Energy efficiency can yield tidy financial returns to Vancouver homeowners

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      Many homeowners in Vancouver will soon have an idea of how they can reduce their energy bills. They’ll be receiving by mail a thermal image of their house, showing which parts are leaking heat, like a drafty window or a poorly insulated door.

      Thousands of single-family dwellings have been photographed with a heat sensor in a pilot program by the city to identify buildings that can benefit the most from upgrades.

      It’s part of an overall goal to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in Vancouver. According to the city, detached homes account for 31 percent of those given off by buildings.

      Other property owners, who will not get letters from city hall, may also want to know the energy efficiency of their home. To get a complete picture, certified energy advisers like Luke Dolan can help.

      Dolan is the owner of Capital Home Energy, a Vancouver-based company whose services include home energy evaluations.

      “Windows are, typically, the weakest point of the building,” Dolan told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      According to him, a home evaluation typically takes two hours; at the end of it, owners get a report and recommendations.

      Dolan said suggestions may include something as simple as going around with a caulking gun or some weather stripping to seal up the house.

      Replacing incandescent lights with energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LED) or compact fluorescent light bulbs is another relatively inexpensive way to save on bills. The City of Vancouver estimates that lighting takes up 20 percent of electricity use in homes.

      Some measures require a bit more money, like getting newer and more energy-efficient appliances.

      Dolan said that owners may also like to consider replacing their old furnace and hot-water tank. He noted that heating takes up about 60 percent to 70 percent of household energy use.

      Some changes in personal habits might be needed as well.

      “If you take an old house and you have an old furnace and you put in a brand-new high-efficiency furnace, the house is not magically all of a sudden going to use a lot less energy,” Dolan said. “You need to also focus on reducing your need for energy.”

      One way is to switch to cold water when washing clothes. According to the City of Vancouver, this can save up to $52 a year.

      Dolan also suggested shorter showers. B.C. Hydro estimates that if two people in a home reduce their shower time by a minute each, that’s going to save $30 a year. In addition, homeowners may want to install low-flow shower heads.

      An information graphic prepared by environmental think tank the Pembina Institute shows that energy efficiency has direct and indirect health benefits. Lower bills and comfortable homes contribute to better mental health and reduced chronic diseases.

      As for home values, the Pembina Institute’s infographic indicates that an energy-efficient house can sell for a higher price.

      Vancouver’s thermal-imaging pilot program covered Strathcona, Has­tings-Sunrise, Dunbar-Southlands, Riley Park, and Victoria-Fraserview.

      According to Chris Higgins, a green-building planner with the city, some 2,000 to 3,000 homeowners will be receiving letters along with a thermal image of their house.

      “The city has a goal of helping homeowners reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020,” Higgins told the Straight by phone. “We’re very, very close to meeting that goal, and we’re wanting to help homeowners be aware of grants and energy-efficiency incentives that they may be eligible for.”

      Higgins said that it will be up to property owners to decide if they want to do upgrades, such as replacing windows or adding insulation to their walls.

      Higgins said staff will evaluate the results of the thermal-imaging program after one year and see if it can be done in other neighbourhoods.

      The city estimates that there are about 77,000 stand-alone houses in Vancouver. About 40,000 of these were built before the 1960s and likely need improvements.