Heat pump might help B.C. residents save utility costs, but do your research first

Unit can eliminate need for air conditioner, reduce your household’s environmental footprint

Susie Rieder, a spokeswoman for BC Hydro, who uses a heat pump to heat and cool her Burnaby, B.C. home, is shown in a handout photo.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Susie Rieder

As energy prices soar and consumers look for ways to save on their utility bills, experts say Canadians should consider whether installing a heat pump could be part of the solution.

A heat pump is an electrically driven device that looks a bit like an air conditioner and can be used for both heating and cooling.

In the winter, an air-source heat pump extracts heat from the outside (there is always some heat in the air, even on a cold day) and “pumps” it inside. In summer, the cycle is reversed and the heat pump takes heat out of the indoor air and moves it outside.

The technology, which has been around for a long time, can make for an energy-efficient alternative to other types of home heating systems, such as a natural gas furnace or electric baseboards.

It can also eliminate the need for a conventional air conditioner and reduce your household’s environmental footprint if you’re replacing a heating unit that uses natural gas, propane or furnace oil.

“Heat pumps are great because they provide that year-round, efficient cooling in the summer and heating in the winter,” said Susie Rieder, a spokeswoman for BC Hydro who uses a heat pump at her own Burnaby, B.C. townhouse.

Rieder, who relied on electric baseboards before getting a heat pump, says her heating bills have declined about 40 per cent since making the switch. In addition, her heat pump negates the need for a separate air conditioning system.

“The summers are getting hotter,” Rieder said. “Especially in places like the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, you see a lot of people using those portable air conditioners – which can be pretty inefficient and costly. So getting a heat pump installed can really be helpful there as well.”

Many public utilities, such as BC Hydro, are encouraging heat pump adoption as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and many homeowners who have made the switch say they’ll never go back.

But in general, Canadian adoption has been slow. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are only about 700,000 installed air-source heat pumps in this country. By contrast, 35 per cent of Canadian households, or 5.1 million homes, are currently heated with natural gas furnaces.

A recent survey by BC Hydro found a general lack of knowledge among homeowners about heat pumps, with almost a quarter of British Columbians saying they are unlikely to consider installing a heat pump and 30 per cent of those respondents saying the reason is because they do not know enough about the devices.

Part of the problem is that earlier iterations of heat pumps weren’t necessarily compatible with the Canadian climate. Because the ability of a heat pump to extract heat from the air declines as the temperature falls, having a backup heat source for harsh winters was often a necessity.

However, that’s changed in recent years as heat pump technology has advanced. Geoff Sharman, residential product manager, HVAC, for Mitsubishi Electric Canada, said certain types of heat pumps can now work in temperatures as low as -30 C. (Consumers can also choose ground-source heat pumps, which are more efficient in Canada because they take advantage of warmer and more stable ground temperatures, Natural Resources Canada says.)

“The heat pump market is growing,” Sharman said. “Really, (heat pumps) can provide heating for almost any-sized structure in Canada now. And as natural gas prices may rise in the future … a heat pump can be a good way to go.”

The upfront cost of a heat pump can be intimidating, with the average cost to buy and install a system being about $7,000 for small homes and about $16,000 for larger homes, according to BC Hydro. Experts say the exact type and size of heat pump you’ll need will depend on the size of your home, the climate where you live, how well your home is insulated and other factors.

In the same way, how much you might expect to save on your energy bills also varies depending on your local climate, what type of heating/cooling system you currently use, and what size and type of heat pump you buy. There are many online calculators, including one on the Natural Resources Canada website, that can help you estimate your potential cost savings.

Homeowners who make the switch to an electric heat pump from fossil fuel heating (natural gas, propane or oil) can also be eligible for rebates from the federal government, their local utility or province, or their municipality.

BC Hydro, for example, offers up to $3,000 in rebates for switching from a fossil fuel-based system, which can be combined with provincial and federal rebates for a total savings of up to $11,000 on heat pump cost and installation.

“You do need to get a professional involved,” Sharman said. “With all the rebates, you may end up paying only 15 to 20 per cent of what your system is worth. Who knows? But you do need that professional to go in there, size it all up, and tell you what programs are applicable to the product you’re looking at.”

Edmonton homeowner Shelly Robichaud, who replaced her gas furnace with an electric heat pump a couple of years ago, made the decision largely out of a desire to get her house off of natural gas.

She and her husband also have solar panels on their roof and produce their own electricity, with the result being that they’re marginally “net positive” on their yearly heating and electricity bills. (Last year, they actually made a $300 profit by selling the excess electricity they generate back onto the grid).

“I have been an environmentalist for as long as I can remember, so honestly that was the major factor in doing this,” Robichaud said. “You can come out ahead (financially), though.”

“I think with heat pumps, like everything else, people are afraid of new technology,” Robichaud added. “It takes the early adopters to go ahead with it first, and then others follow.”

Okanagan Valley: the best-known wine region in B.C.

The first vines were planted in B.C. in the 1800s, in the Okanagan

The Okanagan Valley produces a wide variety of flavourful wines.

Wine Growers B.C. separates the province into nine growing regions. The Okanagan Valley is the most fruitful and provides over 85 percent of B.C.’s wine production, said Laura Kittmer, communications director of Wine Growers B.C.

“The Okanagan is B.C.’s largest and most well-known region,” said Kittmer.

The valley is separated into five sub-regions, divided by the unique growing properties, climate and flavour of the grapes, said Kittmer.

The sub-region of Kelowna-Lake Country is B.C.’s original wine region and is home to the first grapevines planted in B.C., in 1859. The province’s oldest continually operating winery Calona Vineyard was established in 1932 and remains an Okanagan classic.

Other long-standing vineyards around Kelowna include Gray Monk Estate Winery, the Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Quails’ Gate Winery.

The province’s oldest Rieslings are found at Tantalus and Sperling Vineyards, popular vineyards in Kelowna’s backyard, said Kittmer.

She said that the mature vines produce an intense flavour that is unique to the well-established wineries.

Other than Rieslings, the Kelowna-Lake Country sub-region is known for producing light and fresh wine from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris vines.

The Northern Okanagan region around Kelowna is considered a cooler climate that produces lighter wines when compared to the South Okanagan, said Kittmer.

Kittmer said that when visiting a winery in B.C. it is best to “know before you go.”

Wine Growers B.C. has created the Wines of BC Explorer App, which facilitates wine-tour planning.

Kittmer said that the app features all of B.C.’s wineries and cideries and allows users to filter their searches based on preferences of grapes, food availability and their preferred wine-tasting activities.

“The Okanagan is becoming known globally,” said Kittmer, explaining that the flavourful wines produced in the Okanagan are being enjoyed across the world.

Passengers should check for ferry cancellations due to staffing issues: BC Ferries


BC Ferries cancellations

A BC Ferries spokesman is encouraging passengers to check online for possible service disruptions before heading to a terminal.

Dan McIntosh says several factors could lead to sailing cancellations on some routes, including employees being sick with COVID-19, seasonal cold and flu or severe winter storms.

Four sailings were cancelled yesterday on the Queen of Cowichan between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo due to staffing issues.

McIntosh says some sailings can still go ahead even when there’s a shortage of employees but that depends on whether that’s the captain, engineers or a cook.

He says fewer kitchen staff may mean less cafeteria service, but a ferry can’t sail without key staff.

McIntosh says BC Ferries has contingency plans in place as requested by the provincial health officer to deal with a rise in absenteeism as the Omicron variant sweeps through the province, and that includes cross-training staff to do other duties or deploying them to different locations.

“All it takes is for a few people to be sick, depending on the role they play on the ferries, and then all of a sudden that augments your schedules in a way that we’ve seen. And we can say, anecdotally, that because of the COVID situation, we know that that is impacting our staff.”

He says service notices are posted online as soon as possible when sailings won’t be going ahead as scheduled because so many customers are dependent on the service to get to work, school and medical appointments.

Passengers can check the BC Ferries website for any cancellations before heading to a terminal or register to get notices sent to their mobile device.

B.C. property assessments continue to rise; rural communities show highest increases


Data posted on the BC Assessment website this week shows market value as of July 1, 2021, increased more than 40 per cent in the communities of Hope, Port Alberni, Lake Cowichan and other rural areas, while Vancouver was up 16 per cent.

Condos and townhomes in Vancouver showed even lower assessed values at seven per cent, rising from an average assessed value of $711,000 in July 2020 to $759,000 last July.

“Most of the province is up, but when you get outside of the Lower Mainland, it’s the smaller towns where it’s up most it seems,” Bryan Murao, BC Assessment’s deputy assessor, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The 16 per cent increase in a single-family home in Vancouver raised the average value to almost $2 million, but assessed property values soared in suburban communities further east, he said.

Assessed single-family home values were up 39 per cent in Langley, 38 per cent in Abbotsford and 40 per cent in Chilliwack, Murao said.

“Throughout the rest of the province, what we saw is a lot of the single-family homes in smaller communities actually were up quite a bit as well,” he said.


Property value estimates in Hope, located about 150 kilometres east of Vancouver, rose 45 per cent, from $428,000 to $620,000 for the average price of a single-family home.

In Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island, property assessments were up 47 per cent and increased 48 per cent in Keremeos in the Interior.

BC Assessment officials appraise property values and are not economists, but Murao said during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic they are anecdotally seeing people leaving the cities to work remotely or retire in communities where homes are more affordable.

“There’s a little more of an opportunity for people to work from wherever now,” he said. “You don’t need to be in a specific place to work in a lot of jobs. I think that’s opened up opportunities for a lot of people to move throughout the province,” he said.

The movement of people to smaller communities appears to be a nationwide trend, said Murao.

The change has resulted in higher property values in B.C.’s smaller towns and rural areas as more people look for homes outside of the Vancouver area, he said.

The assessments indicate B.C.’s real estate market remains resilient and homeowners provincewide can expect higher assessment values for 2022.

The large increases in values don’t always mean corresponding property tax increases, Murao said.

“You can’t perfectly predict what the impact on property taxation is going to be, but for the most part really what’s important is how your property changed relative to other residential properties within that same taxing jurisdiction,” he said.

The total value of real estate in B.C. is about $2.44 trillion, an increase of nearly 22 per cent from 2021, he said.


What could happen to your property taxes if your assessment is lower, higher or similar to the average change for your property class?

An increase in your assessment does not necessarily mean an increase in your property taxes. Property tax changes are generally impacted by your assessment’s change relative to your community’s average assessment change.

This video explains what could happen to your property taxes if your assessment is lower, higher or similar to the average change for your property class.


Restaurant industry group happy with vaccine passport rollout so far


Passport generally a success?

Vaccination passports have generally been successful, according to the BC Restaurants and Food Services Association.

President and CEO Ian Tostenson says the first few weeks were not “smooth,” but most of the kinks have been worked out for most B.C. restaurants.

“Just trying to get the flow. The restaurant has the option to check the QR code at the front or at a table. They also had to figure out if they wanted to scan the code or just do a visual check. They had that option as well.”

“We lost a little bit of business because people would show up and had their QR code, but forgot their I.D. Or when a large group showed up and someone didn’t have it with them. Those things are getting better because of the awareness now about what you need to do. People are getting into the groove,” he said.

Tostenson says there has been some struggle with restaurants that didn’t want to do the program, but he says the government’s enforcement has helped to persuade them.

“What we were trying to accomplish here was trying to keep the industry open by using the vaccine care and I think that is going to work. It will also help people that are on the fence and say you know what I am going to get vaccinated so I can do some Christmas events and things.”

On October 8, Renegade Kitchen was ordered to shut down for non-compliance.

“It’s unfortunate, but just follow the protocols. There have been roughly 42 warning letters handed out and the government has had 800 complaints, but a lot of them are getting resolved, it was just a matter of orientation. I am pretty impressed about the way the government is doing this,” Tostenson added.

Wine and Beyond is officially open in Kelowna


One-of-a-kind liquor store

Wine and Beyond is a liquor store like you’ve never seen before and it’s officially open in Kelowna.

The private wine and spirits shop is the largest of its kind in B.C.

“We are 16 plus thousand square feet. We have 3,000 wines, 1,900 odd spirits and about 1,900 beers, coolers and ciders. The focus is on international and local. We are just trying to offer the best selection at the best price possible,” said Larry Moskal, director of marketing of Wine and Beyond.

The store has department experts that lead customers through the experience. “We have chosen international wine, starting with champagne, sparkling wine, France, Italy, Spain Portugal. We are trying to capture every wine-producing country in the world,” said Barb Wild wine manager.

There is also 600 bottles of B.C. wine.

“We have the discovery centre which will be a place where we can teach, share, taste and learn about wine. The key is helping people develop their sensory skills.”

Beer manager Josh Dobson says he is excited to share his passion and education with others.

“I have gone to school for brewing. It has been in my family for almost 30 years. My uncle was a beer master. It is my passion and what I love and so that is really what we try to bring with the rest of the team.”

Wine and Beyond is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. in the Dilworth Shopping Centre.

Forecast: B.C. home prices soar as supply falls


Typical B.C. home price will top $937,000 in 2022 – and $1.2 million in Metro – as housing starts plunge 12.8 per cent

Despite election pledges from every major political party to boost new home construction, B.C. housing starts will plunge 12.8 per cent next year, helping to drive average home prices to record highs across the province, according to a recent forecast from the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA.)

“With strong demand being supported by low mortgage rates and a rapidly rebounding post-COVID economy, the more significant concern is whether there will be an adequate supply of listings in the market,” said BCREA chief economist Brendon Ogmundson in a third quarter Housing Forecast Update released August 19.

BCREA is forecasting that the lack of supply coupled with high demand will see the average B.C. composite home price increase 16.6 per cent this year to $911,300 and a further 2.9 per cent in 2022 to $937,300.

In Greater Vancouver, the average home price will hit $1.2 million next year, up 2.1 per cent from 2021 and nearly $200,000 higher than two years earlier, the forecast said.

Using Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. forecast data, the BCREA said B.C. housing starts will plunge 12.8 per cent next year, compared to 2021, to 39,000 units. The drop will be led by the multi-family sector, where starts are forecast to fall 16.8 per cent to 28,300 homes.

Many of the multi-family starts, however, will be rental housing or subsidized social housing, not market condominiums or townhomes.

Housing supply has become a key election plank for Canada’s three major political parties as they campaign for the September 20 federal election, but the emphasis is not on encouraging private-sector housing.

Here is how the election housing supply promises stack up among the federal parties.

Liberals: If re-elected, they would invest $4 billion in new money to construct 100,000 “middle class homes” over the next four years. A close look at this proposal, however, shows most of the funding would go toward subsidizing rental housing. The Liberals further pledge to put up $600 million (double the funding announced in spring 2021 under its space conversion plan) to help transform vacant office space into rental housing. Urban B.C., though, has one of the lowest office vacancy rates in the country.  The Liberals would also put $1 billion toward loans and grants for rent-to-own projects.

Conservatives: The Conservatives plan to build one million homes over the next three years and release 15 per cent of government-owned real estate for new builds or conversion into rental properties. The Conservatives promise to mandate higher-density residential development near federally-funded public transit., such as SkyTrain extensions in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The Conservatives would also  encourage private developers by extending the ability to defer capital gains tax when selling a rental property and re-investing in rental housing.

NDP: The federal NDP propose building 500,000 new “affordable” homes over the next 10 years with an emphasis on subsidized social housing. The NDP’s stated aim to “get big money out of housing” apparently refers to private, not public investing.

B.C. consumer demand is for homes they can purchase, according to the BCREA, and this is where the shortage is most severe.

“Even with sales moderating slightly in the second half of this year, we are forecasting that home sales in 2021 will set a new record of 118,350 units before slowing to 100,150 units in 2022,” the BCREA forecast stated.


Restaurants want security

Restaurant association calls for security-cost help as vaccine passport looms

Restaurants want security

After angry protests over the province’s impending new vaccine passport, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association is calling on the province to offset costs of added security at bars and restaurants before the program comes into effect on Sept. 13.

Association chief executive Ian Tostenson said Thursday the industry feels it should be compensated for the expected pushback and increased cost.

“We are doing this, and we are doing it for the benefit of B.C. to motivate people to get vaccinated,” he said. “It seems reasonable to free up some resources to help us do that.”

From Sept. 13, British ­Columbians 12 years and older will need to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccine to enter non-essential businesses and events, including sports competitions, nightclubs, restaurants and movies. Beginning Oct. 24, only fully vaccinated people will be permitted entry.

Given the protests this week near hospitals and already high tensions over mask rules in ­restaurants, the industry is ­worried the vaccine passport program will result in tense standoffs at the door.

Tostenson said the association has forwarded to government a wishlist of things they would like to see before restaurants have to start checking vaccine status and identification.

The list includes clear signage in multiple languages, resources to train staff on how to check ID and vaccine status, information on the kinds of vaccine proof and ID staff will see, fines and penalties for restaurants that flout the rules and assurances the technology the province will be using will work in all settings.

Money for added security was not originally on that list, but Tostenson said it became important after an incident in Port Alberni this week when a customer urinated in a fast-food restaurant when told he would not be served if he didn’t obey the rules.

Tostenson said many restaurants, including quick-service establishments, don’t have a greeting station where patrons can be checked and informed of the rules, and may need additional security.

That’s already on the cards in some Victoria restaurants.

Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole, said he had no choice but to hire security ahead of Sept. 13 after what has been a difficult summer at times for his staff as they enforced mask rules.

“It’s getting nasty out there,” he said. “Our staff are really concerned about their safety. It’s been a tough summer with just masks — that was hard enough, but now they have to deal with vaccination status.”

Chyzowski said it’s not fair to have young hosts on the front line dealing with belligerent customers, so he will have security in the evenings, and he intends to work the door for a while to see what staff have to deal with.

Chyzowski added that it’s already difficult getting people to take host jobs.

“It’s harder than finding cooks right now,” he said. “A lot are tired of dealing with the people — it has been a long summer with a lot of rude customers.”

Petr Prusa, owner of Floyd’s Diner, said he is planning to have discussions about security so wait staff don’t have to deal with people upset about vaccine passports. “We always have lines at the door, so yeah, it’s a concern,” he said.

Tostenson hopes the province will work with the industry to come up with resources to help deal with the issue and help the industry recruit people to work.

“Right now we are trying to attract people to our industry, and when you hear about things like Port Alberni, those young people start to wonder if that is what they want to be doing,” he said. “We need protection around that.”

Tostenson said equipping restaurants with the resources to handle what’s to come is one way for the province to get through the next phase of the pandemic without having to close restaurants again.

No April Fool’s joke – British Columbians paying more tax as of today


New taxes take effect

It was a cruel April Fools’ joke, but British Columbians began paying more tax on several things, Thursday.

Coming into effect on April1 were an increase to the carbon tax, a new soft drink tax, streaming tax – and, to make it all sting just a little bit more, MPs got a pay raise we’ll all paying for as well.

And so did MLAs.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes that the B.C. carbon tax has gone up to $45 per tonne, and that can of pop will now cost you more because the provincial sales tax has been added, whereas food and drink products were previously exempt.

The 7% PST has also been added to vaping products and now also applies to streaming services like Netflix, Spotify and others.

“It’s now going to cost you more to get to work, more to heat your home and more to watch your favourite shows,” says Kris Sims, B.C. director for the CTF. “This is not an April Fools’ joke. It’s going to cost everyday people more to live their lives, and the taxman is going to get you even when you’re relaxing at the end of the day with a drink.”

MLAs are getting a 0.8% raise, bringing their base salary up to $111,912 a year. The raise had been paused last year because of the pandemic, but went ahead this year.

The new B.C. carbon tax rate equates to 9.9 cents per litre of gasoline, 12 cents per litre of diesel or 8.8 cents per cubic metre of natural gas. That’s about $12 on a typical pickup fill.

The streaming tax should rake in about $16 million per year.

The soft drink tax is forecast to collect more than $37 million.

In Ottawa, our MPs will receive an average of $3,200 more per year, while ministers will receive $4,700 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau $6,400. Their raises are calculated against the average annual increase in private-sector union contracts.

This on top of a base salary of $182,600 for MPs, $269,800 for ministers, and $365,200 for the PM.

Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Alberta director, called the raises “a slap in the face to the many taxpayers who have taken a pay cut, lost their job or their business.”