UPDATE: November 9, 2022
Well friends, there has been a plot twist! I received a message from Fortis Gas (BC’s Natural Gas provider) yesterday. They had read my blog post, this blog post, and wanted to offer another solution. (I’m still in awe that our provincial natural gas provider read my post.) We have decided to switch to Renewable Natural Gas for our home. I didn’t even know this was a thing or something being offered. Here’s a quick breakdown of what it is:
Renewable Natural Gas is not a fossil fuel. It is a low carbon energy that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It puts organic waste to work, rather than sending it to a landfill. How Fortis BC describes is like this:
“When organic waste (such as food scraps or cow manure) decomposes, it naturally releases biogas, a GHG containing carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. Before this biogas can escape as GHGs—here’s where we put the waste to work—our suppliers capture and purify it to create RNG. RNG is low-carbon, meaning, that using RNG can reduce the amount of GHG emissions released into the atmosphere.”
Since RNG works that same way as natural gas, there is no need to change any of your appliances or natural gas equipment. While there will be a slight increase in our monthly bills, it is relatively small and it can be managed to suit different budgets. You can opt to have anywhere from 5% to 100% of your gas come from RNG. The lower the percentage, the lower the cost. We have decided to go 100% RNG. Our average annual GJ (gigajoule) usage is 70.2. This will cost us an annual premium of roughly $375 for the year and will reduce our GHG (green house gas) CO2 emissions by 3.51 tonnes. Yes, it is still costing us some money to make a change but this is within reach for us. This is not the $35,000 we were quoted for a heat pump + the increased monthly operating costs. Also, because RNG is carbon neutral, it is exempt from BC’s Carbon Tax. This means we will receive a credit on our bill proportionate to the RNG blend we choose.
Through what we have read so far, it is an imperfect solution but still a better option than natural gas. According to an article by CBC (read it here) , it says that RNG can be a bridge from where we are today and where cleaner energy needs to go in the future. It’s not a final solution, but it’s a step to doing better. Are there downfalls to this technology? Of course. There can be up to 15% leakage, meaning some GHG’s can still get out there. However 15% is still better than 100% of that methane escaping into the atmosphere. The technology is still developing and hopefully there will be improvements to come.
“You won’t save money trying to save the planet.”
This was said to us last week while getting a quote to switch our home to a heat pump. At first, I was completely annoyed by this comment. However, after a frustrating week and hours of research, I now get that statement.
The Canadian Geographic #LiveNetZero challenge is getting us to think of ways we can reduce our carbon emissions in our homes. With Canada having set goals to be net zero emissions by 2050, we all want to do our part to do better. With $10,000 awarded to each of us 5 families to make significant changes to our homes and lifestyles, we are all eager to do do better. (You can read more about the challenge here. )
Our current challenge is all around Heating and Cooling. My Husband and I were excited for this challenge. This was where we had planned to make our biggest change. A heat pump. This challenge has pushed us to do all the research and make decisions around what will make the most impact, within a budget, that also makes the most sense for our family and our home. We knew that we would have to take out a loan in order to pay for a heat pump and that we would be going outside our $10,000 to make it happen. So, are we getting a heat pump?
When we first starting researching the price of heat pumps in BC, we found this pricing info from BC Hydro:
“The cost of a heat pump can vary depending on the type, model and installation needed to support your home’s characteristics and size. It ranges from about $6,000 to $14,000, and can cost more if you need more indoor heads or other modifications.” ~ BC Hydro
We then saw all those amazing rebates you hear so much about. Here in BC the federal and provincial government, combined, give up to $11,000 in rebates. Plus, there are municipal grants too. How sweet is that? So to upgrade our home to a cleaner, greener, more efficient heating system would only cost us a few thousand dollars potentially. Amazing! Right? Well, it would be if any of this was the reality of the actual costs.
After researching all the info about how heat pumps work, the different types of heat pumps, their efficiency in cold weather, etc , we had some businesses come out to give us some quotes. The reality was much different that what we had researched. The real price quotes ranged from $26,000 – $35,000. And then we were told about the operating costs. In cold weather, a heat pump can cost upwards of $500/month in operating costs. Also, in British Columbia, BC Hydro has two tier pricing model. This means the more electricity you use, your rates actually go up. So for a household to electrify and step away from gas, you will actually be charged a higher rate. Where is the incentive in that? Oh, and that municipal grant being offered to us by the city of New Westminster for the heat pump? It’s $350. So when these new prices were presented to us, we did more research into operating costs of heat pumps. Even our two utility providers (BC Hydro and Fortis Gas) couldn’t provide us with the same numbers. BC Hydro (electric company) showed us a savings by switching to electric and Fortis (gas company) showed us a higher cost when switching from gas. Interesting how that works.
A snapshot for our home’s energy with one of the online calculators we used to try and find true operating costs.
If you want to be self sufficient, power wise, and opt to have solar panels installed, that is yet another giant cost. We got a quote for 11 panels for our home at a cost of $25,000. The government only offers up to $5,000 in grants. We were told it would take about 12-15 years before we saw a return on that investment. In order to make a heat pump work efficiently, you need to ensure your home is insulated properly. To get our home properly insulated, that is another $4,000+ . While going through all the different quotes, I’ve had the song “If I were a Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani playing on a loop in my head. I switch the lyrics to :
“If I was a rich girl, la la la la la la la la, I’d have the greenest house in the world, if I was a wealthy girrrrrrl.”
We really want to do all the things, but it is simply not feasible for an average family to invest this kind of money. For a county that has stated they plan on being net zero by 2050, the rebates they are currently offering are not going to get us there. Unfortunately, having a greener home is, currently, quite elitist. You need to be someone with a lot of disposable income to afford, if I did my math right, $64,000+ just on cleaner energy upgrades. Why does this cost so much? My Husband’s family is from Europe and they have had heat pumps in their homes for decades and they cost a fraction of what ours cost. Why are we being charged so much for a technology that isn’t new? (Read here for a brief history of heat pump technology.) Why is the government not treating the climate crisis like a crisis and offering rebates that actually make this feasible for an average Canadian family? We are living in expensive times. The cost of everything is going up and families simply don’t have the funds to make these kinds of changes with these kinds of price tags.
So what has this #LiveNetZero Challenge taught us? It’s taught us that we have a lot of work to do in our country to get to a place of net zero. We learnt that it takes deep pockets to switch to greener options for our homes. Even when talking with our Energy Advisor (who has been amazing by the way), he told us he struggles to see the most change being done only in the richest parts of the city. He got so frustrated, he packed up and went north to work with a small, Indigenous community, to help them get off oil heating. This switch significantly reduced the community’s GHGs, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year; a real, positive impact for the community. So, hearing that roughly only 2% of Canada’s population is currently using heat pumps to heat and cool their homes, there is a reason for that. That’s quite literally that 1% population who can afford to make the switch. (NRCan reports that just over 700,000 heat pumps have been installed in Canada as of August 2022).
Another huge factor to keep in mind when deciding if a heat pump is for you is where you live and what your province uses as its electricity source. Here in BC, we have Hydro. This is one of the cleanest sources for electricity. So, for those that can afford it, it does make sense to go that route. Alberta, for example, has coal and natural gas as their main energy sources, so the positive impact of switching to a heat pump is negligible. Whether you’re burning gas at the source or the destination, you’re still using gas as a source of energy and still producing GHG.
We are so fortunate to have received $10,000 to make changes and share what we are doing with all of you. This budget of $10,000 is still a significant amount of money and although it may still be out of reach for many, it is a much more realistic budget than that whopping number I shared above. You may have now guessed the answer to my question, “Are we getting a heat pump?” No. No, we are not. So what are we doing this challenge if we are not switching out our HVAC system? We are:
- Investing in improvements to our home envelope. These changes include, a new energy efficient damper, insulation in our attic, knee walls, and 2 exterior walls in our kitchen. We are looking into getting some doors and window replaced as well. All of these things will ensure our home is sealed properly and allow for our furnace to run more efficiently. With our furnace, we have it serviced yearly for maintenance, and frequently change our filters with quality filters. A well insulated home will ensure we are keeping the heat we are using in our home.
- We also plan on purchasing a new smart thermostat to help us better regulate the temperature in our home. And, of course, keeping that thermostat a little lower and opting for cozy sweaters and slippers for warmth and comfort.
So far, we have used our money wisely. We thought we were going to go beyond that budget, but we are reeling it back in. Sustainability shouldn’t require us to go into debt. This Live Net Zero Challenge is all about pushing ourselves to learn and improve what we have within a budget all while sharing our journey with all of you. We hope we can be a source of learning and that our challenges and struggles help you to make the best informed decisions for you and your home. If you made it to the end, thank you. We appreciate your support and can’t wait to share more about what’s to come.