Creating template for eco renovations

New Maple Ridge society forming to bring costs down

By coordinating renovation projects

By coordinating renovation projects

Families facing the burden of high home costs could have a cheaper option if they don’t mind buying an older, smaller home, then making it an energy-smart building.

“If you make a small house into a beautiful, energy-efficient house, that’s a long-term investment. You can keep that house going for another 60 years,” said James Rowley, with The Now House Project.

And if groups of homeowners get together and coordinate those renovations and create economies of scale, poor homeowners could save even more.

How exactly to do that was the focus of last Wednesday’s meeting of The Now House Project in Maple Ridge.

While incentives and grants try to spark homeowners to do make energy-smart renovations, confusion and lack of knowledge keeps people from spending money on green renos and they end up replacing their kitchen counters instead. Only seven per cent of renovations in Canada involved energy-efficient repairs.

Retro-fitting techniques can range from insulating the concrete foundations of a house using rigid foam insulation, re-insulating a roof, installing solar electric and solar-thermal panels, adding an extra layer of insulation to the outside walls, upgrading lighting and heating, even insulating the basement floor can all bring energy costs to near zero.

For Rowley, it’s just a matter of not knowing what to do.

So they do nothing because they don’t want to make the wrong decision.

“People are not doing it,” he said.

“So something is missing there and we want to be that step.”

The Now House Project originated out of Windsor, Ont., where 95 war-time homes were renovated at a cost of $15,000 each, down from $80,000 that it would cost to do one house.

“So there are substantial discounts to be had there.”

But The House Project has some housework of its own to do. First, in a few weeks, a registered society composed of finance, energy and construction experts will form and create a template for home renovations.

Once a plan is in place, homeowners can attend seminars to help them decide how they want to renovate. Or, homeowners could just sign up for various projects, such as a group of homeowners who want to renovate their basements, for example.

B.C. Hydro could help with the costs of financing such a group.

One has to be “community driven. It’s got to be homeowner driven.”

Another goal is to ensure the program works across the province. “Why do something if it’s not repeatable?”

The challenge, though, is getting people to make a mind-shift that smaller and older homes, once eco renovated, are more affordable and easier on the lifestyle than buying new and bigger homes.

Builders can say it’s easier to mow down a house and start over, which may often be the case, but not always.

“It’s easier for them, it’s not cheaper for you. You’re wasting a whole lot of resources.”

Lorraine Gauthier coordinated the program involving the post-war houses in Ontario. The renovations brought the homes to near net-zero energy. A net-zero house produces as much energy as it uses.

“We want to inspire people all over the country,” she said.

“Forty-six percent of Canada’s housing stock is more than 50 years old. A house built before 1970 has, at best, an efficiency of 50 per cent. Replacing all of those houses would be tremendously inefficient. Now House proved retrofits can work, but it’s up to communities to make it happen.”

More than 60 people in Maple Ridge are interested in the project.