*Content courtesy of Pembina Institute
As governments across Canada commit to building thousands of new homes, they also must commit to ensuring that housing is affordable to heat and cool
Canada’s governments are addressing two intersecting crises: climate and housing. The solution to both is constructing new housing with highly efficient energy systems that use less heating energy and updating existing housing to waste less energy. The stakes for ensuring climate resilient and affordable homes for all Canadians have never been higher. Truly affordable housing extends beyond just lower monthly mortgage payments or reasonable rent. It encompasses a fundamental aspect that often goes unnoticed: energy efficiency.
Governments across Canada are making bold commitments to foster construction of new housing to help defuse a housing supply and affordability crisis. In addition to increasing housing supply and density in cities and communities, housing must also be built with the right materials and design to keep residents safe from the effects of increasingly severe climate events including extreme heat and cold – and poor air quality from forest fire smoke and pollution.
New housing for a new reality
Along with soaring housing costs, heating and cooling expenses also continue to escalate across the country, pushing the cost of living further out of reach for many Canadians. It’s estimated that approximately 20 per cent of Canadian households experience energy poverty due to the disproportionate cost of heating their homes compared to their incomes. But the reality is most of us are living in drafty, poorly sealed, aging housing, making our heating bills more costly than they need to be, while sending heating fuel emissions up our chimneys.
Constructing new homes and buildings that emit less carbon and meet higher standards for energy efficiency is not just a necessity but a catalyst for positive change. This transformative approach will unlock a multitude of health and non-energy benefits for both individuals and communities across Canada. Provincial and municipal governments must step forward by respectively developing and then adopting building codes that limit GHG emissions and energy use. By heating and cooling these new well-sealed and ventilated buildings with high performance electric heat pumps along with energy efficient windows, rather than inefficient furnaces and boilers with drafty windows, we can increase efficiency and reduce the cost of keeping our homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The gains from more energy efficient practices for the building sector can be substantial. Fossil fuels burned for space and water heating in homes and buildings contribute to a staggering 25 per cent to 60 per cent of the carbon emissions local governments are responsible for reducing. By implementing stronger policies, municipal and provincial governments can help keep housing costs manageable, while making significant strides towards creating healthier, safer and more resilient communities.
No matter where you live, heat pumps and energy efficient windows with higher R-Values are part of the solution
The reality is that coupled with good insulation, air sealing and ventilation, cold-climate air source heat pumps are at a minimum 1.5 times more efficient than traditional gas furnaces and cost less to operate. Switching to heat pumps in energy efficient homes creates energy savings in even the coldest cities in Canada including Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg; ranging from 50 per cent to 60 per cent compared to gas furnaces.
The connection between affordability and energy efficiency is increasingly obvious as Canada tackles simultaneous housing and climate crises. New housing must not only be affordably built but also affordably heated, while protecting residents from climate extremes. Similarly, retrofitting existing housing for energy efficiency is vital in reducing living costs and ensuring healthy, safe living conditions.
By implementing appropriate regulations and policies and offering energy efficiency incentives, we can ensure that affordable housing truly becomes affordable for all while contributing to a sustainable and clean energy future.
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