Homeowners are eligible for a federal grant worth up to $5,600 for upgrades and energy audits 

When the federal government launched its Canada Greener Homes Grant a week ago, the interest level was high enough to crash the website temporarily. The program has received at least 30,000 applications so far.

Now, energy auditors and contractors say they're fielding a wave of inquiries from homeowners keen to apply for what could amount to $5,600 in federal support per household.

"There's literally thousands of homeowners calling," said Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, an energy efficiency non-profit in British Columbia. "I think there is extremely high demand already."

But despite the high uptake, there are early concerns about the size and scope of the grant program.

"There's a couple of challenges with this program," said Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, director of buildings and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute.

To answer some of those outstanding questions and explore the program's limits, CBC News took a deeper dive into the details of Canada Greener Homes Grant.

Who is eligible?

Homeowners, obviously. But applicants must also meet some other conditions before applying online:

  • They must prove they live in the house; landlords who live off-site are not eligible.
  • The home must be a single or semi-detached house, a row house, a townhome, an all-season cottage or a certain type of mobile home or houseboat.
  • Although condos generally aren't eligible, condo owners in low-rise buildings may qualify.
  • First Nation band councils, land claims organizations and Indigenous housing management bodies can apply for the grant.
  • New homes are not eligible.

Which upgrades qualify?

According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), the federal department that administers the program, these are the projects that qualify for the grant:

  • Insulation (up to $5,000)
  • Air-sealing to improve air-tightness (up to $1,000)
  • Replacing windows and doors (up to $5,000)
  • Installing heat pumps and hot water equipment (up to $5,000)
  • Installing solar panels (up to $5,000)
  • Resiliency measures like batteries, foundation waterproofing and roofing membranes (up to $2,625)
  • Installing a smart thermostat (up to $50 but must be combined with another retrofit)

Materials and equipment, NRCAN says, must be purchased in Canada or from a Canadian online distributor.

Are there strings attached?

Homeowners won't receive the money upfront. The grant only arrives after they've spent the money — in some cases a considerable amount. To qualify, a homeowner must first undergo an energy audit at their own expense, hire contractors, pay for materials and then pass a final follow-up energy audit — again, out of pocket.


Once the upgrades are certified, the government says it will reimburse homeowners and the money should arrive within a month. But a homeowner isn't guaranteed the maximum grant of $5,600. The amount of the grant depends on the audit conducted when the work is done.

The Pembina Institute says that the cost of extensive retrofits to cut energy bills and reduce emissions likely would exceed the value of the grant. Such work can range in cost from $30,000 up to $100,000 for a single family home.

"This is not free money," said Frappé-Sénéclauze.

How can a homeowner get the most bang for the buck?

Experts say that homeowners should carefully consider their renovation priorities before jumping in. Is the house too hot in the summer? Is it drafty in the winter? Is it time to fix that leaky foundation? How big is the building's carbon footprint? Homes and buildings account for 18 per cent of the country's carbon emissions.

Because the surge in demand for the program is driving up wait times for energy advisers and contractors, applicants probably will have to wait longer than they'd like for repairs to begin.

"I think there's such high demand right now, and there's only so much capacity in all the provinces and to be able to respond to this," Sundberg said. "It's probably best to pause for a moment, think about what the upgrades you might want to do, potentially think about what kind of contractors you would want to work with."

And there's no rush; the Greener Homes Grant will be available for the next seven years. In fact, by thinking through their home retrofit goals in advance, many homeowners may decide it's quicker and cheaper to do the work without waiting for government help.

On the other hand, it might be better to wait before applying — because other orders of government may end up getting into the grant game themselves. Although B.C., Quebec and Nova Scotia already offer similar supports, other regions could soon announce their own programs, which could be combined with the federal one.

Meanwhile, some municipal governments — including Edmonton and Toronto — are offering their own home retrofit assistance tied to a homeowner's property taxes. Such municipal programs are better known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE for short.

"So with the federal government getting involved, the hope is that this grant can really work in a larger system of supports for Canadians," said Brendan Haley, a policy director at Efficiency Canada.


And sometime over the summer, the federal government is expected to roll out an interest-free retrofit loan program that could provide up to $40,000 in loan capital per household.

Here's another possible reason to wait. Home renos frequently require multiple contractors. As demand for retrofits increases, we might see more companies offering homeowners one-stop or "turnkey" solutions, said Frappé-Sénéclauze.

What's available to those who don't qualify for this program?

Energy efficiency advocates say this is the glaring problem with the program: it leaves out renters and homeowners who can't afford to spend the money upfront.

"A policy gap is the lack of a program that's specifically targeted to low-income Canadians in particular," Haley said.

One non-profit that works with multilingual and multicultural communities suggests that, where possible, renters should upgrade to programmable or "smart" thermostats and plug any cracks in doors and windows that let cold air in.

"Heating your space and heating your water is what 60 per cent of your bill is made of," said Yasmin Abraham, the vice president and co-founder of Empower Me.

Ultimately, however, there's a limit to what low-income households and renters can afford to do. Abraham called on the federal government to provide programs that serve the needs of every Canadian household.



10 Tips for First Time Home Buyers

Searching for your first home is so exciting, but it can also be stressful. If you are ready to start your journey into home ownership, here are 10 tips to help you get started!

1. Know how much you can afford

This is the first and most important thing you need to consider before embarking on the search for your first home!

Banks and other lenders have formulas to determine how much you can afford to borrow, but they don’t always have your best interest in mind. Just because the bank approves you for a certain amount doesn’t mean you can actually afford to carry a mortgage of that amount. Your dream might be to purchase a character home in an established neighbourhood, but you might only be working with a budget for a condo.

This is why it's so important to do your own research and crunch the numbers yourself to make sure that you feel confident that you can afford the payments. Don’t forget to factor in child care expenses, retirement savings, and the cost of your lifestyle, as well as any other expenses you may have or that you anticipate having. Start by using this mortgage calculator!

Once you've done your research, speak with a mortgage broker and get at least two quotes for your pre-approval. Getting pre-approved for your mortgage gives you an edge over other people who might be interested in the same property as you. The seller will know that you are a serious buyer, and you are able to confidently negotiate the purchase of a home.

However, don't make the mistake of overbuying on your first home. You would be better off with smaller payments on a starter home so that you have the freedom and flexibiliy to save and spend how you'd like. Remember that you can always move up to a larger property later on!

2. What’s on your wish list?

Before you start seriously shopping for your first home, you should determine what your needs and wants are. Create a list of features that you are willing to compromise on, and prioritize the ones that you need to have. By doing this, you will be able to narrow your house search down to properties that truly fit your needs, and will make your decision much easier.

3. Be flexible!

You should of course have fun with the home buying process, but remember that to be successful, you need to be realistic and open-minded. You may not be able to find a home with everything you're looking for within your budget, so be prepared to prioritize and compromise if necessary. Being flexible to the possibility of exploring other locations or types of homes will go a long way in helping you land the home that's perfect for you.

4. Understand your different payment options

You can pay for your mortgage in a variety of ways, including monthly, bi-weekly, and weekly payment options. Paying off your mortgage sooner will save you thousands of dollars in interest costs, while a longer amortization period will reduce your regular payments and frees up cash in your budget. You can use this online mortgage calculator to help you decide what payment schedule is right for you.

Some mortgages also give you the ability to make extra lump sum payments, or the option to skip a payment. Make sure you understand what your options are, and that you are comfortable with the terms.

5. Aim for a 20% down payment

Your down payment should be at least 5% of the price, but it is highly recommended that all first time home buyer aim to put down 20% of the value of the home in order to qualify for a conventional mortgage. If you have money in your RRSPs, you can use up to $25,000 towards the purchase of your first home.

If you want to buy a home with a down payment of less than 20%, you’ll need mortgage loan insurance. Your lender pays an insurance premium on mortgage loan insurance. It’s calculated as a percentage of the mortgage and is based on the size of your down payment. Your lender will likely pass this cost on to you, which you can pay in a lump sum or add it to your mortgage and include it in your payments.

Also it is crucial to remember that what you have saved for a down payment isn’t necessarily the amount you will end up using. You will want to keep back a little cash for closing costs, minor repairs or furniture for your new home, and moving expenses. Which brings us to our next tip...

6. Keep a budget for closing and incidental costs

Closing costs can range anywhere from 1.5% to 3.5% of the total cost of your home. You can expect to pay for some or all of the following:

• Home inspection fee

• Legal fees
• Property transfer tax
• Appraisal fee
• Land transfer tax
• Title insurance
• Interest adjustment

• Moving costs

• Property and fire insurance

• Another month of rent (in case the closing date is extended)

• Renovations you may want to make before moving in

If you'd like to get a better idea of what each of these costs may be, please reach out to me, I'd be happy to walk you through this.

7. Find your own Realtor

So you've been scrollng through listings online and come across the one that looks absolutely perfect. You decide to hit the Contact Me button to connect with the listing agent. Stop there! Why, you ask? Because the listing agent's obligation is to the Seller and they work for their best interests, not yours as the Buyer.

It's so important that you find a Realtor that you connect with and that represents you, as the Buyer, in any transaction. It's the job of your Realtor to look after your needs and to negotiate on your behalf. So don't make the mistake of going with the listing agent of that property you love - always do your research and find your own Realtor, no matter what you may hear!

8. Request a home inspection

While it's true that including a condition for a home inspection (if it's not already available) may affect your offer being accepted in a highly competitive market, the risks truly outweigh the consequences in this situation. If you have a tight budget with limited allowance for necessary home improvements (no matter whether it's an older home or a newer build), it's important that you don't blindly commit without understanding what you're getting into. This is a surefire way to prevent buyer's remorse.

9. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions

There are no silly questions when it comes to buying your first home! If you're not sure about something, need more information or need clarification, always ask. As with anything, it's always better to ask lots of questions, especially when it comes to one of the biggest financial decisions of your life.

10. Once you find your home, stop looking!

It’s the golden rule for choosing anything from a car to a wedding dress to a life partner – once you’ve found what you are looking for – stop looking! The same goes for a house. Once you’ve gotten the keys to your home, instead of looking for something better than what you have, focus your energy on making the space your own.

If you found these tips helpful, please share this blog post with others!

Questions about any of these tips, or about the home buying process? Please reach out to me, I would be happy to help!


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