Letters from 2025, Part III: Trudy

May 26, 2021

Retired Guelph real estate salesperson Trudy Dickinson sits in the shade of a vine-covered yard in the unseasonable late-May heat. I asked for her thoughts on the triple-whammy of energy efficiency, rising utility bills, and climate change.

“Prior to retiring, I did my best to explain to buyers that decisions to incorporate solar, or other energy retrofits, in building a new home, or renovating an older home, should not be based solely on the immediate benefit, monetary or otherwise. Rather, that decision should also be a respectful consideration as to how we can help our children's generation. We have a moral obligation to do so.”

Chez TrudyTrudy is a prime spokesperson for sustainability and supporting local enterprise. The roof of her home is covered with solar panels from local manufacturer Canadian Solar, installed by local installer Guelph Solar. She took on the project in the days of the Green Energy Act and the MicroFIT (Feed-In Tariff) program. Things have changed since then, she notes. “Fortunately now the cost for installation has decreased dramatically, making it more accessible.”

Trudy adds, “Buyer interest in energy efficiency has been building for a while. There is an increasing number of buyers who are wanting, even demanding, energy-efficient homes. Those buyers have learned of the advantages through programs such as PACE.” Such programs provide a double benefit, helping to deal with both rising energy costs and climate change.

Trudy is referring to the way that PACE helps homeowners use less and make more - not just energy, but water too. The program finances upgrades that reduce energy consumption, like triple-glazed windows, weatherstripping, and better insulation. It also can finance solar arrays like the one on Trudy’s roof, helping customers to take a “grow your own” approach with electricity. The same goes for rainwater harvesting systems like those from locally-owned STORMWELL RWH, which provide soft water for laundry, toilet flushing, outdoor watering and cleaning.  Naturally soft water requires less detergents when cleaning and avoids scale build up on fixtures. This cuts water bills while reducing the amount of salt that goes into Guelph’s wastewater system and eventually the Speed River.

PACE also helps with “fuel switching”, allowing homeowners to swap climate-polluting natural gas furnaces for clean electric heat pumps - or to install a charger in their garage that lets them switch from an internal combustion engine car to an electric vehicle.

Buyers are interested in value. An efficient home is attractive, but if it hasn’t been retrofitted yet, that can actually be an opportunity for a buyer to gain a big value boost right after they take possession. A family could buy a new home, and hire a contractor to begin a retrofit project immediately after the closing date. The family could then go on vacation (pandemic permitting), with the intent to return when the work is complete. The house they move into would be even better than the one they fell in love with during the showing.

As people become more concerned about rising energy bills and climate change, local real estate boards and organizations like the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) can use their websites to build awareness of solutions. This page on the CMHC site is an example, offering a rebate on the mortgage loan insurance premium for energy-efficient homes, whether new or resale. “To see the numbers in action will dispel any myths buyers/sellers may have had,” Trudy points out.

Realtors can help. “I believe real estate salespeople can educate a buyer on an energy-efficient home. Clients have a relationship with the salesperson they chose. Because of that, it is absolutely imperative that realtors upgrade their education in order to be sincere advisors to buyers and sellers.” Groups like Our Energy Guelph can help, by offering educational courses to real estate salespeople. 

“Realtors have an obligation to their clients (both sellers and buyers) to be aware of current energy efficiency retrofits and rebates, to keep their clients informed,” says Trudy. “So often the homeowner is busy with day-to-day activities, so they may not be fully aware of some of the incentives that are being offered, so we can help.

“Upon our request, a homeowner will provide us with a list of improvements on their home, such as increased insulation, energy efficient windows, solar, rainwater harvest, etc, then it is up to us to outline the benefits and cost efficiency, when we list that property for sale, so buyers are informed.”

For a seller, a PACE project can spruce up a home and make it more attractive. As an example, a PACE-retrofitted home reduces the owner’s exposure to high and rising rates, exchanging them - at least in part - for a fixed principal and interest cost.

Trudy also sees benefits for realtors - or anyone else - that owns rental property. “They would respond favourably to programs that incentivize energy-efficient retrofits. Bottom line, the savings will be inherited by the tenants whose utility costs will be reduced, or in the case of a landlord paying those utilities, it increases their profit long term.”

To Trudy, the real challenge is not technology or construction skills. “I have found throughout my life, the most difficult thing to change is people's minds, as opposed to the physical change of renovating or building. It is their perception that first needs to change and that is done with education.”

Note: If you’ve been following this series, you’ll notice that we’ve changed course slightly. Rather than presenting imaginary characters, we are asking real members of our community to envision how a successful PACE program will affect their lives.