Energy Changes on the Horizon

Much is being reported in the press these days about the rising cost of energy. There is talk about renewable energy versus fossil fuel versus nuclear generated electricity; the merits of electricity versus natural gas and electric vehicles versus combustion engines. Don’t forget climate change and carbon reduction.

There are a lot of “versus” on this song sheet, and the changes in these major areas will have profound impacts on our future.

Two things jump out at me: first, change is necessary, and it’s coming like a freight train. It is illogical and irresponsible of us to stick to our old ways of doing things. If we are knowledgeable about our options, we’re in a better place to make smart decisions about our energy use. And, second, governments at every level and of every political stripe have a dog in the fight. They are going to be involved in every step of the process, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. They are stumbling around like bulls in a china shop, and they don’t always get it right because they don’t always consider the concerns of key stakeholders. It will be critical that we make our voices heard to best represent the interests of our customers.

Amongst individuals (not industry), the biggest consumers of energy in our day-to-day lives are vehicles and buildings. Cars appear to be heading towards being self-driving and our choices for energy source may get limited very quickly in that space.

That leaves buildings as a key area for change. The biggest consumer of energy in most buildings is the HVAC system and that is true for your home. This is something AtlasCare has a vested interest in, and where we hope to drive change in the right direction. Our provincial government is looking to introduce mandatory energy labeling for homes so that a potential buyer of your home will know how efficient it is on an overall basis. This edition of An Engineer’s Opinion is dedicated to the notion of how to “future proof” your home to make it more livable and cost efficient to enhance its long term value.

Heat Pumps – The Best of Both Worlds

Much has been said in the debate about electricity versus natural gas. The present government’s position is that they would like to get rid of natural gas.

I don’t know when Ontario will drop natural gas, if ever, but it begs the question of which fuel you should use. After much consideration of the pros and cons, I made the decision in my own home to go dual fuel: an ultra-high efficiency heat pump along with a 98% high efficiency furnace. I now have the best of both worlds for the foreseeable future.

There is no question that the Ontario government sees heat pumps as the solution. One of the many reasons we recently took on the Lennox product line was to get access to their best-in-class heat pump technology. The XP25 is without a doubt the best air-to-air heat pump in the market. It uses inverter technology to provide variable capacity without any energy penalty and operates at the lowest sound levels in the market.

Home planning these days requires even more consideration than ever when it comes to the future, and the XP25’s cost savings are tough to beat. When stacked up against 10 SEER, 23.5 SEER delivers $390 in savings over five years, $780 over ten years, and $1,170 over twenty. Those numbers are tough to argue, especially when many homeowners are taking the time to consider such savings before purchasing any items that consume notable amounts of energy.

The XP25 is also capable of adjusting heating and cooling outputs in the tiniest of increments; as little as just 1%. That degree of preciseness and efficiency confirms Lennox’s ongoing position as an industry leader. I have all confidence we’ll be selling more of these advanced units down the road.

Want to learn more? You can read about the province’s Climate Change Action Plan here.

Big Change Means Big Value

The HVAC industry has tended to live at the bottom of the value chain for so long because there was no big energy penalty for not improving efficiencies.

The government’s efficiency goals as laid out in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change are necessarily ambitious: lower carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Some businesses will view this as challenging, but I am excited by the ongoing innovation that will result.

Things have changed materially for our industry in a very short period of time, and increasing public awareness is also playing an important role. In the wake of rising energy costs and climate change, more and more consumers are demanding products that will do the job without wasting energy. We all know that cars and trucks are major sources of carbon emissions, but our homes and businesses are also contributing to this issue. It is everyone’s problem and we all have a responsibility to contribute to the solution through our actions and efficiency choices.

AtlasCare now has access to furnaces that are up to 98.7% efficient and air conditioners up to 25 SEER from Lennox. These are industry leading numbers and I am very happy to offer these products to our customers. They do cost more, but deliver so much greater value than your basic furnace or air conditioner, thanks to greater efficiency, better comfort, and whisper quiet operation. Top of the line HVAC equipment is also a key factor in a home’s resale value. Spending more upfront can be trying for some, but consumers are understanding the necessity and the benefits.

All products evolve through technological advances and it is fascinating to speculate where the HVAC industry will be in as little as 10-20 years.

Rental Water Heaters: Challenging the Status Quo

Most HVAC appliances are now very efficient, and water heaters remain the last bastion of opportunity for energy improvement.

We are seeing high efficiency water tanks and even heat pump water heaters enter the market. I have one in my home. The big challenge in this area is rental programs: owners of big water heater rental portfolios have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in your home. Upgrading to more energy efficient units isn’t going to happen in this environment – you need to own your own tank so you can control the cost of operating that appliance in your home and to ensure the most advanced product.

Rebates: The Clock is Ticking!

One thing is common among just about all homeowners: the need to be more energy efficient in the face of increasing costs. There is also the obligation to conserve nonrenewable energy sources for the sake of the planet and future generations. We all have many financial responsibilities these days: mortgage, education, insurance, taxes, utilities, groceries…the list goes on and on. Factor in optional costs like vacations, entertainment, and restaurant meals, and most people are looking at a substantial portion of their take home pay gone. Under these circumstances, it is really unfortunate to spend money needlessly due to energy inefficiency at home.

Upgrading to more modern and effective equipment is the obvious solution, but the upfront costs are challenging for some consumers. Fortunately, rebates help to reduce the sting of such renovation and maintenance costs. Ontario’s Heating and Cooling Incentive provides the financial assistance and incentive many homeowners need in order to commit to upgrades. Rebates have been with us for 10 years now so they have the appearance of being perpetual. Unfortunately, that is not the case: it is important to check whether these rebate programs have expiration dates. It would be unfortunate to lose out on such deals when you really need to make important home efficiency decisions.

The current round of rebates is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2017. I have no expectation that they will be renewed in their present form since most of the important energy improvements have been legislated into existence and incentives are no longer required. Future rebates will be focused around heat pumps and electrically heated homes, and I expect that they will be considerable. The clock is ticking and we anticipate a backlog as the deadline nears: if you anticipate needing new HVAC equipment, reach out to us as soon as possible to get ahead of the rebate deadlines.

More Control = More Comfort

One of the big revolutions in the HVAC industry is around thermostats and controls in general.


The old round or rectangular thermostat with two switches and a mercury bulb are real dinosaurs. In fact, they’re being changed out with such volume that we have an industry recycling program to recover the mercury from old thermostats.

Unlike some home changes, it is doubtful that anyone will miss these old thermostat controls. Thermostats first appeared in the 1830s as a way of regulating the temperatures in chicken incubators. While they helped provide environmental control in a manner that no doubt seemed revolutionary back then, technology moves on and we now have something much better.

The new controls are more precise, more intuitive and offer much better control of your HVAC system. They can deliver improved comfort through temperature averaging and be set in energy saving mode automatically when you leave your home. With hydro working on an on-peak/mid-peak/off-peak basis, it is now easier to cut back on energy use during the most expensive times. A sophisticated thermostat makes it almost effortless to attain those savings and you now don’t even have to be home to do the programming. Pretty cool.

The S30 iComfort thermostat from Lennox and the thermostats from ecobee are industry leaders, saving energy and money for homes and businesses alike. Fun fact: did you know the original ecobee prototype was developed in the AtlasCare boardroom by entrepreneur Stuart Lombard? Frustrated by the fact that the current products required an energy calculator to use successfully, innovators like Stuart harnessed the power and resources of the internet to fashion a product that made use of the latest data to regulate power usage. Today smart thermostats are an increasingly common part of homes and will soon be the exclusive form of temperature regulators as the modern house becomes more and more sophisticated.

Working From Heights

Working off the ground has always meant taking additional care, and those men and women who regularly perform this duty are diligent when it comes to safety. However, accidents still occur and the government of Ontario has recently launched new legislation that it hopes will curb the number of injuries and deaths. It governs how workers will conduct themselves when working on ladders, roofs or any place where they are not on the ground.

Workers affected by these new rules include ones that use a travel restraint system, a fall restricting system, a fall arrest system, a safety belt, a work belt, or a safety net. The legislation consists of 16 recommendations that will increase these workers’ observance of occupational health and safety laws. The aim is to educate through various learning campaigns, including online portals, web apps, and multimedia campaigns.

This legislation has an impact in the HVAC industry. I personally know of a situation where a worker fell off a homeowner’s roof while installing an air conditioner, and died. Very tragic indeed. The cost of training and outfitting employees to work above ground along with the attendant liability has become so great that AtlasCare has made the decision to phase out of doing this work by the end of the summer. While rooftop models have some repair advantages and are “out of sight, out of mind,” only a handful of homeowners actually have air conditioners that are not on the ground. We will work with our customers who are in this situation to help them find a solution. I believe it is only a matter of time before most residential HVAC contractors will refuse to install and/or service units that are not on the ground. While it is unfortunate that consumers will have less choice in this matter going forward, it is entirely understandable, given the situation.

Keep Those Dryer Vents Clear

Home energy efficiency is important to everyone and it pays to make sure that you are not wasting power. A big energy consumer in the home is the clothes dryer, and its cost to homeowners can add up. While you can take steps to prevent excessive dryer usage (e.g. wait until you have a proper sized load before using the machine), your apparently reliable appliance can still be costing you more than necessary due to a lack of proper maintenance.

One of the best things you can do to prevent this is to have the dryer vent cleaned annually. This can be done as part of a duct cleaning or on its own. We encourage customers to clean their ducts and vents at least every five years, but do it more frequently than that if your appliance gets a lot of use. You can also opt to have it done every year, especially if your family is sensitive to indoor air quality. A properly maintained dryer vent will prevent the circulation of such pollutants as mold, animal dander, and dead skin. Members of your family with allergies or asthma will benefit greatly from this extra bit of home care.

There is also a potential safety issue here as clogged dryer vents are a fire hazard. You can help to prevent this danger by adding an annual vent cleaning to your list of home safety steps. Lint accumulates inside the dryer through regular use and acts as an insulator for the motor, causing it to overheat and burn. The city of Vancouver experienced 13 fires in 2015 caused by clogged dryer vents, which led to over $200,000 worth of damage. On a related note, do not ever operate your dryer while sleeping or leave the house while it is in operation.