Whistler homeowners going for energy-efficiency 

Grants help cover cost of home retrofits and save money as BC Hydro rates increase yet again

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The next stage of BC Hydro's plan to ramp up rates to upgrade aging infrastructure kicked in on April 1, with rates going up another seven per cent this year. Originally they were supposed to increase just four per cent, but BC Hydro added a "Deferral Account Rate Rider" to the total that brings the actual increase to 7.07 per cent.

Rates already increased eight per cent in 2011 and by Spring of 2013 they're set to rise to a total of 17 per cent.

The total increase is less than the 32 per cent that BC Hydro requested, but cumulatively will still increase costs for customers by a third. The average home in Whistler spends about $2,000 per year on electricity; a 17 per cent increase adds over $300 in annual costs.

Some Sea to Sky residents are taking steps to reduce their power consumption, taking advantage of federal and provincial grant programs to make their homes more efficient.

First step: getting an energy audit

A federal government Eco Energy grant program to encourage Canadians to make their homes more energy efficient wrapped up on Jan. 28, over two months ahead of schedule, after it maxed out with 250,000 registrations. Each of those applicants could earn rebates up to $5,000 for work, ranging from the installation of efficient furnaces and water heaters, to installing efficient windows and doors, to plugging leaks with insulation.

But while that program is no longer on the table, there are still incentives at the provincial level. The provincial LiveSmart Efficiency Incentive Program has been extended to March 13, 2013, entitling residents to rebates through the province, BC Hydro and Fortis BC.

Lisa Landry and her husband recently went through the process.

"It started by getting a blower test at home to see where all the leaks were," explained Landry. The blower test and other work was part of an energy audit, which is a before-and-after step that was mandatory to receive the grants.

"We decided to replace both the hot water tank and furnace, both of which were at the end of their natural lives anyway — the furnace was 20 years and the hot water tank 10 years — and replace them with high efficiency appliances," she said. "They probably cost twice as much but will last forever and they're 95 per cent efficient as well, so that's really going to save some money."

The blower test was the best investment. "We probably had four major (air) leaks. They didn't seem major at the time but with the blower test you could really see where it was coming from. We solved those with a $10 can of spray foam."

Crunching the numbers, Landry estimates that plugging those leaks will save about $250 per year on their hydro and gas bill, and that's not including the money they will save with the new furnace and hot water tank.

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