WWF-Canada Blog:
Climate


Why “retro” is the craze that should sweep the nation

Part one of a National Sweater Day blog series:  Three practical Canadian solutions for saving energy and the climate. 

Some of us might pine for the glory days of bell-bottom pants and polyester shirts, but if I could choose one retro craze to sweep across Canada, I’d pick the retrofitting craze. If there were easier and more affordable ways to save money and energy by making our older homes and buildings more efficient, I think we’d all be going “retro.”

The “stuff” of going retro doesn’t sound particularly sexy.  We’re talking about insulating walls, roofs, and floors, replacing windows, and installing ventilation systems that recover heat. Is your heart pumping yet?

Man measuring the depth of insulation in a house loft or roof space A man measuring the depth of insulation in a house loft or roof space. Insulating your loft can save a significant amount of household heat loss and therefore help save energy and help combat climate change. © Global Warming Images / WWF-Canon

A man measuring the depth of insulation in a house loft or roof space. Insulating your loft can save a significant amount of household heat loss and therefore help save energy and help combat climate change. © Global Warming Images / WWF-Canon

Maybe not, but consider the impact. Just by modernizing the world’s lighting technology we could save $230 billion per year.  By taking insulation and ventilation solutions global, we could slash the planet’s energy demand for heating by more than half.

That’s big picture.  But look at what can be done on the ground.  Retrofit programs in Germany—which include high energy efficiency standards for all renovations as well as subsidies to support them—have resulted in more than 300,000 apartment buildings “going retro” every year.  This has created hundreds of thousands of green jobs (which have actually expanded in the wake of financial crisis).  And in Berlin alone, energy efficiency has improved by 26% 

And since we’re not talking about teleporter-technology here—these solutions exists!—the key to getting traction is setting the bar and then making it easy for people to reach it.  That could include things like tax incentives, special funds to drive “retro” investments, on-bill financing through utilities, and making free energy audits widely available.

Thermographic image of a residence house in New Haven, CT, USA, owned by Jeffrey Alexander and Morel Morton. This is to illustrate that structures, both residences and commercial, are some of the largest consumers of energy, especially in the heating and cooling of the structures. Image No: 242460 © National Geographic Stock /Tyrone Turner / WWF

Thermographic image of a residence house in New Haven, CT, USA, owned by Jeffrey Alexander and Morel Morton. This is to illustrate that structures, both residences and commercial, are some of the largest consumers of energy, especially in the heating and cooling of the structures.
© National Geographic Stock /Tyrone Turner / WWF

In Canada, depending on where you live, some of these programs already exist.  Sadly, some have also been shut down. But not for lack of public interest.

The federal government’s popular ecoENERGY Retrofit program used to provide grants to help Canadians make their homes more energy efficient before funding ended in early 2012. About 640,000 Canadian households participated.  The average homeowner got $1,500 to invest in retrofits which allowed them to save  roughly 20 per cent on their energy bills.  So we know this stuff works in Canada, when we invest in it. 

In the absence of good federal programs like ecoENERGY, Canadians still have some helpful “retro” options.  Folks in New Brunswick, for example, can take advantage of the Residential Energy Efficiency Program which offers up to $6,000 to help offset efficiency upgrade costs.

Local electrical utilities and municipal environment offices across the country are also good places to look for help. To find out where to go first, check out this national directory.

Of course, “going retro” isn’t going to solve climate change alone.  But making our homes and offices more efficient and energy smart will get us closer to the world we all want – one where climate change is no longer a threat.

The fact that it also helps cut our energy bills…that’s a nice bonus.  (Spend that extra cash on some vintage bell bottoms? Your call.)

Don’t forget National Sweater Day is February 6th.  Put on a sweater, turn down your thermostat, and join the conversation: #sweaterday.