The emissions from your house may not be as obvious as the exhaust from a tailpipe, but they’re just as real. The good news? The latest electric options for heating, hot water and cooking are worth exploring—and there are financial incentives that make them even more appealing.
How To Get Your Home Off Natural Gas
When my husband and I bought our century-old home, we needed to replace all the appliances. We wanted to save energy and pay less for electricity, so we opted for a high-efficiency gas furnace and water heater. As foodies, we bought into the hype about cooking with gas, so we got a gas stove. But it wasn’t long before we had regrets.
As time went on, and our climate anxiety grew, we talked more about how we could shrink our carbon footprint. We didn’t own a car, and we had started to eat less meat, use less plastic and buy local produce whenever possible. But these lifestyle choices couldn’t negate the fact that our home was guzzling gas. We’re not alone: More than half of Canadian homes are heated by natural gas, and 70 percent of water heaters are fuelled by it.
Despite its innocuous name, so-called natural gas is mainly methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) with 84 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. And it starts polluting the environment long before it reaches your home.
“I think something people overlook is where this natural gas is coming from,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
Most of Canada’s natural gas is mined in northern B.C. through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” A well is drilled down to rock formations where natural gas deposits are trapped, and a slurry of chemicals, water and sand is blasted in, fracturing the rock and releasing the gas. Some of the toxic soup stays underground, and some returns to the surface, where it’s stored in open frac ponds. One fracking well can use and pollute more than 10 million litres of fresh water, most of which is permanently removed from the water cycle. And it pollutes the air and soil as well. With more than 20,000 fracking wells in B.C. alone, the damage is mind-boggling.
“It’s a highly polluting process that’s destroying farmland, using up huge amounts of water and exposing people to high levels of pollutants in northern B.C.,” says Lem.
Once natural gas is piped to your home, it continues to pollute. Running your furnace, taking a hot shower and cooking on a gas stove all produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), natural gas was responsible for 36.7 megatonnes of residential CO2 emissions in 2018; the bulk of those came from space heating (66 percent) and water heating (19 percent).
“[Natural gas] is really one of the biggest sources of GHG emissions in Canada,” says Julia Langer, CEO of the Atmospheric Fund, a regional climate agency that invests in low-carbon solutions for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. “And all along the chain, from fossil fuel mining to the use in your furnace and water heater, that’s a contribution to climate change.”
The good news? Switching to electric appliances can slash your home’s GHG emissions—and there are government grants to help you get there.
The future is electric
Canada has committed to reducing GHG emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. (At net zero, we either emit no GHGs or offset any emissions through actions like tree planting or carbon capture.) But we’ll never achieve those targets without getting off gas.
The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, an independent organization that conducts climate research and makes policy recommendations, says converting to electric heat sources is “critical.” “There’s no path to achieving our net-zero targets—which is what our climate needs—without electrification,” says Langer. “That’s because you can’t use coal or gasoline or diesel without making greenhouse gases.”
Canada’s electricity supply, on the other hand, is among the cleanest in the world. More than 80 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from non-emitting sources, such as hydro. So unless you live in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Nunavut or Saskatchewan—which get most of their electricity from fossil fuels—you can drastically shrink your carbon footprint by switching from gas appliances to electric.
How the government is helping make the switch more affordable
In May 2021, the federal government created the Canada Greener Homes Grant, which provides up to $5,000 for improvements such as insulation, new windows and doors, and energy-efficient appliances.
There are also provincial and municipal incentives that you can tap into. In Toronto, for example, the city’s Home Energy Loan Program provides low interest loans of up to $125,000 to cover the cost of home energy improvements. Homeowners can repay the loan via their property tax bill. British Columbia’s CleanBC program offers low-interest financing and provides rebates of up to $6,000 for switching from a gas furnace to a heat pump, $2,000 for switching from a gas water heater to a heat pump water heater, and $1,000 for necessary electrical service upgrades.
Read the full article at Chatelaine.