My household is at an energy-transition crossroad. Two crossroads, actually.
Our century-old semi-detached house in Toronto’s West End needs a new heating system. It also needs a new cooling system.
At the same time, my mother’s 2008 Pontiac G5 with 364,000 kilometres on the odometer, which we drive as my mom is no longer with us, is also coming to the end of her travels.
The car decision is too hard to make, right now. But my partner and I have decided to make a left-turn where the house is concerned, opting for a heat-pump. This week, we are having a pump unit installed on the exterior of our house and four heating/cooling heads — one on each floor of the circa 1910-built house, currently heated by a gas-powered boiler and old-timey radiators. The new unit will heat in the winter and cool in the summer.
Why did heat pumps catch our attention?
They are a cheaper way to heat and cool a house as they can lower monthly energy costs by as much as 50 per cent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
They are also an environmentally sound option because they operate on electricity. Natural Resources Canada estimated that buildings accounted for 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
But, they are also an act of solidarity as heat pumps really caught our attention following the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
In March, just weeks after Vladimir Putin attacked his neighbour on Feb. 24, the International Energy Agency issued a 10-point plan on “How Europe can cut natural gas imports from Russia significantly within a year.”
Point No. 7: “Speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps [Impact: Reduces gas use by an additional 2 billion cubic metres within a year].”
According to the IEA, as of 2021, there were two million heat pumps installed in the European Union. The organization forecasts that by 2025 there will be 2.8 million units installed in existing buildings and 1.3 million units installed in new buildings translating into natural gas savings of 6.9 billion cubic metres.
In Canada, the most recent data available from the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) is six years old. In 2016, there were 767,000 heat pumps in Canada, the majority of them in Ontario and Quebec.
At the time, the regulator suggested that the reason for the low adoption rate was cost — $14,000 then for a heat pump system compared with $2,300 for a baseboard heating system.
The cost hasn’t improved since the CER released that assessment in 2019. We’ve certainly found that out. The price tag for the pump and the four heads is roughly $28,000.
Natural Resources Canada’s Greener Homes grant worth $2.7 billion will take some of the sting off of the cost, as there is a maximum of $5,000 available in rebates for home retrofits to “help us transition to a clean energy future by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by making new and existing buildings and homes more energy efficient.”
However, before homeowners can apply for the rebate, an energy audit of their house must be done at a cost of $600. That amount is also eligible to be refunded once the work on the house is completed and approved following a second audit.
As a footnote, we are also having all the original windows on the house replaced. (No price on that yet, but we’re budgeting for at least $20,000.)
The installer also enticed us to take the heat-pump plunge because the company is offering a one-year no-interest loan on the job. Once that year is up though, a hefty 11 per cent rate kicks in on the balance. Although, you can pay off the loan in full at any time. (We made sure of that.)
Sure, the-don’t-pay-for-a-year offer and the federal rebates help. But we were lucky enough this year to come into some inheritance money.
Installing a heat pump is, at the moment, an environmental play for those with cash to burn.
— Gigi Suhanic