Fawning over environmentally sustainable architectural delights is kind of like looking in a green crystal ball where the future is bright and the air is clean.
But for all of us living in creaky old homes that leak as much as a sinking ship, it can also be a little depressing.
Still, enviros insist our skyrocketing hydro bills needn't budge if the Ontario Building Code is tweaked. In fact, the Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs is in the midst of doing just that. Trouble is, the province is missing the perfect double-glazed window of opportunity to save us all a bundle. Most importantly, there's no cash to upgrade older homes, the real energy wasters, in the province's new strategy.
The McGuinty government's draft revision of the code released in February seems to be basically returning us to 1992 levels of energy efficiency. This isn't all bad when you consider that the Harris Tories gutted the regs to placate developers who wanted to put up lower-quality buildings that are more expensive to heat.
But even Ontario Power Authority's new conservation bureau chief, Peter Love, is speaking out against the proposed revisions. Love says we're missing an opportunity "to take real leadership here," pointing to several problem areas. Take ceiling insulation. The old rules and the proposed revisions both call for an insulation rating of R40. Love says we should be shooting for R55.
And in terms of gauging the overall efficiency of a new gas-heated home, the province is calling for 73 to 76 on the EnerGuide scale of 1 to 100, while the code currently calls for 71). The conservation bureau wants 80.
The bureau has submitted its own suggestions, offering twice the savings in cold hard cash if its recommendations are heeded, Love says.
"We're always talking about the cost of being environmentally conscious," says Sierra Club's senior energy policy adviser, John Bennett. "Well, even though the capital cost of the house will go up a bit, you get the money back. There's no reason the average building couldn't be 60 per cent more efficient than one built now.' Sierra, Greenpeace and the Canadian Environmental Law Association have all spoken out against the proposed changes.
Of course, new home builders have a different vantage point. Victor Fiume, president of the Ontario Home Builders' Association, says that while they think green activists are going too far, developers generally support the code improvements.
But he adds, "By strictly going after the new home buyer I don't think you're accomplishing what you need to. What are we doing about the real energy guzzlers here, the pre-1980 homes?" Fiume says Ontario's 4.8 million existing houses should be targeted as well, since most new ones (79,000 were built last year) meet standards well above code.
Enviros agree that old homes should be folded into the province's strategy. Some limited retrofit grants are available to Ontarians through Natural Resources Canada's EnerGuide program, but greens point to California and many European countries, where upgrades are mandated when the owner sells or renovates.
Energy Minister Donna Cansfield was recently given the power to call for energy audits of resale homes, but it's not clear when or if she will move on it. Her spokesperson, Ted Gruetzner, says any new regs in this area "would need stakeholder consultation. Changes are down the road but not in the immediate future.'
At the ministry's building and development branch, David Brezer says comments on the draft code are being considered by an advisory committee."The intention is to create a culture of conservation,' he says, pointing out that the revisions include solar panels and grey-water use (e.g., reuse of shower water.)
Enviros say they'll believe it when they see it. Says Sierra's Bennett, "If the Liberals don't come back with significantly better standards, it will signal that all this talk of a culture of conservation is bullshit.'