By Colleen Kimmett , TheTyee.ca
It was the air coming out of the light socket that opened their minds and their pocketbooks.
When Laura Lee Schultz and Jacqueline Gullion bought their East Vancouver bungalow last year, they knew going in it would need a lot of work. Their first priority, like many of the newly "house rich, cash poor" set in Vancouver, was building a basement suite they could rent out to help cover mortgage payments.
Energy efficiency was not a priority, explains Schultz, at least not until they found out they could get a $1,200 rebate from the provincial government's LiveSmart program to replace their 60-year-old furnace. As part of the deal, they were required to have an energy auditor come in and do a standard test that measures air leakage in the house.
"His eyebrows shot waaaay up," recalls Schultz. "He made me put my hand in front of the back outlet, where the light socket is, and there was air blowing into my hand - a lot of air.
"And he said, that's just one spot where you're having air leakage in this house. It's really, really bad."
Learning just how much heat their house was hemorrhaging was the impetus for a host of other energy-efficient retrofits - including weather stripping and insulation - that Schultz and Gullion eventually undertook. They ended up spending $35,000 renovating their entire home and $15,000 on energy retrofits alone. They talked to contractors, did research online, watched how-to videos on YouTube and ultimately turned their renovation and retrofit project into a website, Lez Renovations . "We took this on, as not just buying a house together, but to have fun with it," explains Schultz. "So we kind of enjoyed the research."
Most people have no idea how inefficient their homes really are, much less what to do about it. More than a third - 35 per cent - of British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, and more than 50 per cent of the buildings that will be around in 2050, the year by which B.C. is supposed to have reached its targets - already exist now.
We know technically how to green this existing housing stock. But the question of doing it on a larger scale, of how to finance millions or billions of dollars worth of private home energy retrofits, is one of the biggest challenges facing municipalities today in their quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One thing is clear: it will take more than rebates.