HVRA coordinated several environmental projects in the years 2006-2010. One initiative completed a large-scale tree inventory and arranged for tree-planting: see our Treeing Harbord Village webpage.
At the same time, two overlapping projects gave Harbord Village residents the chance to save energy costs, improve their home comfort, and help mitigate environmental damage from the burning of fossil fuels. One encouraged investment in solar energy equipment; the other offered home energy savings through retrofitting. Though both initiatives are long finished, their methods and results demonstrate the effectiveness of community coordination.
Solar Energy Project, 2006-08
Launched by HVRA board members Tim Grant and David Booz in 2006, the Downtown West Solar Energy Project (DWSEP) worked for two years to bring solar energy to the wider Trinity-Spadina area. it organized a bulk purchase of solar electric and solar water heating systems for individual homeowners, after holding public meetings and publicity material to inform and guide residents about the different types of systems and plans. Homeowners were eligible for grants of $1,250 from the Federal ecoENERGY Retrofit program, along with a matching grant from the Provincial government.
Prices have since come down, but at that time solar electricity-generating systems cost up to $12,000 for a basic 1-kilowatt system and up to $28,000 for a 3-kilowatt system.The electricity produced is sold to the province; the initial payment rate was $ 0.42 per kwh. The domestic hot water produced is used within each household. In spite of the high prices, a number of householders were happy to try out this new technology, and to know that the sun was heating their hot water and producing electricity for the grid.
Here is a sampling of comments from people who purchased solar energy systems through the Downtown West Solar Energy Project:
Harriet Friedman: I am amazed at how happy it has made me just to order a solar hot water system. It makes me feel as if I am moving in the right direction. It makes me very happy to know that my neighbours are organizing to help me in this way, and to relieve me of all the confusion and doubt that prevented me from investigating on my own.
Kevin Barrett: My family decided to install a solar water heater, in conjunction with a tankless (demand) water. The installation was completed last October. While any new system has kinks to work out, we’re mostly quite happy with the hot water system. There has been a noticeable impact on our gas bill. Aaron Goldwater has been great to work with and I recommend him highly.
Dave Hunsberger: Working with Solera was a pleasure. They accurately assessed the correct configuration for our home and the actual installation was on time and on budget. You can tell they really enjoy what they do and believe that solar energy can make a difference. I have recommended them to other friends since our installation.
By the time the Downtown West Solar Energy Project wound up in late 2008, 27 solar water-heating systems and 13 solar photovoltaic systems had been installed. If you look up, you can still see many of these early installations sprouting from Harbord Village roofs. The organizers describe the place of their project in the bigger picture of energy conservation:
Over the course of our 2-year project, the $300,000 spent by homeowners helped to further develop the nascent solar energy industry in Ontario. It is estimated that by 2010 the solar hot water systems were generating approximately 104,000 kW-hrs equivalent of energy and displacing 36 tonnes of CO2 annually, and the PV systems were generating approximately 30,000 kW-hrs of electricity and displacing 29 tonnes of CO2 annually. A number of the DWSEP participants also purchased on-demand water heaters to provide backup hot water, thus reducing their gas consumption even more. A few now use their solar hot water systems to supplement their space heating needs, for even greater savings and even greater reductions in greenhouse gases.
Please keep in mind that investing in energy efficiency and conservation is more cost-effective than adding a solar energy system on your roof. Whether you replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, seal the cracks around your doors and windows, upgrade your attic insulation or install high efficiency windows, these initiatives should always be the first step in your energy program. Once completed, that’s the time to consider adding solar energy to your home. The world will be a better place if you do.
Home Energy Retrofit Project (HERO), 2008-10
Starting in 2008, HVRA assisted homeowners to navigate a wide range of government energy-conservation programs. The HERO project, led by David Booz, offered HVRA members the opportunity to lower their heating bills, reduce their carbon footprint, and make their homes more comfortable. The process started with a Home Energy Audit by Carson-Dunlop Home Inspection Services to qualify for federal and provincial (ecoENERGY) grants for heating, cooling, ventilation, insulation, and water conservation. Additional incentives were available from the Province, the City of Toronto, the Ontario Power Authority, and the utilities. The HERO project itself was supported by a Live Green Toronto Community Investment Program grant from the City of Toronto.
HERO’s final report offers an unusually forthright analysis of its challenges, noting that early efforts at enrolling participants hit a ceiling because not many people responded to invitations based on environmental issues. Appeals based on cost savings had more effect, but still did not attract as many participants as hoped for. The report also notes that the main savings came about from the simplest method, that of sealing leaks, rather than the more expensive investments in new windows or solar power.
The most effective publicity for the project proclaimed that the average home in Harbord Village at that time had air leaks equal to a 22 x 22 inch (56 x 56 cm) hole in the wall, the size of the frame Tim Grant is holding in this photo. That figure came from the first 100 Harbord Village home audits, confirming that people were paying much more than necessary on their energy bills. With simple steps to retrofit their houses, they could save about $200 per year.
HVRA’s invitation to sign up for the home-inspection audit made that point and countered common misperceptions about practical issues:
Air sealing is the most cost-effective thing we can do to reduce energy use and increase comfort in our homes. Plugging up the leaky spots in your basement, walls, and around your windows and doors takes one day, costs $300 to $500, and can qualify for $380 to $860 in government grants.
Can’t spare the time to get it done? The average audit takes 45-60 minutes.
Can’t spare the money? With the incentives and the HERO grant, the audit costs $131.75.
Don’t know who can do the work? HERO will provide a list of contractors who can help you.
Worried that the audit will commit you to work you can’t afford? There is no obligation.
Don’t think you need an audit? You must have an audit before you do the work to qualify for the incentives.
Worried about costs of improvements? HERO has prepared a table summarizing EcoEnergy home upgrade costs and the incentives that are currently available for those upgrades. Go HERE to download our HERO grant chart (updated January 12, 2010).
Confused about grants that are available for your work? We supply more information online and in paper form. The EcoENERGY Retrofit Homes Grant Table has more details on the requirements to qualify for each grant, including a tax credit from the Federal Government. Carson Dunlop Home Inspection Services will apply for the City grants on your behalf, including an incentive of up to $1,000 from the HEAT program (Home Energy Assistance Toronto).
In a later message, the project coordinator David Booz reassured residents about preservation of heritage features and about the reliability of the service companies selected for retrofit work. He also noted that (as with all HVRA projects) HERO needed and welcomed a range of organizing help from other HVRA members:
Heritage Conservation and Energy Efficiency: Upgrading our homes to be energy efficient is important, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the heritage of our homes. It is important to respect the heritage aspects of the facades of our homes while renovating. Windows are a particularly important area—you can repair your existing heritage windows to make them more efficient. If you decide to replace your windows, you can get new, energy efficient windows that echo the appearance of the original late 19th century windows. HVRA has published an excellent Directory for Conservators and Restorers that has lot of great information on windows and other heritage aspects of our homes.
Carson Dunlop & Associates, HERO Energy Auditor: The HERO project has selected Carson Dunlop & Associates as our official Home Energy Auditor. Carson Dunlop & Associates Ltd has completed over 85,000 home inspections since 1978 in the GTA. They are Canada’s largest independently owned and operated home inspection company…. Recently, they were awarded the Best of 08 from homestars.com as the Top Service Provider for 2008 in the Green Products and Services Category. All our customer reviews for their ecoENERGY work rated them 10 out of 10!
AtlasCare, HERO Furnace Contractor Partner. HERO has selected AtlasCare for a bulk purchase of high efficiency furnaces. AtlasCare was established in 1932 as a heating service company serving central Toronto. The company has been involved in all areas of the heating business, progressing from coal to oil, to electric, to gas heat. AtlasCare has developed customized HVAC solutions for even the most challenging jobs. This becomes especially useful in downtown Toronto where many homes lack central ventilation and ductwork, and where venting high efficiency furnaces can be a real challenge. . . . In 2004, AtlasCare became the first and only independent residential HVAC company to qualify for ISO 9001-2000 certification. AtlasCare is offering a bulk discount of 8% on all new installations and services to participants in the HERO project.
Get Involved! This is a community project, and we need a working committee of residents to help organize the project. There are lots of things that need to be done, from writing Requests for Proposals for contractors, to helping with the vendor selection, to organizing the public meetings and neighbourhood involvement, to helping with website information, publicity and distributing flyers. Helping out doesn’t have to be a big commitment—every little bit helps! To get involved, contact project coordinator David Booz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As with the solar project, members sent enthusiastic comments, expressing personal satisfaction as well as noting practical gains. For instance:
Jane Murdoch Adams: I want to let you know how enormously important the energy audit is, and that all the extra supports HVRA provides (information, suggestions on contractors and products) are necessary to create the environmental difference we all wish to achieve. I am especially happy that you are considering helping HVRA members sort out energy efficient furnaces, in the future.
What is most important to me is that we are usually OVERWHELMED by the complexity of keeping this old (1885) house functioning efficiently. We don’t really have the knowledge, tools, stamina or money to invest in random upgrading. Cue HVRA!!! In solidarity, you all are making our lives much easier, taking the stress and worry out of making these decisions, providing the best kind of friendship, and making sure that what we do is wise and environmentally profitable.
Sue Dexter: I got an audit. Did some work. My December gas bill was reduced by 45%!
Dave and Ana Dennier: Carson Dunlop were great to deal with. They returned calls quickly, honoured scheduled times and did a professional job. Thanks for all the great work you and the association are doing. Us “silent members” really do appreciate it!
David DePoe & Susan Smith: We had our energy audit done, and I was impressed with their thorough and professional approach. We want to proceed as soon as we get the report, probably with some leak sealing, attic insulation and a hot water system, and later for windows and wall insulation. We are very interested in getting the list of contractors.