Going Green at Home: A Retrofit Success Story

Saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are crucial goals for anyone who cares about the environment. If you’re a homeowner, you can make a big difference by upgrading your home with energy-efficient renovations. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of our clients, Olivier, and his wife, Maureen, who shared their experience of undergoing energy-efficient renovations with us. 

Reep: Can you start by just telling us a little bit about how you first became interested in doing energy efficiency renovations to your home?

Maureen & Olivier: We are both concerned about the environment and fairly aware of our emissions and we want to move towards reducing our emissions. Definitely there are two ways of doing it: One way is changing your lifestyle, but the other way is finding a way to get the same result with less energy input and from low emission or emission free sources. So those are the two things that pushed us. We realize we need to heat our home every winter and in the summer we cool it as well. And thus, we asked “how can we do that while using less energy and obviously while emitting less greenhouse gases?”  

When Olivier studied engineering, he learned about heat pumps about 20 years ago. From a thermodynamic point of view, it’s absolutely amazing to see how basically it’s already been functioning in every home for the last 70 years or more. We all have a fridge and freezer and that’s how they work — it’s pumping the heat from inside the fridge out to keep our food cold. So why couldn’t we scale that up to a home?  

We had a home 13 years ago in Belgium and when renovating that home, we moved from oil heat to a heat pump solution. That proved to work very well. When we moved back to Canada and bought a house with an aging natural gas furnace, we thought of replacing it with a heat pump. By switching, we could move away from gas for the heating and replace our air conditioner which was also 26 years old with just one unit. At the same time, we decided to replace our gas water heater to one running with a heat pump as well. For us, these were only the first steps. Our next step is to think about how we can get cleaner electricity. Ontario electricity generation is relatively clean; however, we are thinking of going with solar next.  

A line graph showing the significant decrease in energy usage after switching to a heat pump

Reep: You mentioned a couple of the renovations, but can you tell me what renovations you did to your home?  

Maureen & Olivier: We started with reducing the heat loss, notably by changing all our windows. We finished our basement which we know had a positive impact on heat loss.  

Space heating and cooling was next on the list. We didn’t want to wait for the furnace to go down and then to have to rush to another solution. We wanted to have the right solution. So we took a few months to study the different heat pump solutions available in Canada. We ultimately went with a cold climate air-to-air solution. The gas furnace was already working through air circulation in the home, so we didn’t have to retrofit that. We could literally take the furnace out and put in a heat pump system. The air exchanger of the new heat pump system was simply put in the place of the old air conditioner unit. In terms of the work needed, it was not so massive. 

“It was almost plug and play, removing the gas gurnace and putting a new heat pump system working with the current home ventialtion system.”

As mentioned, we replaced the water heater at the same time. We knew this was a more energy efficient option, while moving away from directly burning fossil fuels. With a heat pump water heater, you have an efficiency factor which is constantly more than one, meaning you get more energy out than you need to supply in. 

Reep: What have you noticed in terms of the comfort of your home and the hot water?  

Maureen & Olivier: With the hot water we don’t really see much of a change besides the amazing fact that it takes much less energy to heat and keep our water hot (about half).  

In terms of the furnace, the heat pump is much better. It keeps a much more stable temperature in the home than what we had in the past. Previously, we could feel greater fluctuations: when the temperature dropped, the furnace would come on and it would rise again quite quickly followed by another gradual decrease in temperature, etc.. This temperature stability and the comfort it brings was the biggest surprise for us.

Reep: Were you already well-versed in-home renovations before you started this project? 

Maureen & Olivier: In a way, yes. When we were in Belgium, we completely gutted the inside of our home. The only things we kept were some walls and the roof; everything else was rebuilt completely. We pretty much did everything ourselves, which was a big learning experience for us.  

Reep: What was your experience like with the energy evaluations? 

Maureen & Olivier: Great! It was simple and went very well. 

Reep: Through this whole process, what kind of challenges did you run into? 

Maureen & Olivier: To be honest, it went quite smoothly the entire time. The biggest challenge at the time was probably the supply chain shortages which were simply out of anyone’s control. This led to us waiting some time for our heat pump to come in stock.  

Basement heat pump installed

Reep: And what advice would you give to another homeowner who’s thinking about doing renovations like this?  

Maureen & Olivier: That depends what they are looking for. If they’re looking to reduce green gas emissions, a heat pump is the way go. Firstly, it moves away from simply burning fuels, emitting CO2, to a cleaner/greener electric solution (knowing that Ontario’s electricity generation is relatively clean). Furthermore, at the same time you reduce your carbon footprint, you are reducing your energy needs while getting the same result in your home. I would also encourage investigating the different programs available to help reduce costs. Canada has that great program with a grant of up to $5,000. Whether it’s for insulating the home, changing your furnace, replacing your windows, it’s good to take advantage of the available programs.

If you’re considering energy-efficient renovations, we encourage you to take the first step and book an Energy Evaluation to learn more about how we can help you achieve your home energy efficiency goals.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, ClimateActionWR is hosting the Net Zero Home Tour on April 22. This event gives attendees the chance to visit multiple homes, the Reep House included, that have completed retrofit projects of their own to hopefully inspire you to start your retrofit journey. 

Together, we can make your home more comfortable, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly. 

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1 thought on “Going Green at Home: A Retrofit Success Story”

  1. Thank you, very interesting article from the family that replaces their furnace and air conditioner with a cold climate heat pump. I am investigating doing this and just had the Reep evaluation done this week.

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