Save money and energy with home improvement rebates

Feeling a draft? Still running old appliances? You could be doing more harm to the environment — and your budget — than you think.

According to statistics from the Canadian government, nearly one fifth of all energy produced goes into powering our homes — that’s a lot of green house gases produced and a drain on power resources. Add to that many homeowners are feeling the pinch of steeply rising energy costs and it’s no surprise that everyone’s looking for ways to cut back their energy use.

However, sometimes a few small fixes won’t make the big impact we want to see on our bills. Somtimes it costs money to make money — or, in this case, save money.

And a little financial incentive never hurts either. In the past few years, government rebate programs have come and gone — and been extended. Here’s an overview of some of the current programs available to help you save your energy and money.

The Federal Government ecoENERGY Retrofit Program

Good news for homeowners: this popular program was renewed in June 2011. You’ll have to hurry if you want in or want to claim any work you’ve had since then — the program was extended to the end of March 2012. To date, participants have saved about 20 per cent in energy costs.

If you’re not familiar with the program, it offers up to $5000 in tax rebates for home improvements and retrofits that will save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you participated previously but didn’t take advantage of the full amount, you can still claim improvements you’ve made since June 2011.

Here’s how it works:

– Start by registering for the program on the ecoENERGY website. This step is new, so even past participants will have to sign up.

After you have registered, the next step for new participants is getting an energy audit from a qualified National Resources Canada (NRCan)-licensed advisor. During this pre-retrofit evaluation, the advisor will examine your home and recommend improvements that will help save energy. If you’ve already had an energy audit (after April 2007, that is), you don’t need a second one.

– You complete any or all of the upgrades and improvements on your list. For each qualifying upgrade, there is a flat amount set for the rebate. (Find out which improvements qualify and see the rebate amount in the Grant Table for ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes.

– Once the work is complete, the advisor will come back for a post-retrofit evaluation. You and your advisor complete the grant form and submit the paperwork. Be aware that the program now requires you to show your receipts to the advisor as proof.

Remember, even returning participants need this post-retrofit evaluation — and it has to be done before March 31, 2012.

– You receive your cheque within 90 days.

See the ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes website for full details.


Provincial Programs

The Federal program is just a start — most provinces have some sort of energy-saving initiative that offers rebates and savings on home improvement. Some programs mirror the ecoENERGY program, while others are offered through energy companies or other partnerships.

Here’s a brief rundown:

– Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s Take Charge NL program offers rebates for upgrading insulation, installing programmable thermostats and replacing old windows with Energy Star® approved ones. The provincial government also has a EnerGuide for Houses Program which offers $300 toward the cost of a complete home energy evaluation and a grant up to $1,500 for completing recommended retrofits. The Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP) offers funding for low-income homeowners.

Efficiency Nova Scotia offers incentives for retiring old appliances, using solar power to heat your home or water and programs for lower income families. The EnerGuide for Existing Houses offers rebates for upgrades — and like other programs, requires pre- and post-upgrade assessments.

– New Brunswick’s Efficiency NB Residential program covers up to half of the cost of pre- and post-upgrade energy assessments and offers up to $6000 for energy efficient improvements.

– Prince Edward Island’s Energy Efficiency Loan/Grant Programs offers a loan or a grant for upgrades. You’ll need to know all your costs before you apply, and once your application is approved you’ll need to have an inspection before and after the work is done. Grants take the form of a PST and GST rebate of up to $1500 for the work that is completed. Energy efficient windows and doors are eligible for a separate grant of $30 per window or door up to $500.

You’ll have to hurry though — only a certain number of people can use the program each year. New applications will be accepted as of April 1, 2012.

– Québec’s Rénoclimat offers home energy evaluations and financial assistance for energy-efficient upgrades (a fee of $25 applies), and Hydro Québec offers a variety of programs including mail-in rebates for installing energy-efficient lighting and a programmable thermostat, a $30 reward for getting rid of an old fridge and a discount on new windows and doors.

– While the Ontario government no longer offers programs, the Ontario Home Energy Audit Program offers rebates of 50 per cent off the cost of a home energy audit (up to $150).
The Ontario Power Authority offers programs ranging from free freezer or refrigerator pick up to coupons on energy-saving lighting and up to $650 off a new heating or cooling system.

– Manitoba’s Power Smart Savings, Rebates and Loans cover a variety of areas such as appliances, renewable energy and insulation. Most the programs are ongoing, and some as designed to help low income and First Nations families.

– Saskatchewan’s EnerGuide for Houses is similar to the federal program, but lasts much longer — until the end of October in 2013. (If you’re doing work right away, be aware that the provinces wants people to try the federal program first.)

– British Columbia’s LiveSmart BC is similar to other programs: a flat fee rebate based on the work you have done, and the pre- and post-upgrade energy assessments are required. BC residents can take advantage of this program until March 21, 2013.

– While most of the territories’ programs have ended, if you’re in the Yukon, you have until February 28, 2012 to take advantage of the the Good Energy Rebate Program — which offers rebates on appliances, heating, heat recovery systems and energy audits.

Of course, federal and provincial programs aren’t the only ones you can take advantage of — many cities and regions offer their own incentives and rebates. Check with your local power company and city website for details.

Though not covered here, there are programs available for businesses, condos and rental properties as well as new energy-efficient homes (such as a break on your mortgage). Grants and interest free loans may also be available, and in some cases there are special initiatives for low income households (earning less than $40,000 per year).

What to know before you apply

– Make sure you understand the costs and the requirements. If you’re only making a few changes, the combined cost of the energy evaluations might be more than the rebate you’ll receive. For instance, if you have a large home then you might be on the hook for up to $600 without rebates.

– Some programs require you to go through the federal program first. You can’t claim the same upgrades for more than one program, but eligibility requirements are different so you may be able to access one program if you aren’t eligible for the other.

– Many programs can only be accessed once. If you use your chance on minor improvements, you could lose out when it comes time to make major ones. (A warning: keep an eye out for program changes or cancellations).

– Grants and rebates aren’t retroactive. In other words, you can’t apply for money for work that’s already been completed without that initial assessment. If your furnace dies suddenly, you won’t get a rebate unless your home is inspected before you replace it.

– The improvements you make have to be recommended by your advisor otherwise they don’t qualify.

– If you plan to do the work yourself, you likely won’t be able to claim your own labour.

The bottom line: While you’re planning your home improvements, spend a little time researching what rebates are available. Find out what improvements are eligible and how much you can receive before you book an audit. As always, be sure to read the fine print and look for limits and exclusions.