Hamilton’s energy retrofit program could help residents upgrade their homes


Published May 24, 2023 at 1:25 pm

Some homeowners in Hamilton may have a chance to save on utility bills and carbon taxes while helping the environment through the city’s planned home energy retrofit program.

And the city says if you have a low income, you’ll also have an opportunity to participate. 

City council approved the pilot program, called Better Homes Hamilton, on May 10, and “legal and financial steps” must now be taken before it can launch, such as passing the Local Improvement Charge bylaw, according to Trevor Imhoff, senior project manager at the Office of Climate Change Initiatives at City of Hamilton.

The city aims to launch the pilot program before the end of 2023 as part of its goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Buildings across Hamilton represent a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, and our building stock across Hamilton is fairly old, and so we need to retrofit almost all of our buildings,” Imhoff said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com.

He explained this can be done through the improvement of energy efficiency. Examples of eligible retrofits are air sealing, draft proofing, and insulation for the wall, attic and basement, according to Imhoff. The program would apply to those wanting to replace their natural gas furnace, boiler, or fossil fuel-based space heating. Upfront loans will be available for air-source heat pumps, which heats or cools places using heat energy from the air.

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Program to offer introductory zero-per-cent interest rate

Under the pilot program, the first 50 participants will qualify for an introductory zero-per-cent interest rate that will be fixed for a loan repayment timeline of 10 to 15 years, said Imhoff.  Council had approved a total loan value of $1 million, allowing access of up to $20,000 per property.

Within two years of the pilot’s launch, Imhoff and his team will report back to council about the feasibility of scaling the program to attract more participants, including those in the commercial and industrial sectors.

Homeowners are also encouraged to do a pre- and post-energy assessment. “Undertaking it will qualify homeowners for potentially other federal and utility grants and rebates,” he said. “That’s essentially free money that they could get from other levels of government.”

‘Low-barrier access’ for all types of homeowners

For now, property owners of low-rise residential buildings, specifically single detached, semi-detached, or townhomes across Hamilton, will be eligible for the pilot program, including rentals. “If any of these retrofits would require tenant displacement (or “renovictions”), that probably would not be eligible for the Better Homes Hamilton program,” Imhoff said. 

Because the loan is placed on property taxes rather than individuals, the program offers “low-barrier access” to those on a fixed income or low income, according to Imhoff.

“So individual credit scores do not come into consideration in this,” he explained. “We would just want to make sure in working with these individuals that they would be able to afford the payback of this loan throughout the term of the loan.”

He said the payback term “will be assessed on an individual basis,” estimated at 10 to 15 years.

At least $1,804.80 in total carbon pricing savings over seven years 

The combined savings are estimated at $1,804.80 between 2023 and 2030 based only on avoided carbon pricing.

Imhoff said those savings do not include potential utility savings from using a more efficient air-source heat pump or having a more efficient and high-performance “building envelope,” referring to components separating interiors from the outdoors, such as windows, doors and exterior walls. Those savings are “really hard to predict,” he said.

Based on preliminary estimates from research, each applicant can realize about 60 per cent total reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 2.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, for a medium-sized, single-family, detached raised bungalow, the most common form of housing in Hamilton.

While it will take time for homeowners to apply for this program and source contractor quotes, the city will help them navigate the eligible retrofit and review the quotes, Imhoff said. However, the shortage of workers in the retrofit space is a challenge, he added.

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