The Better Homes Hamilton Pilot Program will soon assist up to 50 homeowners across Hamilton, Ontario in starting their home energy retrofit journey! The program will provide both financing and coaching services to complete a select list of energy-efficiency measures aimed at increasing home efficiency and comfort while decreasing emissions associated with residential heating and cooling. The Better Homes Hamilton program was co-designed by the City of Hamilton’s Office of Climate Change Initiatives in partnership with the Centre for Climate Change Management (CCCM) at Mohawk College.
The CCCM is an applied research centre focusing on decarbonization solutions. Through a year-long collaboration with the City of Hamilton, the CCCM brought an applied-research perspective to program development in order to deliver a turnkey, tailor-made solution to address the specific needs of Hamiltonians. This was accomplished by using an evidence-based approach to program design, evaluating the successes and challenges of similar energy efficiency incentive programs, performing an analysis of average homeowner utility expenses (sometimes referred to as energy burden), examining Hamilton’s building stock, and applying an equity lens to program development. The CCCM is hopeful that this integrated applied research approach may act as a model for others within the college sector to replicate in order to advance climate action within other municipalities.
Researchers within the CCCM found that many homeowners throughout Hamilton–and by extension across the country–find themselves in the unenviable position of occupying inefficient, aging homes with steadily degrading heating and cooling equipment, and walls which “leak” conditioned indoor air to the outdoors. Homeowners in this predicament face sky-high utility bills while the emissions generated from overworked heating systems, such as natural gas furnaces, contribute to the climate crisis. In fact, Natural Resources Canada estimates that the average Canadian home loses 20-30% of its heat during winter months largely due to due to poor insulation and a drafty building envelope. This causes the home heating system to work harder, often resulting in an additional heating expense of up to $1,000 per year and reduced operational lifespan of the equipment.
Exasperating this dynamic is the growing cost of living crisis largely driven by inflation, high interest rates, and steadily increasing utility prices. Through public surveys and stakeholder outreach, CCCM staff found that home energy upgrades–also called energy retrofits–are increasingly being viewed favourably by Hamiltonians as a tangible pathway to reducing home energy costs, while meaningfully contributing to climate action. However, the process to upgrade one’s home is often complicated, drawn-out, and prohibitively expensive with homeowners citing upfront costs and lack of knowledge as barriers to starting their retrofit journey.
Here’s where the Better Homes Hamilton program can help. Inspired by other successful residential retrofit programs, such the Toronto Home Energy Loan Program (HELP), the Better Homes Hamilton Pilot Programs will provide qualifying homeowners with 0% interest loans of up to $20,000 to finance impactful upgrades designed to increase the energy efficiency of households while reducing reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to participate in the Better Homes Hamilton program, Hamiltonians simply need to be a homeowner of an eligible building type (detached, semi-detached, townhouse or rowhome) within the City limits, and be current on their property tax payments. From here, participants will have access to the in-house Energy Coaching services which will assist homeowners in selecting upgrades which align with their needs and goals.
Eligible expenses for the loan program fall into the following categories:
- Assessments and Permits: homeowners may apply the cost of EnerGuide energy assessments and/or any municipal permits to the loan amount.
- Mechanical upgrades: low-carbon heating and cooling technology such as air-source heat pumps are eligible. Eligible configurations include cold-climate units rated to provide heating and cooling all year round, hybrid heating systems which pair heat pumps with high-efficiency furnaces, and ductless systems–ideal for secondary dwellings and homes without central ductwork. Paired with smart thermostats, air-source heat pumps offer comfort at a fraction of the operating cost of conventional systems.
- Building envelope: air-sealing measures to reduce draft, as well as basement, attic and exterior wall insulation, are eligible under the program.
- Supporting upgrades: upgrades such as ductwork repair to increase the efficiency of central heating/cooling systems, as well as breaker panel upgrade to 200amps to support further home electrification are eligible.
As an added benefit, the Better Homes Hamilton program substantially reduces the barrier to entry for Hamiltonians interested in participating in other efficiency programs such as the Government of Canada’s Greener Homes Grant, and the Enbridge Gas Home Efficiency Rebate Plus program. Both programs provide substantial rebates for energy efficiency upgrades but require participants to finance the retrofits before rebates can be issued. For many people, it is simply not economically feasible to be asked to finance thousands of dollars in upgrades and then be asked to wait for a rebate to be issued.
By aligning the eligible expenses with the criteria for existing grants, the Better Homes Hamilton Program acts as a bridge for equity-seeking groups to access upgrades to make their home more efficient, comfortable, and environmentally friendly.
The Better Homes Hamilton Program is set to launch in Q4 of 2023. This initiative was funded by The Green Municipal Fund, a program of the Federation for Canadian Municipalities. More information can be found at https://engage.hamilton.ca/betterhomeshamilton.