February 7, 2018

EnerGuide: How does your home rate?

A man and woman sit on a loveseat, reviewing an Energuide folder near a sliding door

Smart Home Series: Part 6

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Image: Brian and Laura Finley review their EnerGuide assessment that outlines what they can do and how much energy they can save by making energy efficiency improvements to their home. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Most energy-conscious Canadians wouldn’t buy a new appliance without checking its EnerGuide label to see how it rates. EnerGuide labels for homes are starting to catch on with energy efficient new home builders. But, did you know you can get an EnerGuide assessment for your existing home?

Edmonton real estate broker Brian Finley decided to do just that. He hired Jeff Paton of Sunridge Residential to evaluate his 1956 home. Brian had two motives. As a real estate agent, he wanted to learn about energy rating systems for homes. But, as a homeowner, he wanted to better understand how his house was using—and undoubtedly wasting—heat and electricity.

Bracing for rough news

Brian realized his house, at 61 years old and counting, would show drastic room for improvement. For the EnerGuide assessment, Paton began with a visual inspection—measuring the home and counting the windows. Once inside he quickly uncovered some obvious shortcomings—such as the old-fashioned wood shavings that insulated Brian’s attic. “Cellulose or fiberglass insulation would do a much better job and have a higher value per inch. So, that would be recommended for this attic,” he said.

High-tech tools

Next, Paton unpacked his technical gear. The blower door test involves sealing the front door with a red fabric and de-pressurizing the home with a fan. This helps Paton calculate the air exchanges per hour of the home. Brian’s 1956 home is very leaky, at 9.6 air changes per hour. A typical new home today might come in at about 2.5 air changes per hour, while a super-insulated net-zero home would come in at less than one air change per hour.

While the home was depressurized Jeff pulled out his cool infrared camera to identify areas where the house was losing heat—places where the air was leaking, or insulation was disturbed. Looking at the camera you could see the wispy shape of cold air seeping into the house by the door, windows, joists, plug-ins, the fireplace, the attic hatch and other places.

Suggested upgrades:

After crunching the numbers, Paton generated a renovation upgrade report, focusing on specific steps Brian can undertake to reduce his home’s energy consumption. “In this instance, this home is losing 29 percent of its heat through air leakage,” Paton reported. “Another 25 per cent of it through the basement foundation, and the rest is made up through the attic, main walls, exposed doors, and windows.”

And, of course, Paton generated an EnerGuide rating number for the home. In most of Canada, the home EnerGuide rating reflects the number of gigajoules a house will consume in a year (the system differs slightly in New Brunswick and Quebec). Obviously, the lower the number, the better (a net-zero home would earn an EnerGuide rating of—you guessed it—zero). A typical new home has a rating of about 146 gigajoules.

And the EnerGuide number is…

Where did Brian’s home come in? As he suspected, the news was not good. “We can see on here that your energy rating in gigajoules per year is 236,” Paton observed. “That’s a significant amount of energy, but it’s not uncommon for this era of construction in the 1950s. And, this is a great tool that we can use to understand how the energy is used in your home.”

The EnerGuide label tells Brian his home uses 236 gigajoules of gas and electricity each year. If his home were built today to current code, its rating would be 116 gigajoules—a number Brian could reach if he completes all of the renovations listed in the “Recommended Upgrades” report. It should be noted that the upgrades for this 1956 home would be quite expensive. But, Brian now knows what steps he can take, and what gains he can expect to see from each one. He is already planning to add insulation to his attic.

Homeowner information sheet:

Perhaps the most insightful report you receive is the Homeowner Information Sheet, which breaks down where your home uses energy and where it loses heat. Brian’s 1956 home consumes most of its energy (90 per cent) heating the air and water in the home. See the images below to see what this report looks like for his home.

We learned a lot from our tour of the Finley home, but every home is different. For example, I also did an assessment on my own 20-year-old home and learned our energy use is 117 gigajoules—and, the most significant upgrade step we can make is to add solar.

Also, it’s very important to recognize that the EnerGuide assessment does not look at behaviour. You can cut your energy use with a few simple, low-cost changes—see our related story on the Top 10 Energy Efficiency tips. And, as we learned in our story on The Energy Detective, you can perform your own sleuthing to find and eliminate the biggest energy hogs in your home. In that story, Ron Kube was able to slash his electricity use in half by replacing lightbulbs, unplugging a beer fridge and taming some power vampires.

An EnerGuide home energy assessment will run anywhere from $300–$750—and, some municipalities such as Edmonton offer generous rebates to help cover the cost. Find an EnerGuide advisor at the Natural Resources Canada website. Either way, it’s a small price to pay for such valuable information.

This is Part 6 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

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