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Net Zero: Home retrofits can pay for themselves, but incentives could be key

Not only is making your home more energy efficient could for the planet, but lowering energy costs allows you to keep more of your money

Net Zero in Greater Sudbury – your old home will use half the energy, and your heating bill will be much lower.

Garth Hood was tired of paying the high heating bills for his 100-year-old New Brunswick house, so he retrofitted it to Passive House standards. His heating costs dropped 90 per cent, to just $250 a year. 

East of Sudbury, Daniel Proulx has been retrofitting his home since the 1990s. It is now off-grid, heated by geothermal and passive solar, and powered by solar panels. However, the simple addition of cellulose insulation in the attic and walls was his most important retrofit, as it greatly reduced heating needs.  

To achieve its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Greater Sudbury’s draft Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) has a target of reducing energy use in existing homes by 50 per cent.  Heating homes is one of Greater Sudbury’s biggest sources of emissions.

“The community can play a significant role in reducing our GHG emissions through retrofitting buildings, especially homes,” said Jennifer Babin-Fenske of EarthCare Sudbury. 

Installing heat pumps has one of the largest impacts for reducing emissions overall, because it replaces natural gas heating. Gary Bota and Jane Cox did just that and heat their South End home with a combination of forced air and in-floor hot water.

“Keep in mind that even small changes make a difference in cutting costs,” says Babin-Fenske. 

Environmental Defence states that replacing an older furnace can reduce your energy bills by up to 40 per cent, while sealing air leaks and adding insulation generally pay for themselves within a year. 

According to Leanne McNaughton, spokesperson for Enbridge Gas, customers going through their Home Weatherization Program and Gas Home Energy Rebate save up to 30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.  

“Updating your thermostat to a smart thermostat alone, saves you up to 23 per cent in energy usage,” McNaughton said. 

Also recommended are updating windows, doors, and insulation, draft proofing, and simple steps like letting the sun in to warm the house during the day and closing curtains at night to keep the accumulated heat in. 

Up-front costs are often a barrier for homeowners and landlords considering bigger energy retrofits.   

"To upgrade existing residential homes, homeowners need access to financial incentives to replace insulation, lighting, heating systems, windows, etc.," said Feras Obeid, Green Economy North Technical Officer. 

“The draft CEEP recommends that the city look at options for retrofit incentives, public awareness programs and policy changes,” says Babin-Fenske.

The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) model has been successful in encouraging energy retrofits in the U.S., and is currently being considered in Guelph.  PACE programs allow a property owner to finance the up-front cost and pay the costs back over 10 to 20 years.  

Lean & Green Michigan states that PACE projects they have approved generally pay nothing down and are immediately cash flow positive, since the retrofits generate more money in energy savings than the cost of their payments. The Collaboration on Home Energy Efficiency Retrofits in Ontario is currently working on a pilot for a similar model using Local Improvement Charges financing programs. In both of these models, the payments stay with the property, rather than the individual, as do the benefits of the retrofits.

When energy retrofits that slash heating bills are made possible by financing models that are immediately cash positive for homeowners and landlords, not only are greenhouse gas emissions reduced, but living costs and access to affordable housing are improved. A social equity lens on energy retrofit programs has many benefits. Energy retrofit programs also create many local jobs. It is estimated that implementing Greater Sudbury’s Community Energy and Emissions Plan would create 40,000 person-years of employment over the next 30 years, or the equivalent of an average of 1,300 full-time jobs per year.  

Naomi Grant and Christine Caveen write this column on behalf of Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury. Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury is grassroots group of citizens and community groups who share a vision of Sudbury as a green, healthy and engaged community. For additional information on some of the retrofits in this column, and on a net zero future for Greater Sudbury, see

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Some of the existing programs you may be able to tap into to make your home more energy efficient are the Affordability Fund, the Home Weatherization Program, and the Gas Home Energy Rebate.


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