do we ensure all new homes in the future come with such inconsequential heating costs and a tiny carbon footprint? That’s where the climate action plans adopted by New Brunswick and Canada come into play. The additional 10 to 15 percent construction costs of high performance homes needs to be eliminated as a barrier. This can be done with the incentives and innovative financing mechanisms provided for in these strategies.
Government could provide a low or no interest loan to cover the additional costs which could be repaid through the property tax system. There is also a pressing need to finally implement our provincial building code and ensure its requirements prevent new houses that waste energy from being built in the first place.
However, the really big gains are to be made in refurbishing our existing stock of homes and buildings. Buckets of ink are spilled on news coverage and commentaries about refurbishing power plants. We need to shift our thinking to include the demand side of the energy equation. Fighting climate change requires a province-wide program designed to upgrade homes and businesses that cuts their heating costs and shrinks their carbon footprints.
Home renovation is a time-honoured pastime in New Brunswick. We take great pride in our homes, and in improving them. A large-scale program to provide incentives and financing that enable us to improve our homes to stamp out energy waste would be most welcome. Who wouldn’t want their heating bill to shrink by 15, 25, even 40 percent, and to be able to take pride in seeing their carbon footprint shrivel as a result.
It’s even possible to take an existing home close to the energy-sipping performance of new Passive Homes. Since re-siding our homes is a fairly common renovation, this provides an opportunity to increase insulation levels and draft-proofing to near Passive House standards before new siding is installed. I know of two families in the Fredericton area who have begun such renovations.
Fighting climate change means making war on energy waste. This is where the societal benefits of shrinking our home’s carbon footprint line up with the personal benefits of cutting the cost of heating our homes. Achieving these goals will create a tremendous amount of work for our tradespeople, and increase sales for the necessary products and services. So refurbishing our stock of buildings also aligns with the societal need to create employment. This is why there is an important role for government to play in providing incentives, convenient and affordable financing, and appropriate regulation.
Where will the money come from to provide the financial incentives needed to drive the upgrading of our homes and buildings all over the province? This is where the revenue received from putting a price on carbon comes into play. It represents the investment capital needed to drive down the heating requirements of our buildings, thereby cutting heating costs, shrinking carbon footprints and powering local economies in every corner of our province.
What we need to sacrifice in responding to the climate crisis is energy waste, in all its forms. This requires immediate action on the part of governments. The Gallant government should waste no time in implementing its new climate action plan.
David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton South.