Earlier this month a coalition of environmental advocacy groups headlined by the Pembina Institute released a set of 10 demands directed towards the federal and provincial governments regarding the construction industry. The group says these changes are necessary if Canada is to reach its overly-ambitious (some might say impossible) 2030 targets under the Paris climate change agreement.
While this energy policy manifesto covers many aspects of residential and commercial buildings, the item most likely to affect current homeowners is its call for “universal benchmarking and home energy labelling across the country.” In other words, mandatory energy audits. While new homes across Canada may feature “Energy Star” federal government certification or similar programs, this new proposal goes much, much further by making an energy audit a requirement for every house to be sold, including older dwellings.
Mandatory pre-sale energy audits are being promoted as a harmless bit of information for home buyers and sellers. “It’s just another way for a home to be valued,” Karen Tam Wu of the Pembina Institute told the Canadian Press. That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another: This will become yet another time-consuming and costly requirement laid at the feet of harried home owners. Alongside all the other myriad legal, financial and practical issues that must be sorted out prior to listing a house, you may soon have to add the need to arrange a bothersome home energy audit to the list.
Energy audits are being promoted as a harmless bit of information for home buyers and sellers
If governments follow up on this demand, the impact will be felt by everyone who owns a house. And with audits typically priced at $400 to $600, this is not an insignificant obligation (although rebates sometimes cover part of the cost). This burden will inevitably fall hardest on modest-income homeowners. Mandatory energy audits will also punish owners of older, less energy-efficient homes. If you own a heritage home today, be warned that your house will become harder to sell in the future, as disclosure of energy costs becomes yet another item to be obsessed over by prospective home buyers along with local schools, commuting routes and potential neighbours.
While the notion of mandatory energy audits is just at the lobbying stage nationally, for Ontario residents it is soon to become a harsh reality. As laid out in the province’s current climate change plan, beginning in 2019: “energy audits [will] be required before a new or existing single-family home can be listed for sale, and the energy rating will be included in the real estate listing.”
Ontario has promised to pay the full cost of these audits: an expense of approximately $125-million per year. But this commitment only covers the first two years of the program. Anyone planning to sell their house after 2020 may end up having to shoulder the full or partial cost. That’s because the money to cover these free audits is supposed to come from the province’s share of income taxed from the province’s cap-and-trade program. If revenue from cap-and-trade disappoints, someone else is going to have to pick up the tab. Who might that be?
There are plenty of other unexplained aspects of this plan
Beyond uncertainty about the cost of Ontario’s “free” audits, there are plenty of other unexplained aspects of this plan. How often will audits have to be performed? Will a 10-year old audit suffice when it comes time to sell your house, or will you need to get a new one before every sale? It is hardly a stretch to imagine mandatory energy audits metastasizing in unexpected and unpleasant ways, as complicated bureaucratic programs are wont to do.
Given that Ontario will be the first to go ahead with this idea, it seems particularly relevant to consider the fate of an earlier provincial environmental audit program: Ontario’s Drive Clean boondoggle. This mandatory vehicle emissions test began in 1999. Since then, air quality in Ontario has improved dramatically, but for reasons entirely unrelated to Drive Clean.
A 2012 report by the Ontario Auditor General found that in addition to being irrelevant, Drive Clean was also riddled with inconsistencies, undesirable outcomes and opportunities for fraud. Rather than helping the environment, its main outcome was to force most car owners to pay for an emissions test that had absolutely no impact on air pollution. It did, however, produce a healthy surplus for government. Now the same people who designed this ineffective program want to get inside your home as well.
Canadians are already well supplied with complicated, expensive and irrelevant environmental programs. We certainly don’t need another.