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Homeowners learn how to save money and the earth

Buying in bulk and coordinating renovations can dramatically cut costs to homeowners. - Contributed
Buying in bulk and coordinating renovations can dramatically cut costs to homeowners.
— image credit: Contributed

It was just the first meeting to see if there was an interest in pooling efforts and saving money by doing group energy-saving retrofits of homes in Maple Ridge.

About 40 people showed up at council chambers Feb. 5 to hear an agency called Now House explain how that could be done.

“A real positive meeting,” said Hammond resident James Rowley, who helped organize the event.

“I heard a lot of pennies dropping all over the room.”

Now House, based out of Ontario, helps groups of homeowners and entire neighbourhoods cut energy costs and greenhouse emissions by retrofitting homes, initially wartime era houses, and renovating them to net-zero energy use.

Buying in bulk and coordinating renovations can dramatically cut costs to homeowners.

Rowley, who’s doing his own heritage restoration of his 1923 Hammond home at the same time as the energy retrofit, said leadership is crucial for a group restoration.

A single purchaser who represents all of the homeowners can coordinate the project and get the best deal and economies for scale that result from several similar renovations.

A major tactic in making a home energy efficient is focusing on improving the building envelope – the walls and roof.

In Rowley’s old home, there was no insulation in the walls, so new foam insulation was blown in. Roksul insulation has also been added to the ceiling. He says it is possible “to take a 60-year old home and make it produce more energy than it consumes.”

Insulating the concrete basement walls and heating the floor are other ways of improving efficiency.

Rowley’s father-in-law, Dave Koehn, is in on the same energy-saving mission and has installed photo-voltaic solar power cells on the roof of his Webster’s Corners home. The panels have been up for two years and providing about 10 per cent of his power since he connected to the system in November 2011.

During the sunny parts of last summer, the cells actually briefly fed power back to the B.C. Hydro grid and reduced his power bill. This year, he wants to add more solar panels and increase capacity by 25 per cent.

Koehn has what is called a “net-metering contract” with B.C. Hydro, allowing his power bill to be reduced if his house creates more energy than it consumes and feeds power back into the grid. That requires a device to prevent feeding power into the system when there’s a blackout.

As for power disruptions, Koehn doesn’t worry too much about them. The solar cells will charge the batteries in his home that will keep the lights on despite the rest of his area being in the dark.

Koehn says it’s up to each individual to decide whether he or she wants to invest in such a project.

Koehn paid about $8,000 for his panels a couple years ago, but notes the price since then has dropped by half.

If a group of homeowners buy their solar panels in bulk, the price drops even more.

While he says it’s up to each resident to decide whether the cost outlay is worth the electricity saved, there is a payback.

“It’s going to save money, period. Even buying an electric car, you have maybe a fairly high upfront cost, but it’s going to save you for the rest of the life of it.”

So far, the panels are trouble free. They have to be washed a few times a year and the snow has to be swept off. His house is in low location surrounded by trees, so he could get more power if he had more sun.

Too much heat, though, isn’t necessarily a good thing because the cells lose efficiency if they get too hot.

“Amazingly enough, out on the prairies would be perfect for them because when they’re cold they’re actually producing more than [for which] they’re rated.”

Koehn notes if there was an entire neighbourhood using solar cells all feeding power into the electricity grid on a sunny day, there would be a reduced need for costly distribution network of transmission towers and lines.

Rowley said Maple Ridge staff will write a report about the Now House presentation.

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