Housing is responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. On average, 60% of residential energy use goes to space heating and cooling in Canada. We know how to fix a key part of the problem: deep energy efficiency retrofits. Yet, retrofitting homes—upgrading insulation, installing heat pumps, installing solar panels, increasing the energy efficiency of appliances—can feel like a daunting undertaking. Depending on your geography, housing type, and access to skilled labour, how and what you undertake can differ considerably.
In this first installment of our Living Solutions Series, which focuses on how SSGers are taking climate action in their personal lives, we focus on our Senior Consultant Maurya Braun’s home retrofit journey. We hope this will provide a bit of insight and inspiration for your own climate action journey.
How Maurya eliminated her home’s greenhouse gas emissions and then some
Maurya moved to Nova Scotia from Alberta in 2022, excited to live near the ocean and explore a new part of Canada.
When we moved, we knew we wanted to make our new home more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Our first step was to get an energy audit done. We discovered that our house had some leaky spots around windows and an uninsulated crawl space on the second floor. We fixed the windows with spray foam and added insulation. We also replaced our old electrical panel with a new one for solar connectivity.
Installing solar panels
After receiving quotes from two solar companies, we selected the one that went light on the sales pressure, did an on-site visit to verify their design, and seemed to know what they were talking about when they answered our questions. Before they could get to work, NS Power installed a bi-directional meter to draw our excess power generation into the grid. Then the racking and electrical work were completed and inspected. The next installation was the panels themselves and the DC converter, followed by another inspection. One more visit from the installers and we fired it up! Now we can watch the generation change with the weather, and gradually increase as summer approaches. We’re also watching our electricity bill decrease each month!
Dealing with our heating system
Our next step was to replace our fuel oil tank and furnace with a ducted air-source heat pump, which moves heat in or out of the house as required to get the inside to the right temperature. Getting rid of the fuel oil furnace was interesting. Our home felt like a crime scene! Two guys in hazmat suits carried the fuel oil tank out, and pumped its inner juices into a sealed container. Then they cut the tank into tiny pieces so it could never be used again and gave us a certificate indicating they’d followed all necessary environmental precautions. As a result, our annual home insurance was reduced by more than $400. Our contractor installed the heat pump easily, although getting it to interact with the thermostat took some time. But now, the house is comfortable. The temperature varies less than it used to, and everything’s rolling along smoothly.
The whole process took nine months from beginning to end.
Lower emissions and energy bills
Finally, I did a summary of how these changes should affect our emissions. With our original grid electricity and fuel oil furnace, our home emitted almost 16 tonnes of GHGs annually! Scrapping our furnace and tapping into solar energy changes that. Based on my calculations, over the course of a year, we should eliminate all our home’s emissions and sell enough extra solar power into the grid to get rid of an additional 1.7 tonnes. And that’s even allowing for the fact that we’ll still need to use some grid electricity in the winter.
That’s the calculation, but we’ll have to see how much electricity the heat pump draws–we may have less to sell to the grid than I’ve estimated. Regardless, it feels good to get that fuel oil furnace shut down and to see the solar panels quietly working away. And our monthly winter energy bills have gone from around $1200 to less than $300. That’s pretty nice!
Maurya Braun is a Senior Consultant at SSG. She has led the development of climate plans for communities, utilities, and universities from British Columbia to New Brunswick, and as far south as Denton, Texas.