Community-led programmes that use thermal-imaging to show where heat is escaping from peoples’ homes is one of the best ways to motivate homeowners to invest in home energy efficiency upgrades, according to new PICS-supported research.
Some 63 percent of energy use in Canadian homes is from space heating, so heat loss hurts peoples’ wallets as well as the environment. In British Columbia, much of our heating comes from natural gas, which produces greenhouse gases (GHGs) when combusted, as well as upstream in its supply chain. To prevent dangerous climate change, decarbonising our heating and cooling systems is one of our major tasks, as well energy conservation to reduce reliance on existing fossil-fuel energy sources.
Thermal imaging cameras produce digital infrared images that show relative temperature differences—thus identifying problems such as heat loss from floors, windows, walls and roofs, dangerously hot electrical connections and areas of water leakage and damage. It is not a new technique, but it has not been widely taken up by homeowners in British Columbia outside a few areas.
However, researchers with the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and funded by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, wanted to identify the attributes of thermal-imaging programmes in the United Kingdom and North America that had succeeded in getting homeowners to retrofit their homes.
The researchers produced a report out last week that shows that combining visual evidence with incentives and community support leads to the best outcomes.
One example of best practice actually comes from BC. In the Eagle Island neighbourhood of West Vancouver, the community organised meetings on the subject. This resulted in 26 of the 31 homeowners retrofitting their houses after receiving a thermal energy audit along with information about financial rebates.
For this neighbourhood, the average carbon footprint of the retrofitted homes dropped from 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year to 1.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result of the intervention. If similar savings were achievable elsewhere in the province and the country, this would have a significant impact on our greenhouse gas emissions, as residential housing produces roughly 19 per cent of Canada’s total GHGs.
The same community-driven approach has since spread to 11 other neighbourhoods on the North Shore, Bowen Island and beyond, with more than 1,000 homes receiving thermal audits.
The researchers passed along their findings to the City of Vancouver, which in January adopted its own neighbourhood thermal-imaging programme.
“The numbers tell the story,” lead researcher Lisa Westerhoff says. “More people will address energy wastage when they see it happening in their own home, especially when their neighbours are also taking action.”
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.