Energy efficiency teams up with real estate guidelines

"The hydro bill tells you what it costs to heat your house — it doesn’t tell you where you’re losing energy,”  

A welcome sunny morning last Wednesday saw a large group of people congregated around a For Sale sign on Salt Spring’s North Beach Road.

While the break in the weather highlighted the sea view and a heron could be seen flying into the sanctuary across the road, all eyes were focused on the home itself. But the conversation didn’t follow the attributes of granite countertops or hardwood floors. Instead, the discussion was on this 34-year-old home’s high-ranking energy rating.

Whether or not you’ve been following the climate change debate since it passed through the international summit in Copenhagen in December, energy efficiency at home affects everyone the same way: in the pocket book. Draughty windows and unsealed doors not only create an unpleasant environment, they can make energy bills climb, and that is an important consideration for home buyers.

Local realtors savvy about the growing interest in energy efficiency have helped launch a pilot project that will invite more people to schedule home assessments and ensure the information is shared between sellers and potential buyers with Time of Sale Energy Labelling. The six-month project is a partnership between the Victoria Real Estate Board, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Capital Regional District and the Salt Spring Earth Festival Society. The project covers Salt Spring and Victoria’s Oak Bay district.

Jim Bennett, a VREB member who has spearheaded the pilot project, said the professional group has been working toward incorporating green values for several years. As the member responsible for government relations and for a quality-of-life program, Bennett had helped create a set of principles that includes support of sustainable environment.

The energy-labelling pilot project is a voluntary program that allows homeowners to get their energy-efficiency assessment done for just $75. (This is half the regular fee of $150, which is already subsidized by the provincial government to reduce the real cost of $300.) In return, homeowners agree to post the assessment rating out of 100 on the real estate board’s Multiple Listing Service (MLS). People selling their home can then use the provided checklist to make improvements themselves, or pass the information along to buyers. In either case, renovations for improved energy efficiency will be eligible for grants and rebates through provincial and federal programs.

Salt Spring realtor Gord Ellis, known unofficially as the island’s “green realtor,” said he was immediately interested when he heard about the pilot project. The North Beach home was the first listing that came up after he heard about it and the sellers were happy to participate. Built in 1976, the house received an energy rating of 76 after getting new windows. Ellis’ own home, built in the same era, received a rating of 59, while new homes built to code today typically get a rating of 72-78.

As the first realtor in Canada to include an energy rating as part of an active listing’s information, Ellis said getting the assessment done is one of the first things he will recommend to prospective sellers — before getting the kitchen redone, for example.

While it may sound like getting the assessment will only appeal to those likely to achieve high scores, Bennett said that isn’t necessarily the case. Sellers who don’t score as high as they could and can’t afford to perform the renovations themselves can still use the information as a selling point by being able to pinpoint for the buyer both where the issues are and how easy they are to fix. The assessment checklist includes information on costs, rebates and how money can best be spent to improve efficiency.

“For 40 years purchasers have been asking for the hydro bill and consumers are only becoming more aware of the potential for energy saving. The hydro bill tells you what it costs to heat your house — it doesn’t tell you where you’re losing energy,” said Bennett.

Energy labelling is currently mandatory on homes for sale in California and New Zealand, while in Ontario the purchaser has the right to ask for that information. With a strong recommendation currently before the B.C. government to make energy labelling mandatory by 2012, the pilot project is a good time to make people aware of the benefits before it gets to that stage.

Emily Eng, a representative from the Ministry of Energy, explained that the pilot project will hopefully help reduce energy use by putting the dollar incentive in place: “The goal is to raise the value of energy efficiency for the consumer. We’re raising that value in people’s minds.” She added that attaching a number to a home’s overall efficiency makes the concept more real for people.

On Salt Spring, homeowners can apply for the Home Energy Labelling Pilot grant through City Green Solutions, a nonprofit group that is the only company certified to perform assessments here. Recipients must agree to share the results of their assessments with their realtor for posting on the MLS. Bennett advises sellers in a “hot market” get the assessment done as part of the preparations before listing the home.