Proposal may ease financial burden of retrofitting homes

Ottawa homeowners could soon have the opportunity to make their homes more energy efficient without spending a large sum of money upfront to fund their green investments.

At a greenhouse gas roundtable hosted by the city last Saturday, several speakers brought forward the Property Assessment Payments for Entry Retrofits (PAPER) program.

It would act as a loan for homeowners to retrofit their homes for energy efficiency and then pay back the loans through their property tax.

Graham Saul, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, a company that focuses on local environmental issues, said many homeowners are reluctant to retrofit their homes because they don’t know how long they will stay at the house to reap the financial benefits of their investments.

“By creating the possibility that you can repay a loan through your property taxes, you create the opportunity for someone to make an investment,” Saul says.  

“The key thing is that the loan stays with the home, not the person.”

This means if a homeowner invests in green retrofitting and then moves to a different home, the new owner assumes the loan repayments and continues to benefit from the fittings.

The main goal for the roundtable was to begin the steps to updating its Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan, as the current one expired in 2012.

The 2004 plan aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent at the corporate level, and 20 per cent at the community level by 2012.

But according to a memo released by the city’s Environmental Services Department last year, greenhouse gas emissions had only dropped by 12.5 per cent at the corporate level and emissions increased by 0.9 per cent at the community level.

Corporate level emissions refer to the city’s own operations, including its buildings, while community level emissions refer to greenhouse gasses produced by local businesses and individuals that live and work in Ottawa.

Saul said the city gave a clear commitment to update the existing climate change plan within the year, look at the city’s own greenhouse gas emissions, and come up with new targets.

“The mayor clearly stated that he not only intended to meet the targets, he intended to exceed them,” Saul says.

More green businesses in the Centretown area could be a way to exceed these targets.

VRTUCAR, a car sharing company that caters to the Centretown area, aims to lessen the amount of cars on Ottawa roads to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Clients can reserve an environmentally friendly car for a few hours at a time, only paying for the time they use the car.

Owner Wilson Wood says Ottawa has a road congestion problem and the car-sharing model helps alleviate that because up to 24 people end up sharing the same car.

“It’s still the same ordinary car but the way its being used is both environmentally friendly and economically a much more efficient use of the vehicle.”

Founded in 2000, VRTUCAR started with one car and four members.

Today, the company has over 100 fuel-efficient cars and about 2,600 members in the Ottawa and Gatineau area.

Centretown engineering business Hasall Associates specializes in retrofitting existing and new buildings to be energy efficient and sustainable.

Halsall's Business development manager Shawn Carr, keeps the company constantly striving for corporate sustainability.

“Our team for example is working hard to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing emissions from our buildings, our travel and commuting habits,” Carr said in an email.

In fact, Halsall’s Ottawa office on Gladstone Avenue received a platinum rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, for its environmentally friendly retrofitting in 2008.

“We strive to bring our commitment to sustainability to our clients through the projects we deliver,” Carr said.

“We are currently one of the most active green building consultants in the city.”

Saul says Ottawa is a great city to bring in the PAPER project, with one of the best-educated populations in the country.

He says in order to move toward a greener Ottawa, the city just needs to remove the barriers stopping Ottawans from investing in green projects, such as the uncertainty of how long someone will be in their home.

“The first challenge for the city will be making sure that as it proceeds with the official plan review, it’s taking its greenhouse gas reduction objectives into consideration and we’re looking forward to engaging with the city on that issue.”