NS is a leader in encouraging heat pumps, but programs can be confusing
When Claudia Gahlinger went to make the switch to a heat pump, she said she found the process more complicated than expected.
The 66-year-old lives with her husband in Cape Breton. They have a small farm at the top of the Cabot Trail.
For years, their main source of heat has been wood. As she got older, Gahlinger said she started looking for an alternative.
« Using firewood was becoming increasingly difficult and, I think, unhealthy, » she said. « We needed a cleaner type of heating. »
Growing numbers of Nova Scotians are likely to follow Gahlinger’s lead as $120 million in federal funding to help more people get heat pumps in the Atlantic provinces – along with provincial funding to provide free heat pumps to low-income households – starts to sink
But consumers, managers and entrepreneurs say there is a need to simplify and spread access to heat pumps to ensure they are accessible to those who need them most.
Nova Scotia leads the country in heat pump adoption rates and measures to support low-income households.
But Gahlinger said she found the financing programs available, including the rebate through Efficiency Nova Scotia, difficult to navigate when she went to buy a heat pump earlier this year.
Ultimately, they chose a “thin duct” heat pump because it suited their home and their limited budget, and it was offered by one of the few companies that service their area.
But Gahlinger said their choice « made us ineligible for the discount. »
Even if they had been eligible, the reimbursement was relatively small compared to the cost of the heat pump, Gahlinger said.
This would have covered only a few hundred dollars of the $5,000 cost, which was a substantial expense for their low-income household.
More awareness programs are needed
Despite the barriers some people face, Nova Scotia scores high on energy efficiency measures.
In November, the province ranked second in the country on Efficiency Canada’s energy efficiency scorecard, in recognition of its programs for low-income households and Mi’kmaw communities.
Still, Brendan Haley, director of policy and research at Efficiency Canada, said Nova Scotia could still improve. They include removing barriers to addressing non-energy household issues that need to be addressed before efficiency improvements can be made, such as asbestos removal or mold remediation.
“We really need a whole-home solution to get to where we need to be in terms of net zero emissions,” he said.
The other potential improvement, Haley said, is to simplify and streamline the support access process.
Municipal programs helping people access finance
In Bridgewater, a program aimed at this kind of rationalization was launched at the beginning of December.
The Energize Bridgewater initiative grew out of research conducted with McGill University. It showed that two out of five people in Bridgewater were struggling to pay their energy bills.
The program aims to help people navigate efficiency programs.
« If people are struggling with energy costs and perhaps other life circumstances that make things difficult for them, they may not have the time and mental space to manage on their own. all of these apps, » said Energize Bridgewater planner Meghan Doucette. . « So that’s a big part of the service we provide. »
Residents can contact Doucette, who will direct them to either the town’s new home improvement program for low-income households or the town’s existing low-interest financing program for home improvement. improving energy efficiency.
Trade association says process needs to change
Martin Luymes of the Institute of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning – an HVAC industry trade association – says programs are also needed to streamline supply.
In an announcement about the Homewarming scheme, which will provide free heat pumps to 13,500 low-income households, Natural Resources and Renewable Energy Minister Tory Rushton said the scheme would create more green jobs.
But Luymes says the industry is already facing labor shortages. On top of that, the increased demand for heat pumps will require even more skilled workers, he said.
« Those are some of the side effects, where we’re trying to make a big transition to electrification in a relatively short period of time without having taken care of all the adjustments that need to be made, » Luymes said.
The institute’s proposed solution is to introduce a trade specifically for residential HVAC systems, including heat pumps.
The trade currently requires a refrigeration licence, which involves a five-year apprenticeship. Luymes said he would like to see a trade in Nova Scotia that would require half that time, which would be similar to programs that exist in Ontario and Manitoba.
“It requires consultation and there is a whole process that the Nova Scotia Learning Agency has to go through to pass this regulation,” he said. « It’s already been probably two or three years of conversation that we’ve had with the agency and we’re still not at the finish line. »
Luymes said this has implications for the cost and availability of heat pumps. Without enough qualified technicians, installers may raise prices due to excess demand, or consumers may face long delays.
Some households waive incentives
Cory MacNutt, of Atmosphere Climate Control Specialists Ltd., a heat pump contractor in Halifax and Wolfville, said there were also delays in electrical panel upgrades and energy ratings. He said the latter is a necessary step for those seeking government funding for heat pumps.
MacNutt said they were now getting calls from people overwhelmed with the cost of filling their fuel oil tank – and wondering if it was worth applying for grants or foregoing funding in hopes of accelerating the process.
“We have these elderly customers, they spend $2,000 a month on fuel oil. If they have to wait from December to April to install a heat pump, it’s $8,000. So many of them are giving up the incentives to get the heating system installed. »
He says licensed contractors could previously install a system and have the energy assessment done afterwards – a system he says would be better suited to the current situation.
« If we already know before doing the assessment that the house will benefit from having a heat pump, why are we delaying months and months and months in order to have these energy assessments? » he says. « There has to be a way to speed up some of these things. »
As for Gahlinger – who said her heat pump has been worth it so far despite the hurdles – she said programs should be made as simple as possible given the urgency of the need for clean energy.
« There should just be more direct money for greener energy. »