6 Home Upgrades with the Best Returns

There are two main reasons people invest in home upgrades: to increase their enjoyment and quality of life, and to add resale value to the home. The home upgrades with the best returns are those that retain their value and provide a high return on investment, while also increasing your comfort and satisfaction. These 6 upgrades will help you get the most out of your budget.

New Windows

Replacing old windows will immediately boost curb appeal and save money on heating and cooling over time. Windows can account for as much as 30% of a home’s energy loss, mainly due to heat escaping through worn-out weatherproofing. Outdated windows also have less UV protection, which contributes to rising indoor temperature in the summer. New windows with proper sealing and low-E film will help reduce your heating and cooling bill.

Kitchen Upgrades

Of all the rooms in your home, the kitchen is likely to have the biggest impact on potential buyers. It also carries one of the highest remodeling bills. Regardless, kitchen upgrades generally have a high return on investment both in large and small-scale projects.

If you intend to put your house on the market in the near future, it’s worth updating to a contemporary design with quality finishes and fixtures. Budget-friendly upgrades, like new cabinet hardware and countertops, can have a big impact. However, even the most cutting-edge kitchen will look outdated in 10 to 15 years, so be aware that the investment will depreciate over time.

Interior or Exterior Paint

It’s amazing what a coat of paint can do. Giving your walls a makeover can transform the look of a room. To make the most of this investment, choose subtle paint colours with a wide appeal rather than the trendy tones of the time. Neutral colours help potential home buyers envision their existing furniture and décor in the house.

Bathroom Upgrades

Bathrooms are second only to kitchens if you want maximize your return, and the modest square footage of most bathrooms makes them far more affordable to upgrade. Simple changes, like a new faucet, sink, or toilet, can greatly improve the room’s appeal. Replacing broken or outdated tilework is essential in creating a fresh, clean look.

New Roof

The roof is one of the most visible parts of the home. A ramshackle roof can greatly decrease a home’s curb appeal, as buyers know they’ll have to shoulder the cost of a replacement. Adding a new roof will make the house more appealing on the market and protect homeowners from costs associated with leaks. Steel roofs are a particularly good investment here in Canada, since they are more weather-resistant and require less maintenance than asphalt roof tiles.

New Furnace

Space heating accounts for 63% of energy use in the average Canadian home. Trading an old unit for a new, energy-efficiency furnace can increase the value of your home and decrease monthly energy costs. A new furnace is one of the home upgrades with the best returns, and with proper maintenance, a top-performance furnace will deliver comfort for 25 years or longer.

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.

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.

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.

Teeing Off for MS – Our Annual Golf Tournament

Once again AtlasCare was pleased to be the lead sponsor for what’s become a vitally important annual fund raising golf tournament for the MS Society of Canada, Peel-Dufferin Chapter. The event was held on September 13 at the Royal Ontario Golf Club. We enjoyed spectacular weather and had a great turnout of golfers. We raised a total of $60,500 for this very important cause.

We would like to thank our many sponsors including lunch sponsor – Aecon Construction, breakfast sponsor – Lennox, cart sponsor – NPL Canada, on-course event sponsor – York and our raffle and silent auction sponsor – Harbinger. We would like to thank everyone who participated, including all of our hole sponsors, who help send a collective message of support and hope for people living with MS.

A Message About Customer Service

Anyone who experienced it will not be surprised to hear that the summer of 2016 was the hottest since 2005, even though old guys like me have trouble remembering back that far.

Constant demand over a sustained period of time tends to expose any weaknesses within a company’s processes. In our case, over the past couple of years we had adopted some new processes that worked well during periods of slow demand but failed us when the heat came.

These processes made it too slow for us to respond and were too inflexible to enable staff to make adjustments on the fly.

So, to those of you who experienced the weaknesses in our processes, I offer my sincere apologies.

The good news is that we now have a clear understanding of the issues that impair our ability to deliver great customer care and are committed to fixing these issues and being ready to go before the heating rush comes with the colder weather this fall. I’m pleased to let you know that Michael Grochmal has taken over direct responsibility for the Customer Care department and will personally handle any specific concerns.

I wanted to personally thank you again for your patience over the past few months.


Roger Grochmal
AtlasCare Heating + Cooling

Declining Dollar Drives Up Prices

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve likely noticed that the Canadian dollar has been experiencing a dramatic decline. As I write this, the dollar is currently sitting at 0.91 cents American. That means that one U.S. dollar is worth $1.09 Canadian.

While the dollar has seen some resurgence throughout the year, experts are predicting that the Canadian dollar will fall a further 10-15% by the end of 2014. If they are right, one U.S. dollar could soon be worth as much as $1.25 Canadian.

This means that we will all be feeling the hit in our pocketbooks throughout 2014, especially when buying products imported from the U.S.

Unfortunately, the heating and cooling industry will be amoung those most affected. While furnace, air conditioner and boiler manufacturers typically have Canadian headquarters, the actual manufacturing of HVAC equipment takes place almost exclusively in the United States and is exported to us. These manufacturers have already been hurt by the depressed state of the U.S. housing sector, and have increased their prices in order to regain lost profitability.

Our suppliers have already announced 6-10% price increases and warned us that further hikes are on the way. Due to the combined impact of unfavourable exchange rates and a depressed housing sector, we are very concerned that the cost of equipment could rise as much as 20% this year.

We are working closely with our partners, including Goodman, York and Weil-McLain, to minimize the impact of these price increases on our customers as much as possible.

The Buck Stops Here

So far our best strategy has been to reorganize our warehouse and stock up on inventory before the price increases came into effect. While quantities last, we will not be raising our prices.

We will continue to do our best to stay ahead of the curve and find ways to keep our prices reasonable without compromising our service. However, I highly recommend that if any of your heating or cooling equipment is over 15 years old and needs to be replaced, now is the time to contact us.

If you have any questions, please call our office and we will be very happy to help you.


I recently got a call from a longtime customer asking me some questions about a boiler that a door-to-door salesman was trying to get him to rent. The homeowner told the salesman that he was under a maintenance plan with AtlasCare and that he was very happy with the service. The sales rep then assured the homeowner that AtlasCare did their installations, after sales service and maintenance. The homeowner trusted his instincts and felt the salesman was too glib and the offer was too good. He declined to sign on the spot and told the salesman that he was going to call a friend, namely, me.

I asked him a few questions and found out that the offer meant:

  • The homeowner would pay no money up front.
  • He would be locked into a a monthly rental fee for a minimum of 5 years that would effectively pay for the entire cost of the unit.
  • He could buy the boiler out after that for an undisclosed amount.

In a nutshell, the homeowner would be on the hook for almost twice the value of the boiler. I advised him that we do not do any work for this company, neither service nor installation. In fact, AtlasCare DOES NOT do any work on behalf of other companies at all. When customers choose to work with us, they can rest assured they are getting our people and the products we stand behind. No exceptions.

Further investigation reveals that these “door knocking” companies who use high-pressure tactics to rent water heaters, furnaces and air conditioners are the number two source of complaints to the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services with over 3,000 complaints in 2012. It has become so bad that the Ontario government has tabled legislation to reign in these bad actors. They prey on seniors on fixed incomes and people with limited language skills. They misrepresent themselves as representatives of existing service providers, including AtlasCare.

The sales people are highly skilled and operate on a high pressure straight commission basis. That means homeowners are being asked to make a decision on the spot committing them to payments of anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or more without an opportunity to scrutinize their contract or seek advice separately. Often these companies want to replace something that is operating perfectly well and has a healthy life expectancy. By focusing on the monthly payment, they minimize the significant financial impact it can have on someone.

You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again… if the offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Caveat Emptor… Buyer Beware!

Emergency Repair vs Maintenance (Part 1)

Q. Emergency Repair vs Maintenance. Which is more important?

When you have no heat or no cooling, would you be prepared to wait for service because our technician was doing maintenance routine work for other customers? The answer we hear categorically is that you are not. Our customers want and expect fast emergency service, and that is exactly what AtlasCare delivers.

At AtlasCare, we are focused on delivering world-class service to our customers in the GTA. We want to provide same day repairs. This is almost impossible to do if we are tied up doing maintenance when we could be responding to your emergency. The solution is to do your tune up outside of the peak repair seasons of June and July for air conditioners and October and November for furnaces and boilers.

There is no magic as to when air conditioners should be maintained.  As an industry we have done a pretty good job convincing homeowners to get their air conditioners tuned up in the spring before the weather gets hot and for furnaces and boilers in the fall before it gets cold. Your Toronto furnace or air conditioner is a lot like a person. in that it needs regular, yearly checkups to make sure everything is running smoothly. The fact of the matter is that it can be done at any time as long as it gets done once a year. With our cars we get our tuneups done at discrete intervals not just when we are about to take a long trip. This is no different.

This spring you can start up your air conditioner on your own without waiting for our technician. Just make sure the winter cover has been removed (if you have one) and the furnace filter is clean and you’re good to go! If you are still worried about breakdowns, consider one of our protection plans with low monthly fees.