Insulation and a Heat Pump: A Climate Change Fighting Duo

How do you cut a home’s emissions in half? 

Keith and Arli tackled this challenge with their Kitchener home. They had a big challenge: their house was leaky, uninsulated and reliant on gas for heating. 

Using Canada’s Greener Homes Grant to finance their renovations, Keith and Arli took on a deep retrofit project. They upgraded their house’s air sealing, blew insulation into the walls and switched to an air-source heat pump. The changes lowered their energy consumption by 55% (yes, you’re reading that right!). Here’s how they did it: 

Keith & Arli’s Impact Snapshot

Q: How did you first become interested in doing energy-efficient renovations in this home?   

Close to 20 years ago, we had an audit done by Reep Green Solutions in a previous home, and did both insulation and air leak sealing in that house. We have been talking for some time about doing something more significant in our current house. There were three factors that triggered the conversation to become actions:  

  1. We replaced our gas stove with an induction stove. We did that to reduce the volatile organic compounds from the stove that had health implications.  
  2. We had increasing concerns about climate change and the contribution that our poorly insulated and gas heated house was making to climate change.  
  3. Our adult children who will be living with the effects of the climate catastrophe for far longer than we will. We want to do whatever we can for those who come after us.  

Q: Tell us about the renovations you had done. Were you already well-versed in home energy renovations? 

Part 1: Improving the Home’s Insulation  

The most obvious change we wanted to make was to our insulation. Our house is nearly 100 years old, but the only part of the house that was insulated before this project was our third-floor renovated space. We wanted to insulate as much of the rest of the house as possible, and hoped that the energy audit would point to other priorities as well.   

Colin, our energy advisor from Reep, informed us that basement insulation was a really important part of this project. The problem was that we had a leaky basement. 

We decided that Keith would do the work of waterproofing the basement: trenching for French drains, installing a second sump pump, installing the waterproof membrane in the walls, and building the stud walls for drywalling after the spray foam insulation. While this was a larger project than Keith had done in the past, we figured that it was doable. So, over the course of the winter months, Keith completed the waterproofing.  

Once this phase of the project was done, we hired a contractor to drill and fill cellulose on the second floor and spray foam the basement. We learned that spray foam insulation products are not equal in terms of the carbon dioxide emissions produced in the manufacturing or installation process. So, we opted for a contractor that used a low carbon-emission foam.  

Waterproofing the basement walls with membrane

After insulation

Part 2: Transitioning to a Heat Pump Heating System  

While having the conversation with Colin, we talked about our interest in moving away from gas heat at some point in the future, but not being sure how to do it. Our house had a radiator heating system and no duct work, making it impossible to shift to forced air heat. Colin informed us that installation of ductless heat pumps was an option. While Colin did not recommend replacing windows and doors as these generally give low return on investment, he did recommend replacing one window that was broken and one exterior door that leaked badly. We took care of those.  

We considered delaying this part of the project for a few years, but decided that waiting would mean increased cost in the future, meaning any money set aside would likely be eaten up by price increases. In addition, we figured that we are currently in the early stages of a period of an increasing demand curve for heat pumps. We decided to bite the bullet and do the heat pumps now. One factor in the decision to move forward with the heat pumps now is that the boiler and heating pipes were situated in such a way they blocked access to one wall, meaning it could not have been insulated without removal.   

We now have a waterproof basement, and insulation on every floor except the main floor. The main floor could not be done as it is double brick construction with no cavities to contain insulation. We now have a heating and cooling system with 2 heat pump compressors outside connected to 5 heads inside the house: one in the basement, one larger one for the open concept main floor, one in each bedroom on the second floor, and one in the third-floor office space. We didn’t need one in the bathroom as it already has in floor electric heat.  

Indoor Pump

Outdoor Compressor

Q: What made you choose Reep to be the organization to support and guide you with these renovations?  

We chose Reep Green Solutions in part because we want to support the work the organization does in our community, and in part because it is not a for-profit business. We have continually been impressed with the work that Reep does in empowering this community to become more sustainable and we want that to continue!  

Q: What sort of challenges did you come up against in the process of completing this project?  

The biggest challenge was managing schedules of all the different pieces so that each part was completed to maximum effect.  

Q: What are the best parts of all the renovations you’ve done to date?  

There are lots of good things that came from completing this project! We now have the ability to control heating and cooling on a room-by-room basis, meaning that, for example, our bedroom does not need to be heated or cooled during the day when it is not used, and the office space does not need to be heated or cooled at night. We also finally have a dry basement! But above all else, completing this project has made us feel like we have contributed meaningfully towards the fight against the climate disaster.

Q: What would you tell a homeowner who is thinking about doing renovations?  

Especially now that the loans are available, just go ahead and do it. Make sure you get multiple quotes for everything, as there are significant price variations among different contractors. The range of products available is also significant, so do as much research as you can. Talk to as many people as you know who have already done this kind of renovation to find out what questions you need to ask from the contractors giving you quotes. 

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