Deep Energy Retrofit Steps

  1. Step 1:

    Upgrading your home’s building envelope.

  2. Step 2:

    Updating your home’s mechanical system.

  3. Step 3:

    Adding renewable energy systems to your energy-efficient home.

See Steps Overview

Mechanicals & Equipment Retrofit Measures

Together, space-heating and water-heating appliances account for 80 per cent of the energy used in the average Canadian home. Space heating accounts for about 60 per cent of the energy used while water-heating comes in second, at roughly 20 per cent.

Checking and making necessary upgrades to your home’s mechanical components such as the HVAC system and heat-recovery ventilator, insulating your hot water tank, leak-proofing your ductwork, or upgrading your current systems to a heat pump will ensure your home uses energy more effectively and efficiently.

Illustration of a cross section of a building with mechanicals highlighted

Before you start your project, get an EnerGuide home energy evaluation to understand how your home uses energy and identify all improvement opportunities. Check with your municipality, utility or retailer to see if there are any rebates available. For installation, hire a professional heating and cooling technician who can determine the right product and size for your home and climate. 

Drain-water Heat-recovery Pipe 

Drain-water heat recovery (DWHR) systems capture the heat from water going down a drain, typically from the shower, and use it to heat cold water entering your water heater. It’s particularly effective when there are simultaneous water flows, like when you’re using hot water in the shower and that water is then flowing down the drain coiled by the copper pipe. 

Things to Consider 

  • Look for an ENERGY STAR® certified product. Drain water heat recovery systems can be
  • purchased through your local plumber, a plumbing wholesaler, or online. 
  • Drain water heat recovery systems are recommended for homes with higher-than-average hot water consumption (usually three or more people). The savings are greatest when occupants take showers instead of baths. 
  • These systems typically last 30 years or more. The technology is simple and long-lasting, with no moving parts. 
  • Hire a licensed plumber to install the system. It most cases, the installation will take a couple of hours. 

Cost: $550 – $1,700 plus installation.

Heat-pump (Air-source) 

Air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) are electrical devices that use the difference between outdoor air temperatures and indoor air temperatures to heat and cool your home. It acts as a high-efficiency air conditioner in the summer and a heater in the winter by using a refrigerant, much like how your fridge keeps food cold. In summer, a heat pump will move heat out of your home and release it outdoors. In winter, it brings heat into your home from outside, even when it’s below 0°C because heat is still present above absolute zero (-273.15°C). 

Ductless mini-split ASHP systems don’t require ductwork, making them ideal for older homes with no ductwork. Ductless units require only a very small hole to be drilled into an exterior wall, making them less vulnerable to air leakage. Mini-split

ASHPs also avoid the energy losses associated with ductwork, which can account for more than 30 per cent of the energy used to heat or cool indoor air. 

For homes heated by electric-resistance, you may be able to reduce your heating costs by up to 50 per cent if you install an all-electric ASHP. 

What to Look For 

  • In Canada, a supplementary heating source is sometimes needed in colder regions. Purchasing a “cold-climate” heat pump (CCHP/ccASHP) can help reduce reliance on this supplementary heating source. 
  • When buying any heat pump, two ratings will help you determine the unit’s efficiency: the Heating Seasonal Performance Factors (HSPF) that determines the efficiency during winter; and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is used for summer. In both cases the higher the number, the better the efficiency.  

Things to Consider 

  • A certified ENERGY STAR® air-source heat pump uses, on average, 5 per cent less energy than a standard model. 
  • Service your heat pump at the end of summer before the start of the next heating season. 

Cost: $2,500 to $20,000 per unit including installation.

Heat-pump (Ground-source) 

Ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs), also known as geothermal heat pumps, use the earth, groundwater or both to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer, and can even supply hot water at the same time. Ground-source heat pumps are more effective at heating homes during Canadian winters and provide greater energy savings than air-source heat pumps because in the winter underground temperatures are higher than air temperatures. 

Ground source heating produce less CO2 than other forms of space heating systems. 

What to Look For 

  • Find a qualified, licensed GSHP contractor who can assess your home and your needs. 
  • There are two important energy efficiency ratings: the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF), indicating its efficiency in the winter; and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), indicating efficiency in the summer. In both cases the higher the number, the higher the efficiency. 

Things to Consider 

  • Ground-source heat pumps are expensive, and the installation process requires significant work and disruption to your yard, but they have a long life-expectancy. The indoor components (the heat pump) typically last for 25 years, while the ground loops can last for more than 50 years. 
  • Service your heat-pump at the end of the summer, before the next heating season. 

Cost : $20,000 – $40,000, including installation. 

Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) 

Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs), also known as fresh-air exchangers, remove indoor pollutants (mould spores, volatile chemicals, and airborne bacteria) and let fresh air inside while minimizing heat loss or heat gain.  

During the fall and winter, an HRV captures heat from the stale air leaving your house and uses it to heat the fresh air coming into your house. Similarly, an HRV can reverse this process during the spring and summer, removing some heat from the incoming air and transferring it to the outgoing air. 

Energy/Enthalpy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) are a type of HRV that also manage moisture and humidity so indoor air isn’t too dry in the winter and isn’t too humid in the summer. 

What to Look For 

  • An ENERGY STAR®-certified HRV uses less energy, on average than a standard model. 
  • For homes with existing ductwork, consider a whole-house HRV system. 
  • In homes without ductwork, a single-room HRV can be installed in a window or wall opening. These are best for rooms with ventilation problems such as bathrooms or laundry rooms. 

Things to Consider 

  • Homes built after 1977 are typically more airtight, which helps prevent heat loss but also prevents air circulation, which is important for your health and comfort. 

Cost : $350 to $500 for single-room models; $500 to $1,500 for whole-house systems plus installation. 

Smart Thermostat 

Heating and cooling account for about two-thirds of your home’s energy use. A smart thermostat can keep your home comfortable and reduce your energy use by 8 per cent or more. 

A smart thermostat makes it easy to monitor and control your home’s heating and cooling systems using a smartphone, computer or tablet. You can also set a schedule that also reduces heating and cooling when you’re asleep or away from home. 

What to Look For 

  • Choose a certified ENERGY STAR® model and those that allow you to control your heating and cooling systems remotely through your smartphone, computer or tablet. 

Things to Consider 

  • Before you purchase, make sure it will work with your home’s HVAC and electrical systems. Many popular models have online compatibility checkers. 
  • Lower your thermostat at night and when you’re away from home for extended periods of time, like at work or on vacation. You’ll save up to two per cent on your heating bill for every degree you roll back the temperature. 

Cost: $175 to $500 

Water Heater (Storage Tank) 

Water heaters with storage tanks are the most common in Canadian homes, but they are not the most energy-efficient. Electricity, gas or oil is used to heat water stored in the tank and supply it, as needed, to household fixtures and appliances. Storage tanks typically hold between 113 and 378 litres of water in their tanks, and this water is continuously reheated and kept hot 24 hours a day. 

Heat pump water heaters (air- and ground-source) can replace inefficient fossil fuel or electric-resistance water heaters.  

A tankless water heater only heats water when it’s needed, which improves efficiency.  

A solar domestic water heater (SDHW) can supplement your domestic hot water needs or pre-heat water, so your main domestic water heater doesn’t have to work as hard during times of peak use, helping ensure you get hot water from your taps and showerheads. 

What to Look For 

  • ENERGY STAR® certified models use 14 per cent less energy, on average than other storage tank models. 
  • Choose a water heater with the right capacity for your home and family. 

Things to Consider 

  • To improve efficiency, insulate the hot and cold-water pipes within 2 to 3 metres of the water heater, and reduce the water temperature on its thermostat. Most water heaters are set to 60° C, consider 48°C instead. 

Cost: $800 to $1,500, plus installation. 

Source: Natural Resources Canada

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Step 1 of a home energy retrofit project

Learn about the measures involved in upgrading your home's building envelope.

View Step 1
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Step 3 of a home energy retrofit project

Learn about the upgrades involved in installing renewables at your home.

View Step 3