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Experts offer renovation tips, talk LiveSmart BC

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Not all upgrades are worth the investment — get the most bang for your buck

When it comes to making your home more energy efficient, renovations hold great potential. Big change can mean a big price tag, so it's important to do things right.

Garry Lowney, founder and owner of The House Whisperers, has been a certified Energy Advisor since 1995. In his 17 years performing home energy audits for programs including LiveSmart BC, he's seen his fair share of renovations.

So has Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, a non-profit organization that provides a wide range of energy services, including home energy audits.

Both are big believers in the LiveSmart BC program, which offers grants to homeowners who complete qualified energy-efficiency upgrades.

"Most customers are blown away by the program," says Lowney. "If you live in British Columbia and you're considering energy-efficiency improvements, it's a no-brainer."

$7,000 worth of incentives from LiveSmart BC

If you're considering renovations, LiveSmart BC should be at the top of your list.

Here's how it works:

  1. You start by getting an energy assessment from a qualified energy advisor who examines your home and its existing efficiency. Advisors aren't in the business of selling products, so you can be sure you're getting expert advice on which investments will save the most energy and money.
  2. Your advisor creates a report that shows exactly what each potential improvement would save on energy. With your assessment in hand, you'll be ready to select which renovations you want to do.
  3. After work is complete, you get a second assessment and could qualify for up to $7,000 in rebates, depending on your renovations.

Before you book contractors and break out the chequebook, check out these dos and don'ts of energy-efficient renovations:

Things you should do

  • Follow best practices for selecting your contractor, says Sundberg. Get multiple quotes, ask questions, and follow the program timelines.
  • Compare apples to apples when deciding on products. Ask questions, as you would with any major purchase. Consider why one product is $500 cheaper than another — compare the warranty and long-term energy savings.
  • Consider renovations that might not be top of mind, like insulating bare concrete in your basement or crawlspace. As Lowney points out, that bare concrete could lose more heat than your attic. You could save enough energy to put in a smaller furnace which is cheaper to purchase and to run.
  • Maintain your receipts, records and other paperwork — your energy advisor needs to verify what's been done and that you've selected eligible products. "We've seen renovations where we go in for the second assessment and the customer has selected products that aren't eligible," says Sundberg. The program is designed to steer people towards the most energy-efficient choice, so remember not every product within a category is eligible for a grant (e.g. not every type of water heater).
  • Consider the long-term value of the improvements, says Lowney. Don't focus on just the up-front costs. Because LiveSmartBC offers one-time grants, it's sometimes worth doing as many improvements as possible to maximize the value of the program. Some customers even find value in taking out a loan to finance renovations, knowing that they'll continue to see payoff years down the road.

Avoid these common mistakes

  • Don't assume you know the savings associated with a particular upgrade, says Lowney. A lot of customers expect upgrading windows will save a lot of energy, for example — but you may realize even more savings by improving your insulation, says Sundberg.
  • Don't forget about ventilation — many older homes have moderate to poor ventilation. If you're considering new windows to address condensation, remember that other upgrades such as ENERGY STAR® bathroom fans or range hoods can help and could cost much less, while addressing issues with moisture and air quality.
  • Avoid installing oversized furnaces or other equipment — some companies just want to sell you what they have in stock. "Oversized equipment will cycle — turn off and on, it's going to wear out faster, you're going to be hot and cold," Lowney says. Your assessment will help you pick the right size for your home, which will improve your comfort and offer increased durability.

LiveSmart offers more than money

One of the best things about LiveSmart BC is the chance to speak with an experienced advisor who can answer your questions.

"They've done thousands of assessments in homes like yours, seen similar heating systems or similar windows, whatever your project is," says Sundberg. Advisors can help evaluate things that you haven't even thought about.

Maybe you're wondering whether a single-head ductless heat pump system will work to replace the baseboard heating in your open-concept living area. Chances are your advisor can offer some insight. They help prioritize the all the possible improvements for your home and which ones will offer the best value.

The benefits continue long after you've completed the work, says Lowney. Getting an energy rating for your home can even increase the resale value. The higher your energy rating, the more efficient your home is. Many customers find it to be a valuable selling tool, he says.

Team Power Smart: 2 for 1 admission to Interior Design Show West

If you're in Vancouver, get inspiration and ideas for your next project at the upcoming Interior Design Show West (IDSwest).

In Vancouver September 27-30, the show features leading exhibitors, designers and celebrities and is a great place to kick-start any design or renovation project.

You can even get a free consultation with an interior designer through the popular Design Dilemma booth.

And if you're a Team Power Smart member, save even more: get 2-for-1 admission with an exclusive coupon. Log in to your Members' Tool Box and follow the links to get the promo code for this exclusive offer.