Just when we thought the worst of winter was over, a cold blast of arctic air last month left us scrambling for our toques and looking at a spike in our home heating bills. For those in B.C. with a drafty or poorly-insulated home, it was a not-so-gentle reminder that not plugging leaks in a home is like leaving the door ajar on a cold winter day.
Fortunately, the Home Renovation Rebates and EfficiencyBC Program, a partnership between BC Hydro, FortisBC and the Province of B.C., is making it easier for homeowners to upgrade their insulation cost-effectively. And that’s vital, as a well-insulated home is energy wise year-round: warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Here are a few things you should know about the rebates, and how to ensure you’re getting a quality insulation upgrade. You can only claim the rebates if a licensed contractor does the work.
Bundle your rebates to earn bonus dollars
The most popular rebate in the program is for attic insulation upgrades, but many homeowners add at least one other upgrade to earn a bonus rebate. Upgrade the insulation of the floor over your crawlspace, for example, and you’re looking at a $300 bonus rebate in addition to the up-to-$900 for the attic insulation and up to $1,200 for a crawlspace or basement upgrade.
It can also be more cost-effective to have contractors do two insulation upgrades on the same day. And it’s less disruptive to the people in your home. To qualify for rebates, you’ll need to have a licensed contractor do the work, and not all installers are created equal.
Hire a contractor who has had an ‘upgrade’ to their qualifications
BC Hydro and Fortis partnered to create the Program Registered Contractor Program (PRC), where Insulation contractor firms received additional training for a deeper knowledge of best practices for air sealing and insulation in retrofit projects. A PRC firm will also provide customers with a quality checklist of the work performed, including any air sealing work done along with the insulation.
“Previously, we found insulation was installed unevenly in some cases, and we also saw instances where it was blocking vents or was being installed against hot surfaces – such as chimneys or furnace flue vents - that could cause safety issues in the home,” says Tony Ceh, a program specialist with BC Hydro. “The Program Registered Contractor Program was established to identify firms who value quality and customer satisfaction, and train them in the specifics of insulation best practices.”
Issues a Program Registered Contractor might catch:
Sealing of plumbing drains, HVAC ductwork, chimneys, attic hatch, etc.
Mold or water damage
Dated or problematic wiring
Hazardous materials such as asbestos
The PRC program for insulation firms is being expanded to recruit more firms across the province. You can see the list of Program Registered Contractors on the EfficiencyBC site, and if you don’t see a contractor in your area, check back later as the list is continuously being updated as firms meet qualifications.
If you can’t find a PRC near you, do your homework
What if the Program Registered Contractor list doesn’t include any insulation firms near your community? Do your homework as you search for a good-quality licensed contractor who’s not on that list.
Insulation upgrades are too important to leave the work to a contractor who doesn’t have the experience or training to do it right. Mistakes can be made, and quality contractors have the expertise to spot other issues – such as mold or water damage – that shouldn’t just be covered up by insulation. They should be fixed.
Here are some questions to ask a contractor:
Do you have references and referrals I can contact?
What experience do you have with insulation and air sealing?
Which health and safety standards do you have in place?
R-value, and a few other terms you should know
When hiring a contractor, it helps to know a few basic terms around insulation.
R-value: The ability of insulation to slow the transfer of heat is measured in R-values. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation material's ability to resist the flow of heat through it. Home Renovation Rebates and EfficiencyBC rebates are calculated by the amount of R-value you’re adding to a space.
Vents: Openings in various areas of the home to allow for the passage of air and decrease the incidence of moisture buildup year-round. There should be at least two vents per crawlspace, openings in the soffit under the eaves to allow air through the attic and out roof vents, and ridge or gable vents that help ensure the flow of air through the attic.
IC-rated light fixture: An IC marking on recessed lighting fixtures indicates that it’s designed to be safe in direct contact with insulation.
Ventilation: Creates a positive flow of air that allows the house to "breathe" and helps prevent moisture build-up year-round.
Batt or rolled insulation: Pre-cut, glass fibre, mineral wool or other fibrous insulating material, of varying thicknesses and densities, sized to fit between framing members.
Loose-fill insulation: Loose-fill insulation is suitable for walls and floors and excellent in attics and enclosed spaces, such as roofs, where the space between the joists may be irregular or cluttered with obstacles.
Fibreglass insulation: The pink stuff most of us think of when we envision insulation. Easy to install in batts, and also available in loose-fill.
Mineral fibre insulation: Brownish in colour and also available in batts and loose-fill. Slightly lower R-value but considered more fire resistant and better for soundproofing than fibreglass.
Cellulose insulation: A loose-fill material, cellulose is a favourite for attics as it’s denser than fibreglass or mineral fibre. As loose-fill, it’s best installed by a professional.
Spray foam insulation: Popularized by home improvement celebrities, the cellular version of spray foam carries the highest R-value per inch, is resistant to mold growth and is often used for attics and exterior walls.
How much will you save? Rebates calculated on R-value, square footage
While every project is a little different, costs for an attic insulation upgrade tend to range between $1,500 and $2,400.
Your costs will depend on the thickness of the insulation you choose and the square footage involved. That’s also the way rebates are calculated: they’re based on both the area covered in square feet, and the R-value of the upgrade. BC Hydro’s Ceh says that, to date, for most customers, attic insulation rebates have covered between 40% and 60% of upgrade costs.
How much will you save, year after year, in lower energy bills? Depending on the design of your home and the extent of the upgrades, an attic upgrade can save you up to $200 a year. And your home will be more comfortable.
If you’re considering insulation upgrades or home efficiency improvements of any kind, it makes sense to join Team Power Smart and start a 10% Reduction Challenge. Saving 10% or more over 12 months can earn you a $50 reward.