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Attic insulation upgrades pay off for B.C. homes

Image of a Victoria neighbourhood in winter
The owners of two Vancouver Island homes report lower energy bills and greater year-round comfort from attic insulation upgrades. Both saved hundreds of dollars on the upgrades by leaning on B.C.'s home renovation rebates.

Two customers lean on rebates to save on upgrades to their homes

Can a house that's only 20 years old gain from improved attic insulation? How about a house that has been armed with an energy-efficient heat pump?

The answer to both questions is "yes". Two BC Hydro customers have found that leaning on B.C.'s Home Renovation Rebates program to beef up their attic insulation has paid off in added comfort and energy savings.

"We probably should have done this first, as we noticed the biggest improvement in our electric bills when we did the insulation," said George Meikle, who ditched the electric baseboard heating in his Qualicum Beach area home for a heat pump a few years back, then upgraded the insulation in his attic in September 2018.

Meikle's pre-upgrades BC Hydro bill from November 2017 was $185. After the insulation upgrade, the next two November bills were $130 and $147, and the difference between January 2018 and January 2019 was especially dramatic: $341 vs. $182.

Saanichton resident Gordon Clarke had wondered whether he could do anything more to improve the efficiency of his 20-year-old home beyond the things he'd already done: draftproofing the home and upgrading the windows. He discovered that leaning on rebates to significantly increase the thickness and R-value of his attic insulation was more than worth it. R-value is the rating that represents how well insulation can resist heat flow from the inside of a home to the outside during winter, and from outside to inside during summer.

"It's made a difference in the summertime too, as it has made the house cooler," says Clarke, who got a $560 rebate for the upgrades done in 2018. "My wife and I still had to spend $1,000 out of our pocket to do it, but with that rebate, we consider it money well spent."

Home renovation rebates available in B.C. include savings of up to $5,500 for insulation upgrades, rebates of $1,000 or $2,000 for heat pumps,savings of $1,000 for water heater upgrades and up to $2,000 for window and door upgrades.

Qualicum Beach homeowner Meikle has been determined to reduce his BC Hydro bills, and after saving $900 on his insulation upgrades through the rebate, he has been spreading the word about rebates to his neighbours.

"I probably would have taken a bit longer to upgrade the insulation, but with the rebate, why wait?" he asks.

It's generally a good idea to improve your home's energy efficiency, from draft proofing to insulation, before you get a heat pump installed. You may be able to save a few dollars with a smaller-size heat pump in a more efficient home. To be eligible for heat pump rebates, a Home Performance Contractor Network (HPCN) member needs to be used. It's also a requirement to hire a Program Registered Contractor (PRC) for insulation rebates. Working with a PRC provides assurance that they've completed additional training in best practices for air sealing and insulation installations, and that they're well acquainted with Home Renovation Rebates program requirements.

A well-insulated attic pays off in year-round comfort, including during the heat of summer

You never know quite what your insulation is like until you have a good look. When Meikle's contractor headed up to the attic, he discovered many spots where insulation wasn't even as deep as the joists – the horizontal boards that span the width of the house – so the upgrade proved to be even more significant than anticipated.

Meikle says heat in his home is now more consistent, with former drafts and cool spots eliminated in the cooler months. The biggest surprise came in the summer, when his southeast-facing home previously hadn't coped well with intense morning sun.

"The house is actually quite cool now," he says. "That's probably the biggest difference we noticed since we upgraded the insulation. Last summer was the first summer since we did it, and my air conditioning [via heat pump] didn't come on nearly as much as before."

Image of old insulation in an attic
Poor insulation in areas of your home like your attic could be adding up on your energy bill.

Rebates make energy-efficient upgrades simple

Clarke's Saanichton home isn't anything like it used to be, at least energy wise. He used a combination of rebates from BC Hydro and FortisBC's Home Renovation Rebate program to make energy efficient upgrades to his home, and the result is a home that uses a fraction of the energy it did a few years back.

The home was first built with attic insulation rated at about R-28, and when he first checked the attic, Clarke discovered the insulation was compacted in places. He hired a local firm, who was a Program Registered Contractor, and they upgraded the insulation to an almost R-50 thickness during an appointment that lasted less than three hours.

"They did a really good job and it's made a real difference in the house," he says, adding that he regularly checks his electricity usage online and uses MyHydro tools to compare his energy use year over year, to outside temperature and to similar homes nearby. He recently received a two-month electricity bill of $102.

Ready for an upgrade? Lean on a Program Registered Contractor

BC Hydro and FortisBC partnered to create Program Registered Contractors, so that insulation contractor firms receive additional training for a deeper knowledge of best practices for air sealing and insulation in retrofit projects. A Program Registered Contractor is required to receive insulation rebates, and they  will also provide customers with a quality checklist of the work performed, including any air sealing work done along with the installation.

Other advantages of a Program Registered Contractor include:

  • A completed quality installation summary that details the work performed, as well as any noteworthy observations
  • Knowledge of program rebates and requirements
  • Confidence that all work is performed in a safe manner

"Previously, we found insulation was installed unevenly in some cases, and we also saw instances where it was blocking vents or was being installed against hot surfaces – such as chimneys or furnace flue vents – that could cause safety issues in the home," says Tony Ceh, a program specialist with BC Hydro. "The Program Registered Contractors initiative was established to identify firms who value quality and customer satisfaction, and train them in the specifics of insulation best practices."

Some of the issues/fixes a Program Registered Contractor might catch that a less-qualified contractor might miss include:

  • Sealing of plumbing drains, HVAC ductwork, chimneys, attic hatch, etc.
  • Insufficient or improper ventilation
  • Rodent infestation
  • Mold or water damage
  • Dated or problematic wiring

Learn more about Program Registered Contractors

Get detailed information on what you need to know about installing new insulation [PDF, 480 KB]