Renos and Retrofits

Your Low-Carbon Renovation

Are you planning a renovation or improvement of your home? This is a great time to make green home improvements, also known as a home retrofit! You can also improve the comfort, health, and energy efficiency of your home…while doing something good for our planet at the same time.

TIP: When the walls are open in your home's interior, it is the ideal time to improve your air sealing and insulation. It will be much less costly and easier for you to do this work when you are already renovating these areas. These upgrades will dramatically increase your home's comfort and reduce the energy required for heating and cooling year-round.

It is also important to consider climate change-causing carbon emissions that will be caused by your reno – both those produced during the extraction, manufacture, and delivery of your renovation materials (called "upfront carbon" or "embodied carbon"), and the ongoing emissions produced by your heating source and other appliances.

Here are 10 more tips to keep in mind:

  1. Find a guide who is knowledgeable about low-carbon, sustainable home renovations to advise you through the process. A local architect or energy advisor specializing in low carbon sustainable renovations can give you advice on what to include in your project, what materials should be used, finding good contractors, and ensuring the quality of the work. For example, contact the Net Zero Architects Network for a connection to one of their participating firms to get advice. And consider joining the Pocket Changemakers program for free support from our knowledgeable team of volunteers. 
  2. Get an energy audit/home evaluation to understand where and why warm air is leaking from your home so you can correct these problems during your project. Choose a knowledgeable energy advisor who will interpret your home evaluation for you and take the time to answer your questions, providing you with a simple roadmap to follow when doing your renovation/retrofit. An EnerGuide energy audit will also be required to apply for a low interest loan from the federal government or an interest-free loan from the City of Toronto
  3. Design with energy efficiency and carbon emission considerations in mind. South-facing windows keep you warm in winter but need overhangs or deciduous trees for shade in summer. Light coloured roofs keep your home cooler in summer. There are many passive and active design strategies to reduce your home’s energy use, to reduce your carbon footprint, and to make your home healthy and comfortable. Talk to your knowledgeable and trusted guide about these options.
  4. Get off gas! The most effective way to reduce your home’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and to increase the health and comfort of your home, is to switch from burning "natural" (methane) gas for your cooking and space and water heating to using Ontario’s carbon clean electricity supply instead. Electric induction stoves are now the favourite choice of chefs around the world, and all-electric cold-climate air source heat pumps are providing affordable, highly reliable and healthy comfort in northern climates around the world. See our Heat Pump page for more information. Plus, when you go electric, and especially if you cut off gas completely from your home, you will save money on your energy bills.
  5. Use as much of the material from your existing home as is practical. Reuse components when you can, sell them, or give them to neighbours, or to ReUse, ReStore, or other recycling programs. This may take a little more labour, but will reduce the amount of new material (and the carbon required to manufacture it) that you use. As noted earlier, reducing carbon emissions that come from the creation and transportation of materials in the first place is an often overlooked, yet key, strategy.
  6. Plan and budget, with the help of your guide, to select the most effective investments to lower your carbon emissions and improve your home’s energy efficiency as part of your renovation. Consider carbon emissions and energy efficiency from the beginning of your renovation project, so that these objectives are built into every decision.
  7. Ensure that your new windows and doors are good quality and well installed.
  8. Select low carbon materials when you need to purchase anything new. Manufacturing concrete is a significant source of carbon pollution, so minimize your use of concrete. Many types of insulation require so much carbon to manufacture and install that it will take decades before the energy savings have compensated for the carbon used during their manufacture. Use locally manufactured materials when you can to reduce the energy used for transportation. This page explains the upfront carbon associated with different types of insulation.
  9. Select your contractor / installer carefully. Another key to a well-insulated and air-sealed home envelope (and other installations such as heat pumps and windows) is your contractor’s attention to detail. Your contractor must be knowledgeable and share your commitment to low-carbon, energy efficient construction. Ask your guide for recommendations, ask potential contractors questions to understand their approach to the work, and check references.
  10. Have an energy advisor complete a blower door test after the air barriers are installed and before the drywall is up. Use this rare opportunity to find remaining air leaks and have them sealed before they disappear forever behind insulation and drywall.

And once you are done...enjoy the comfort of your cozy, healthier (if you have decreased your use of gas), and energy-efficient home, knowing that your home is no longer part of the climate change problem, and that you are now part of the solution!