While we rightly expect transparency from labels on our food, appliances and vehicle purchases, our homes, the single largest purchase most Canadians will ever make, currently have no such transparency and disclosure. Energy-efficient buildings are universally recognized as the easiest and most cost-effective way to help consumers save energy and money, make housing more affordable, and reduce air pollution and GHGs.
In the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, home energy labelling was recognized as a key step in achieving building energy reductions. Home energy labelling brings visibility to a home’s energy efficiency, with the transformative power to change how homeowners view efficiency. Yet it remains unseen and, therefore, relatively unknown in the mindset of consumers. Despite our understanding of energy labelling and the availability of a federally backed home energy rating system, to date, no Canadian jurisdiction has mandated home energy labelling.
The European Parliament enacted the European Union’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2003, requiring member states to develop building energy performance measurement protocols and establish building energy certifications for residential and commercial buildings. Specifically, building owners are mandated to present prospective buyers and tenants with Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) during a sale or lease transaction or at the time of building construction. The labels vary among member states (see Figure 1 for sample), with most typically applying a letter grade rating with an A grade indicating the highest level of energy performance.
The paths to achieving residential energy efficiency are not always straightforward. Market imperfections are rampant due to market failures, homeowner behaviours (e.g. blind bidding 30% over on a home), and model and measurement errors. What is clear is that successful programs must circumvent initial investment costs and the lack of awareness of energy efficiency.
While program design can address initial investment costs, individual programs, especially when delivered at the municipal scale, are unlikely to advance awareness of energy efficiency. This is where home energy labelling, delivered at a provincial or national scale, is essential. The first step in any demand generation strategy is building awareness. As we enter our provincial election period here in Ontario, a simple and effective ask for your local candidates could be the introduction of a straightforward, effective, consumer-friendly home energy labeling system for Ontarians. This would not only advance the efficiency of our buildings and help us achieve our GHG reduction targets but also create jobs, improve occupant health, improve our building stock, and provide security against rising energy costs as we enter a period of considerable energy insecurity.
By Kevin Behan, Deputy Director, Clean Air Partnership