When the inner pane of the old aluminum window fell apart in her home, Joyce fixed the draft by wedging a pool noodle in the gap to keep the cold air out.
At 70 years old, Joyce is on a fixed income. She called a contractor but the cost to get the window replaced was too high.
“I always pay my bills,” she said. “I have learned to live frugally, however that has meant if I’m going to keep warm in my house, for instance, then I don’t have the cash to buy gas to go visit my grandchildren as often as I’d like.”
Every month is a balancing act. Major energy efficiency upgrades, like new windows, could help, but are out of reach for people like Joyce who already struggle to pay their monthly energy bills.
Energy costs can be a real financial burden for some households in our community. Nineteen percent of Region residents (32,010 households) who are responsible for paying their energy bills, as opposed to having it included in their rent, spend more than twice the national average as a percentage of their take-home income. This higher-than-average burden is referred to as “energy poverty.”
Some pay significantly more than average: 6,000 Region households pay more than 5 times what the average Canadian pays on their energy bills.
Saving on energy costs could make a real difference for families and singles experiencing energy poverty. While there are some programs that can help, particularly in the short term, there is a need for deeper changes that will make buildings more efficient in the long term.
What is needed is funding to support low-to-moderate income households in upgrading their home so that it needs less energy for heating and cooling.
These changes would help make homes more affordable — permanently. It would also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Not surprisingly, energy poverty is more prevalent among the population that StatsCan defines as low-income: fully 70% of households under the low-income cut-off pay a higher percentage of their income on energy bills.
in Waterloo Region: By the Numbers
* All percentages refer to percentage of households with the responsibility of paying their energy bills.
Some demographics stand out:
- Energy poverty affects seniors at a higher rate than other groups: 26% of senior households in Waterloo Region experience energy poverty, compared with 19% among the overall population. This translates to over 11,000 senior households who may be struggling to cover heating bills.
- Lone parent households are also disproportionately affected by energy costs, with one third experiencing energy poverty. This represents 4,500 homes.
- The percentage of racialized and recent immigrant homes affected by high energy costs is also a little higher than the average, and collectively represents over 6,800 households.
What can be done?
- A national energy poverty strategy could prioritize deep retrofits for households that cannot pay for upgrades upfront and wait for energy savings to recoup the costs. Those most in need — the most inefficient Canadian homes – could be prioritized first. This is something that Efficiency Canada is working on through their #Efficiency4All campaign.
- We could ask ourselves here in Waterloo Region how we could pool our resources to help our neighbours. What would a local solution look like, that combines our greenhouse gas reduction goals with the desire to reduce poverty and address the lack of affordable housing?
- Continue to update our understanding of energy poverty with more recent census data and lived experience information.
If you are struggling with high energy bills, please get in touch. Hearing from community members helps us create programs that provide the right kind of support. You can reach out to communications manager Tim Alamenciak at [email protected].