The City of Vancouver is on an ambitious path to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To that end, city council has set two targets that Mayor Gregor Robertson seems keen to meet or exceed. The first is to reduce community GHG emissions 33 per cent below current levels by 2020. The second is to have all new construction GHG neutral by 2030.
Under the Green Homes Program, one and two family homes built under those standards will consume 33 per cent less energy than homes built to previous building by-law standards. The bylaws include improvements that will increase energy and water efficiency and improve air quality. What’s not to like?
If homebuyers in Seattle are any indication, Vancouverites will like green homes a lot. Statistics show that green homes built in Seattle since 2007 make up a third of the new home market, sell for almost 10 percent more than conventional homes and are on the market 24 per cent less time. It’s estimated that they cost about two per cent more to build so that’s a healthy premium. The price gap jumps to over 23 per cent if the homes are eco-certified by programs like LEED (cagbc.org) or Built Green (builtgreencanada.ca).
With energy costs spiraling, energy efficiency is a big part of every homebuyer’s equation when they’re looking for a new home. And more buyers are willing to pay premium prices for homes with green improvements. While new green homes will have all the latest bells and whistles in terms of green housing, you can increase the value of any home with fairly low cost green upgrades.
Even if you’re not planning to sell your home, you can make choices that will save you money in the long run and make your home healthier and more comfortable to live in.
A good place to start is a home energy audit. A home energy auditor will evaluate your home energy use and give you a detailed report with pointers on how to reduce your home’s impact on the environment and save money. Buildings have to breathe to avoid problems with dampness (think leaky condos), but if there’s more than a third of the air recycling every hour, you’re wasting valuable energy.
The auditors will recommend simple solutions like plugging air leaks, installing programmable thermostats, tuning up your heating and cooling systems and switching to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. Small changes will make a big difference in your energy costs.
If you’re sprucing up your home to sell it, or you’ve just bought a home with energy wasting appliances, switching to more energy efficient appliances that have the ENERGY STAR® label will reduce your energy bill by another $50 a year for each appliance. If you need to replace your windows or heating system there are high-efficiency products available that have the ENERGY STAR® label as well. The City of Vancouver and B.C. Hydro websites have reams of information about home energy audits, grants, rebates and incentives to offset the cost of improving your energy efficiency.
Water wastes energy, too. Hot water alone accounts for as much as 25 per cent of a household’s total energy costs. Vancouver doesn’t meter water in single family households (we pay a flat rate) but as water becomes scarce, we’ll all be paying based on our usage. A UN report forecasts that two out of three people on earth won’t have access to clean water by the year 2025. Water is a commodity and sooner than you think, the cost, if not the supply of clean water will be a topic of discussion everywhere in North America. We all need to conserve water now. Low-flow, high-pressure taps and toilets will help (and look very European), but installing low water dishwashers and washing machines will truly elevate you to the next level.
Check your taps and pipes for leaks. If you have a garden, check out drought-tolerant and native species of plants to reduce water consumption. Get a rain-barrel to collect water to use in the garden. The last time I looked, the city was offering to subsidize 50 per cent of the cost. Check out its website for details on that subsidy and other tips on saving water at vancouver.ca.
When we celebrated the 41st anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, it struck me that our attitude towards the environment hasn't changed much in 40 years. There have been a few notable accomplishments. Nearly all of us recycle, hybrid cars are commonplace—especially when gas is $1.35 a litre. But with nuclear power being hailed as the clean energy of the future, well, I'm sure there's something I'm missing.
The fact of the matter is most of us will only do things that are easy or save us money. So, before the next Earth Day rolls around, consider doing a few of the things I’ve mentioned. They’re easy and they will save you money over time. As an added bonus you'll reduce your carbon footprint. Al Gore might even describe you as an everyday hero. In his words, that’s “someone who has the courage to meet the planetary crisis head on.” Did I mention that buyers may pay more for your house if you’ve made green improvements?