Although ecoENERGY Retrofit —Homes runs until March 31, 2011, Suzanne Deschenes, Deputy Director, Housing Division, Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reports it's already "very, very successful":

  • More than 390,000 Canadians have signed up and have up to 18 months to complete energy-efficiency projects.
  • Almost 133,000 have already completed their energy retrofits.
  • Compare this to the energy-efficiency program ending in 2007 where a total of 272,174 Canadians signed up for grants and 118,402 completed work and received funding.

The federal program, with provincial counterparts, encourages energy-efficiency improvements which may also increase property value or saleability. As energy costs and inflation increase, lowered heating and cooling costs will be the real bonus for homeowners. Complete renovations under the grant program this year and you may also be eligible for the federal C$1350 tax credit.

The ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes program was expanded this spring to add C$300 million in funding over 2 years. To enable 200,000 more homeowners to receive support for energy-efficiency retrofits, grants were increased by 25%, but the maximum grant remained capped at C$5000 for a home or dwelling unit, and at C$500,000 for property owners with multiple properties.

This federal funding is matched by provincial contributions up to a maximum of C$10,000. Program details and maximums vary provincially.

Even if you took part in a previous program, there's lots more you can do. New eligible retrofits include the replacement of cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR qualified models, the installation of solar hot water heaters, water-saving toilets, grey water heat-recovery systems and more. Each improvement is eligible for a specific grant amount. For details and to register visit.

To qualify for grants, you must first hire an NRCan-certified energy advisor to conduct the pre-retrofit portion of the detailed, on-site evaluation of your home's energy use from the attic to the foundation—The Energy Audit. The resulting personalized report includes a checklist of recommended retrofits which will improve energy efficiency, and, in some cases, reduce water consumption, of the home or multi-unit, low-rise residential building (MURB). If you want specific improvements made, discuss these with the energy advisor before the Audit.

But don't let your guard down. These programs usually require you spend your own money before you receive a grant as a partial refund. Unless you meet all government eligibility criteria and follow application and final submission procedures to the detail, you may not gain the advantage you hoped. If you can't afford to retrofit without the government benefit, you should be particularly careful to comply.

Government programs offer a variety of benefits for real estate owners, but participation is not without risks. Even if service providers associated with a homeowner or landlord program are promoted through federal or provincial government websites, it's still "buyer beware" for property owners. Don't expect the government to bail you out if something goes wrong.

Consider the formal disclaimer: "The payment of grants is subject to the availability of funds. NRCan does not endorse the services of any contractor or any specific product and accepts no liability in the selection of materials, products, contractors or performance or workmanship."

When you're spending your money and want to qualify for a grant, tax credit or other benefit, be skeptical of what you are told—verify details—and make sure everything agree to is in writing. It's essential to apply the same care required for successfully contracting with installers, builders, renovators and tradespeople under any circumstances.

For instance, the government expected service organizations that delivered the previous energy-efficiency grant program to inform their homeowner clients when that program was extended to March 2007. Did you hear from your energy expert?

Property owners who insulated with Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI), asbestos-contaminated Zonolite and, more recently, with RetzoFoam, which contains urea formaldeyde, were doing so within the stipulations of and to qualify for government programs. Later these products were banned.

When a product is banned by banned by Health Canada as a health risk, homes containing it are considered "contaminated." These properties may be harder to sell and may lose property value. The stress property owners go through is an often overlooked fallout.

For more on getting the most out of grants, read our column, "Government Programs Worth the Effort But Check Details ( House Interior Floors, Walls, Ceilings, Trim, Counters and Cabinets, Stairs, Windows )."

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