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Waterloo Region’s Residential Sector

By: Mara Mackay and Valerie Chong

December 21st, 2020

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which will be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of an ongoing series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the residential energy sector.

The Homes Sector

In 2010, homes in Waterloo region accounted for 22% of the region’s GHG emissions with 782,459 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. At that time, two goals were set out: to reduce average energy use in households while maintaining or increasing home comfort, and to increase local and renewable energy supply to the residential sector. The 2015 reinventory did show initial improvements in the residential sector with a reduction of 5,495 tonnes to 776,964 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, this was especially impressive due to the increase of homes and population. Our next GHG inventory is expected in late 2021. 

 A local distribution company, or LDC, is a distribution company that maintains the portion of the utility supply grid that is closest to the residential and small commercial consumer. The term is used for both the electric and natural gas supply.

Thousands of residents across the region have taken steps to reduce energy use in their homes through programs offered by their LDC’s, as well as environmental organizations like Reep Green Solutions. As Waterloo region’s population continues to be the fastest growing census metropolitan area in the country, we are fortunate to have local action owners helping homeowners lower their GHG emissions while saving money.

What Has Been Done?

Earlier this year, ClimateActionWR reached out to some of our community action owners for updates on how they are doing with their goals. Kitchener Utilities and Waterloo North Hydro both responded with some promising statistics and information on programs available to local residents. 

Waterloo North Hydro shared that they are projecting to exceed 82.38 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of savings (enough energy to power 9,807 homes!) even with reduced rebate program delivery due to provincial funding cuts. Waterloo North Hydro is also part of an ongoing group of LDCs delivering retrofit programs throughout SouthWestern Ontario, with the project extending until the end of this year.

Kitchener Utilities (KU) has helped residential customers save 136,174 m3 of natural gas and industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) customers saved 252, 998 m3 of natural gas in 2019 from rebate programs. KU launched a $250 on-bill credit furnace rebate program in 2019, which is still available to customers who replace their existing furnaces with a higher efficiency model. For April 2019, KU also promoted a showerhead rebate program ($15 instant in-store rebate) at various retail locations in Kitchener.

Challenges Faced

There have been some challenges with helping local residents improve their home energy efficiency due to many provincial government programs being cancelled in the past 2 years. In 2018, the provincial government announced the end of the GreenON program, which provided incentives and rebates to homeowners looking to make a number of energy efficient home improvements. As of March 21st, 2019, all residential programs with the exception of the Home Assistance program, as well as the majority of the business programs, were cancelled. 

As a result of the removal of these provincial incentive programs, Reep Green Solutions, a local environmental non-profit that offers energy audits to homeowners, has noted a marked decrease in home energy evaluations.

Reep Green Solutions Audits 2017-2019
Reep Green Solutions CO2 From Energy Audits 2017-2019

What You Can Do At Home

Today,  while we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are spending more time than ever at home which can lead to an increase in carbon emissions within the residential sector. Residents may already have seen increases in their hydro and natural gas bills since March 2020. While we do not know when regular activities will resume, there are many resources available to people looking to reduce their at-home carbon footprint and save some money on their utility bills. 

Available Rebate Programs:

With more time spent at homes, many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to work on renovation and DIY projects around the house.  For larger projects, there are rebates available from LDCs that can help with making changes to improve efficiency while reducing emissions.

The Region of Waterloo is currently offering a water softener rebate program where residents in single-family, semi-detached or townhouses can receive a $50 rebate for switching their salt-based water softener to just soften hot water. Softening just hot water saves residents an estimated $84 and 48 kg of GHG emissions.

Kitchener residents can receive a $200 on-bill credit for switching their pre-existing water heater to a tankless rental water heater through Kitchener Utilities. Tankless water heaters save residents space and reduce energy consumption by only heating water when it is needed.

While pool season may be over, Waterloo North Hydro customers could receive a $400 rebate for switching their pool’s constant-speed pool pump to an energy saving variable-speed pump before December 31, 2020. This switch helps pool owners save money, reduce electricity usage and enjoy a quieter poolside experience. 

Small Changes That Add Up:

Now that the weather is getting colder, furnaces and heaters will start seeing more use. It is recommended to set your thermostat to where you are comfortable with a sweater on to both reduce emissions but also save on your utility bill. Waterloo North Hydro recommends when it is cold, keeping your thermostat set to 20C/68F during the day and 18°C/65°F at night, and during the warmer months, keeping your air conditioner set to 26°C/78°F during the day and 24°C/74°F at night. Of course everyone’s comfort levels are different, so find what settings work best for you and your family. Programmable thermostats are helpful for creating a schedule and maintain minimum temperatures when away from the house for extended periods of time. 

Halloween may have already passed, but you still need to be wary of phantom power! This is electricity used by technology while technically powered off. HydroOne estimates that the average Canadian home has over 25 devices that use phantom power. Do your best to remember to unplug devices when not in use or look for power bars with timers or auto shutoff to help reduce electricity consumption when your devices are not in use. 

Sustainability At The Home Office:

The definition of a workplace has also evolved due to the pandemic forcing employers and employees to change the way that work is completed. For those whose homes have become their workplaces, Reep and Sustainable Waterloo Region published a series of articles about reducing waste in the office, applicable to both traditional and home workplaces. Some highlights include thoroughly evaluating purchasing decisions to reduce unnecessary purchases and packaging, swapping out single use plastics & lower quality frequently used items for higher quality, sustainable options that will last longer, and cutting down paper waste by choosing paperless options and printing double sided when printing is necessary.

Looking Forward

On November 30th, 2020, the Federal Government released the fall economic statement outlining its fiscal plan for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s economic recovery from it. To ensure a robust and resilient recovery, the government will support Canadians to make their homes greener and more energy-efficient. Canadians will be able to qualify for up to $5,000 for work to improve their homes’ energy efficiency. The Home Energy Retrofit program will cost $2.6 billion over seven years, starting in 2020-21. The funding also will cover the cost of providing one million free EnerGuide efficiency assessments and pay for the recruiting and training of auditors to perform the work. Further details on the program will be outlined in 2021.

To meet our long term climate goals, changes will need to be made everywhere, including at home. Next time you need to replace your furnace or water heater, check with your utility provider or Reep Green Solutions to see what rebate programs are currently available to help you make the energy efficient choice. Reep also has a collection of home energy lessons available for you to find a good contractor, reduce energy consumption, and insulation tips. Additionally, the Reep House for Sustainable Living in Kitchener has been renovated in a way to educate homeowners on energy consumption and changes that can be made in their own home. While workshops and tours can not physically happen in the Reep House with the current pandemic, a virtual 3D tour is available here.

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