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Energy Matters: September 2020

Energy Matters: September 2020

As our sector continues to adjust to the “new normal” six months into the pandemic, safety procedures and new ways to interact with residents and staff remain top priority. At HSC Energy Services, our work must go on as many of you turn your mind to saving energy ahead of the winter heating season. In this issue, we check out a deep energy retrofit Ottawa Community Housing is conducting on four townhomes, look at the impacts of COVID-19 on utility pricing, usage patterns and incentive programs, and share resources you can use to help your residents lower their utility use. Stay safe and warm this fall, everyone!

In this issue:

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OCH Goes Prefabricated with Deep Energy Townhome Retrofit

Backfilled North side with insulation over the membrane and window wells

Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) is continuously investigating new processes and technologies to improve the energy performance of its portfolio and reduces its carbon footprint. For their latest project, they are working with Natural Resources Canada to complete a Prefabricated Exterior Energy Retrofit (PEER) at 197-203 Presland. The goal is to test-drive the feasibility of using prefabricated wall panels as part of a deep energy retrofit and renewal of four townhomes.

The PEER retrofit focuses on installing the panels on the outside of the townhomes to improve their overall building envelopes. This can be done at a lower cost than using custom-made products or altering internal living space. This approach builds off similar projects in the Netherlands, but has been adjusted to address Canadian climate and building design differences.

If the pilot proves successful, similar projects could be rolled-out across the OCH portfolio and other townhome communities across Ontario.  The result is a Net-Zero energy and Net-Zero GHG building.

Side of townhome
North side excavation with new weeping tile at footing and airsealing/waterproof membrane on foundation wall

The PEER approach involves the following steps:

  • Measuring the building with 3D laser scans
  • Designing large exterior super-insulated cladding panels
  • Manufacturing new walls and roof panels offsite
  • Replacing the natural furnace and hot water tank with Heat Pump hot water tank, furnace and energy recovery ventilator
  • Delivering and installing the panels onsite
  • Installing solar photovoltaic array

The benefits to this approach include:

  • Reducing time needed to renovate the buildings
  • Enhancing energy performance and lower/no utility costs thanks to much higher insulation, overall air-tightness and solar array
  • Decreasing tenant disruption
  • Lengthening the lifecycle due to renewal of the exterior and mechanical systems
  • Retaining the original floor space

Expected Results & Additional Improvements

Electrical boxes
New upgraded electrical service on West side of the building

OCH aims for a 90% energy reduction for space heating and 80% energy reduction for domestic hot water. They will also add space cooling to improve tenant comfort, and have net-positive electricity use by adding 34-kilowatt solar panels.

Since the prefabricated panels will significantly improve the building envelope’s air tightness and insulating value, there will be a lower demand for energy used on space heating. This reduction allows OCH to replace the mechanical systems with more efficient space and water heating technologies, such as switching to heat pumps. The improved building envelope allow the use of energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) which not only provide fresh air to the home, but extract heat from the exhaust air to heat the fresh air, greatly improving the efficiency. Other measures include an electrical upgrade, a new roof, and new windows/doors.

The project also provides an opportunity to address existing issues in the building, such as heat loss and water ingress, through the excavation and preparation work.

Project Status

After a slight delay due to the pandemic, the project began this spring. OCH has finished the electrical upgrade, which involved removing the overhead feed, switching to an underground feed, and increasing the supply by 100 amps in each unit to accommodate the solar panels and heat pumps. This month (in September), OCH began removing the natural gas equipment and replacing it with the heating and cooling heat pump and the domestic hot water hybrid heat pump system. The roof is being prepared by removing chimneys and building up shearwalls.  The below grade excavation and insulation for the envelope is nearly complete and the delivery and installation of the prefabricated panel will begin shortly. 

Maximizing its Investments

As Ontario’s second largest housing provider, OCH has 15,000 units across 100 high-rise and 60 townhome communities. Two thirds of OCH’s portfolio is over 50 years old, and with a 10,000-person wait list in Ottawa, OCH is under pressure to both retain and redevelop existing units as well as create new units. Piloting a deep energy retrofit, such as this PEER project, will help OCH maximize its investments by drastically cutting utility consumption and operating costs while extending the lifecycle of the buildings.

Utility Changes Amid Covid-19: Pricing, Usage Patterns and Incentive Programs

When the pandemic began, many Ontarians stayed home or shifted to work-from-home roles. The impact of COVID-19 on residential energy consumption was immediate – from March to April, residential electricity use increased by 14%, even as Ontario’s overall energy consumption dropped 10-12% as business and manufacturing slowed.

Infographic from IESO detailing impact of covid-19 on electricity use
Source: Independent Electricity System Operator

The Province temporarily moved to a single electricity rate to help customers with their utility costs. However, since COVID-19 hit, natural gas pricing has been volatile and increased for those paying market rates. At the same time, many utility incentive programs across Ontario were shutdown, with some programs cancelled entirely.

Significant uncertainty remains around utility pricing fluctuations and the future of existing relief and incentive programs. Moving ahead now with an energy project, if possible, can help reduce your exposure to the utility pricing and usage impacts we have seen during the pandemic.

Current Incentive Programs

Worker with safety gear installing insulation.

Currently, electricity incentive programs are operating under an Interim Framework though there are fewer programs offered now than before the pandemic began. Fortunately, programs for social housing are not drastically affected.

They include:

  • The Home Assistance and Home Winterproofing Programs: While these  were halted temporarily in the spring, they are running again. Note that there are some  delays being resolved as representatives reschedule and catch-up on in-suite installations.
  • Gas and electricity retrofit programs: While these were not impacted by the pandemic, they are under review ahead of the 2021-2024 period. The Ontario Energy Board has confirmed the gas retrofit program will continue as-is for 2021, but there could be changes to the overall suite of gas programs in 2022 when a new framework takes effect.
    • For electricity, Save on Energy Retrofit program projects that were pre-approved by local hydro companies before May 1, 2019 now have until June 30, 2021 to complete thanks to a recent extension.
    • Save on Energy Retrofit projects submitted after April 1, 2019, or that were not pre-approved by local hydro companies by May 1, 2019, have to be in-service by December 31, 2021, and any new Retrofit projects must receive pre-approval by December 31, 2020. Note that the IESO recommends that applications be submitted by the end of October to ensure there is sufficient time to obtain pre-approval ahead of this December 31, 2020 deadline. The project must be completed by December 31, 2021.

Looking Ahead

As you consider projects, it’s worth noting that the current incentive programs fall under guiding frameworks that run to the end of 2020. The Province is developing the next set of frameworks to guide utility programs in the 2021-2024 period and has conducted public consultations to inform this process.

HSC recognizes that our sector has significant energy saving potential given that so many of our buildings are aging and inefficient, and that incentive programs are particularly valuable for housing providers with limited funds. To that end, HSC submitted this letter to the Province on electricity programs on behalf of our sector. Our feedback was informed by discussions with our Energy Services Stakeholder Advisory Group and engagements with providers and Service Managers around the province. HSC will continue to advocate for our sector and engage the Province to help ensure that utility incentive programs are available and responsive to the needs of housing providers.

Engaging Residents on Energy Conservation – Posters for Download

Vampire holding power cord. Electricity savings tip: reduce "vampire power" remember to unplug electronics or use a smart power bar to save up to 10% electricity use.

As the cold weather approaches and we start to spend more time inside, our buildings’ energy and water consumption is likely to increase. In buildings with electric baseboard heating, which makes up about half of our sector, in-suite energy use can account for as much as 70% of a building’s total energy use. Comprising up to 25% of total energy use, tenant plug load, such as from electronics, lamps, and appliances, can further add to the in-suite impacts on your building energy consumption.

An important component to any energy saving strategy is to engage residents on their energy awareness and sustainable behaviours. Offering friendly reminders to residents that their small conservation behaviours can have big impacts can be helpful in limiting energy and water waste.


Below you can click to download energy and water savings posters from our HSC’s Community Champions program. Feel free to customize them as you like and post them around your buildings to encourage sustainable habits in your communities.

Review Your Utility Use Ahead of the Winter: Login to UMP

Natural gas use: year to year performance sample chart

As you turn on your heating systems for the winter, it’s helpful to review your energy and water use trends in the Utility Management Program to see if your equipment needs tweaks or replacement. UMP accounts for differences in weather each year so you can view an apples-to-apples comparison of your building utility performance over time and as we head into the cold months.

Log in to UMP to view your latest UMP dashboards and Gas, Electricity, and Water reports. If you’re not sure how to interpret your data, contact us – we’d be happy to help!

Other Topics? If you’d like to suggest a topic or want a one-on-one review with HSC staff, please contact us!

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