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.”

Environment Canada warns of heavy rain for parts of northern B.C., flood watch posted


Rainfall warnings issued for North and South Peace River regions


A rainfall warning has been issued for the North and South Peace River regions as the weather office says rainfall of up to 50 millimetres is expected between Friday and late Saturday.

Forecasters say total rainfall could reach 60 to 80 mm near Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd before downpours ease to showers as the storm moves on.

The warning says heavy rainfall on top of pre-existing saturated soils can make the situation worse and raise the risk of localized flooding.

The River Forecast Centre has upgraded a high streamflow advisory to a flood watch for the Peace Region, advising that waterways could reach levels only experienced once a decade as rain combines with ongoing snowmelt.

The centre says conditions are expected to peak by Sunday and it is maintaining a high streamflow advisory for the Bulkley River and its tributaries in northwestern B.C., as rain and snowmelt push those waterways to two- to five-year flows before their expected peak early Sunday.

Cities in Western Canada consider gondolas as part of transit, tourism plans


Projects a way to move people across waterways or get tourists up mountainsides

Residents and visitors could one day be using cable cars to cross rivers in two central Alberta cities.

A 350-metre urban ropeway, also known as a gondola, has been proposed to connect Red Deer’s business district with the Bower Ponds recreation area.

“In Red Deer, it’s really simple. There are two stations. It crosses the Red Deer River,” said Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, president of Prairie Sky Gondolas, which has said it would invest $25 -million in the project.

Prairie Sky also wants to string cable cars across the North Saskatchewan River between downtown Edmonton and Whyte Avenue, a popular street with bars, restaurants and stores. Geotechnical and environmental assessments are being done and public input is being gathered through meetings with Indigenous communities and others interested in the project.

The projects are two of many proposed across North America as a way to move people across waterways or get tourists up mountainsides.

Steven Dale is an urban planner who created The Gondola Project website and has consulted on many proposals. He said interest in urban ropeways has been growing steadily.

“Five years ago, the vast majority of my business was outside of North America,” Dale said. “Today, it’s probably 85 to 90 per cent in North America.

“Beyond the systems you have heard of, there are numerous other cities that are looking at this and discussing this very seriously.”

Dale said cities have started to realize gondolas can be cheaper than other transit, can be built over less time and can be used to quickly move people from one spot to another.

“No one likes to do a commute … so the shorter and more predictable it is, the better.”

Toulouse, Grenoble and Paris in France are fully integrating gondolas into their transit networks, Dale said.

A similar idea is being considered in Burnaby, B.C., where city council in January endorsed a gondola connecting the rapid-transit SkyTrain lines to Simon Fraser University.

“The … gondola project will create a safe and reliable transit option for Burnaby residents travelling to and from Burnaby Mountain,” Mayor Mike Hurley said in a news release at the time.

The project is part of council’s 10-year vision that guides priorities and investments in transit.

Dale said gondolas in Latin America “spread like wildfire” once the first integrated ones were built.

“Right now, North America is starting to pick up on it and it’s starting to spread here”

SJC Alliance, the company where Dale works, is involved in a gondola project in Los Angeles and in a study for another one in Tampa Bay, Fla.

“Think about the absurdity of this. We are talking about using a ski lift as public transit in Florida,” he said. “It’s totally ridiculous, but that’s actually a good thing, because the ridiculousness of it gets people’s attention.”

Ironically, Dale said, it’s only Canadians who say: “We have snow. We have ice. We have wind. We have winter. How does it work in winter?

“It’s a ski lift. How do you think it works in winter? You take it out of the mountains and put it into a city and people’s minds go screwy.”

There are already gondolas in Western Canada for tourists and skiers, but others are being considered in the Alberta mountain towns of Banff and Canmore. Developers want to build cable cars that would carry people to the tops of mountains from the townsites.

In Canmore, a proposal for a gondola at Silvertip Resort is before the public until the middle of June to set the terms for an environmental review. The project would connect the resort to the summit of Mount Lady MacDonald.

A gondola to take skiers and hikers from the Banff townsite to the summit of the Mount Norquay ski resort was rejected in 2019 by Parks Canada. The resort’s owners, however, told Banff town council last August that they still hope to build a smaller version from the town to the mountain’s base.

Back in Edmonton, Hansen-Carlson said an urban gondola can be a tourist draw, but it can also be a transportation solution.

“As a piece of infrastructure, simply moving people, its day has come,” he said. “Around the world today, there are about 200 urban ropeways successfully operating.

“So, we are not a pioneer globally, but we definitely are in the North American context.”

—Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Metro Vancouver park renamed to reflect Indigenous history


Indigenous name for park

A Metro Vancouver park has been renamed to include the site’s Indigenous name, which officials say will better reflect the area’s history.

Belcarra Regional Park on the Burrard Inlet in Metro Vancouver will also have the Indigenous name of temtemíxwten, which local First Nations say translates to “biggest place for all the people.”

The Metro Vancouver Regional District says the park and area was the site of the nation’s largest ancestral village.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Jen Thomas says the name change is important in acknowledging the group’s history in the area.

In February 2020, the nation and regional district signed an agreement that formalized an ongoing collaboration between the two groups, and the name change is one of the projects.

Sav Dhaliwal, the chair of the Metro Vancouver board of directors, says in a statement that the district is pleased to bring more awareness about the nation’s history in the area.

The park’s signage will be changed over the next few months to reflect the new name.

“Through our traditional name, language, and artwork being present in the park, Tsleil-Waututh is putting the face of our nation back on the territory, demonstrating to our next generation the importance of being stewards of our lands and waters,” chief administrative officer Ernie George says in the written statement.

Real estate industry worried Liberal housing plan won’t alleviate supply issues

Trudeau’s plan, announced at a Tuesday campaign stop in Hamilton, Ont., is built around helping renters become homeowners through $1 billion in loans and grants, but also involves a two-year moratorium on foreign buyers, banning blind bidding and a Bill of Rights creating a legal right to a home inspection.

The Liberals plan to help young, first-time buyers with a new savings account allowing Canadians under 40 to save up to $40,000 toward their first home, and withdraw it tax-free to put toward their purchase, with no requirement to repay it.

The plan also includes a Housing Accelerator Fund, which would make $4 billion available for large cities to speed up their housing plans, in hopes of building 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25.

“They’re treating the symptom of the problem and not the real problem, which is the supply,” said Ben Young, the senior vice-president of development at Southwest Properties in Halifax.

With the number of available homes failing to keep up with demand in recent years, he would like to see federal and provincial government lands opened up for development, which could boost housing inventory.

He also thinks parties should be less focused on housing tax incentives, even though he admitted they garner broad appeal, because he said they don’t often help supply.

“It’s like saying, ‘come on in my store it’s 100 per cent off, but I don’t have any inventory,” he said.

Davelle Morrison, a Toronto broker with Bosley Real Estate Ltd., thinks the Liberal’s incentive for people under 40 is “nice to have,” but “doesn’t really move the needle.”

She believes the country’s housing sector would be better off if it had a 30-year amortization rate, more attention paid to Indigenous needs and more allowances for laneway housing and basement apartments.

She also wants politicians to stop fixating on foreign buyers, who some have blamed for driving up home prices in recent years.

“We need to stop making foreign buyers the Bogeyman and saying that everything is their fault,” said Morrison, noting studies show they account for less than five per cent of homes owned in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We have had very few foreigners buying into the market because of COVID-19, and real estate prices have still climbed.”

The average price of a home sold reached $662,000 in July, up 15.6 per cent from the same month last year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said earlier this month.

The average price of a Toronto home was just over $1 million in July, up 12.6 per cent compared to a year ago, the city’s local board said.

As those prices climbed, bidding wars intensified, brokers complained of a lack of supply and prospective buyers felt pressure to stretch their budget and drop more cash on already expensive homes.

The Liberals want to take some of the pressure out of that process by banning blind bidding, but Morrison said open auction systems, where all parties know each others offices, have done little to cool the Australian market.

The Ontario Real Estate Association made the same observation.

“Auction fever creates a three-ring circus on front lawns, as hopeful buyers crowd in front of a home with a live auctioneer, or online, and the bidding begins,” said OREA President David Oikle in a statement.

“Far from making homes more affordable, auctions can drive prices higher, and dangerously push buyers to make rushed decisions involving tens of thousands of dollars in just minutes.”

While blind bidding is often criticized because of its secrecy, Halifax broker Sandra Pike said her region differs from many others because people can readily access plenty of data to make informed offers.

Local real estate websites, she said, share when a home was listed, how many days its been on the market, when and for what price a home was sold for and what nearby listings are priced at.

She said, “Our consumers here have all that transparency already.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2021.

B.C. provides $12.9 million in grants for fairs, festivals affected by COVID-19


Grants for fairs, festivals

The British Columbia government is spending $12.9 million to make grants available to festivals, fairs and community events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melanie Mark, the minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, says events will be eligible to claim up to $250,000 with applications open until Oct. 1.

The money can go toward operational costs, health and safety measures, venue rental, marketing, wages and promotion.

The provincial government previously announced grants of up to $1 million to help major attractions and tour bus companies cover expenses like payroll, rent and utility costs to restart operations for their gradual reopening as provincial health orders eased.

Mark says the government is committed to helping events and attractions, and no money will be “left on the table.”

Shelley Frost, president and CEO of the Pacific National Exhibition, says the funding provides “tangible” assistance and will help many organizations across the province.

“This funding is a road to recovery, and in some cases it’s a return to sustainability from the financial effects of the pandemic,” she said.

Mark added that the government has given out more than $36 million in grants to what the province describes as “anchor” attractions like the exhibition and other major tourism operations so far.

Court orders demolition of $3M Gatineau, Que., luxury home built too close to road



GATINEAU, Que. — Quebec Superior Court has ordered the demolition of a sumptuous Gatineau, Que., home that was built too close to the road, with the city required to foot the bill.

In a ruling this week, the court quashed a July 2014 city council resolution that had granted the homeowner an exemption for the home valued at nearly $3 million. The ruling is the latest twist in an eight-year battle over the property in the city’s Aylmer borough.

The ruling describes how the home’s owner, Patrick Molla, had thought everything was in order when he was granted permits to build in May 2013. That September, the city discovered the permits had been issued in error, but it never ordered the owner to cease construction. Instead, the ruling says, Molla was told the issue would be resolved with an exemption, and in February 2014 the family moved into the house.

Neighbours, however, complained about the property, saying it didn’t fit with the rest of the neighbourhood and contravened a bylaw because it was not far enough from the street. The bylaw at issue states homes must be at least 15.67 metres from the street, instead of the seven metres for the home in question.

Gatineau city council tried to fix the mistake by adopting a resolution in July 2014 ordering a “minor” exemption, but that was nullified in this week’s court ruling. In a 51-page decision Tuesday, Justice Michel Déziel sided with the neighbours who sought to have the exemption declared illegal, alleging it was an abuse of power and a disguised zoning change.

They wanted the house demolished if it could not be made compliant with bylaws. Déziel said that even if it was a good faith error on the part of the city, the infringements detailed by the neighbours were too serious to let stand.

The judge placed the blame squarely on the city, saying Molla was given no reason to believe his project would face problems.

“Had he known the risk of eventual demolition, he would not have continued construction on Sept. 25, 2013,” the judgment reads. “Reassuring him about this technical error which will be corrected by a minor exemption at the expense of the city, he continues to invest his ‘retirement fund’ in his house to the tune of approximately $3 million.”

The judge wrote there appeared to be no other option than demolition, and the ruling noted that while the city asked the court not to order the house’s demolition, it didn’t propose any other solution to the matter.

A message sent to Molla’s lawyer was not immediately returned. Molla is suing the city for $3.6 million, alleging its planning department acted dishonestly in allowing construction to continue, despite knowing the consequences of such a decision. Damages sought include $2.95 million in construction costs and six-figure sums for damage to reputation, loss of use of the premises and troubles and inconvenience for the family. That action is still pending.

The city has countered that professionals hired by Molla were responsible for the breach of the zoning bylaw. It has said that if damages are awarded to the homeowner, the land surveyor and the architect should also be liable.

Sébastien Gélineau, a lawyer representing the neighbours who went to court, said Thursday his clients were satisfied. “They are happy with the decision,” Gélineau said in an email. “They ask that their privacy be respected.”

The latest case was heard over six days last month. The city has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

“Our legal department is in the process of analyzing everything, therefore no comments will be made on the file,” the city said in an emailed statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal

B.C. First Nation joins calls for Ottawa to step in on review of Alberta coal project


First Nation enters coal fray

A British Columbia First Nation wants the federal government to join in the environmental review of a proposed coal-mining project in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

The Ktunaxa First Nation says Montem Resources’ Tent Mountain project would have effects beyond the provincial boundary.

It points out the project might dump waste rock and wastewater in B.C.

The Ktunaxa also suggest the miner tailored its project description to come in just under a production threshold that would require federal involvement.

They say the project, near the town of Coleman, Alta., could result in significant cumulative effects when added to other coal mines proposed for the area.

The Ktunaxa say Alberta is unlikely to conduct any meaningful consultation with the band.

Two Alberta First Nations, as well as landowners and environmental groups, have also requested federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson step in.

Metro Vancouver home sales hit all-time record in March: real estate board


Real estate records fall

Home sales and new listings set all-time records across Metro Vancouver last month, reports the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Residential home sales totaled 5,708 in March, up by more than 53 per cent from February and 126 per cent from March 2020, the board said Friday.

That’s the highest-ever monthly sales total recorded in the region stretching from B.C.’s Lower Mainland to Whistler and the Sunshine Coast, it said.

Sales were up more than 72 per cent above the 10-year March average.

Board Chair Taylor Biggar said the surge has pushed price gains into the double digits for single-family homes and townhomes over the last year.

New listings also hit a record last month, he said in a statement, but the overall inventory of homes for sale decreased compared with last year since demand is preventing that supply from accumulating in the market.

“Today’s activity can be attributed, in part, to an economy that’s showing signs of recovery, historically low interest rates, high demand for space, and increased household savings.”

Demand was most pronounced in rural and suburban areas, with the largest increase reported in Delta at 195.8 per cent.

Whistler and Squamish followed with 194.7 and 188.6 per cent increases, respectively, in home sales over last year.

The MLS home price index composite benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver hit $1,123,300 in March, a 3.6 per cent increase from February and a 9.4 per cent increase from last March.

The benchmark price for a detached home was $1,700,200, up nearly 18 per cent from last year, while the benchmark price of an attached home was just over $872,000, up 10.4 per cent from March 2020.

The benchmark price for an apartment was close to $716,000, a 3.7 per cent increase from last year.

Prices increased increased across the region, but they vary by community.

The benchmark price for a single-family detached home across communities in the Lower Mainland was $1,508,000, while on the Sunshine Coast the benchmark price drops to $765,000, the board’s latest data show.

Benchmarks represent a typical property in each market, the board notes.

B.C. signs deal with City of Victoria to end homeless camps, bring people inside


Deal to end encampments

The British Columbia government and the City of Victoria have signed an agreement that commits to ending current and future homeless encampments in local parks.

David Eby, the minister responsible for housing, says the memorandum of understanding reached with Victoria council formalizes the commitment to find indoor shelter for people living in parks and ravines.

He says the agreement lays out the roles and responsibilities of the province and city to find indoor living spaces for those camped out in public areas by April 30.

Eby announced an agreement earlier this month on securing more than 200 living spaces for people staying in Victoria’s parks and other outdoor locations.

Victoria council voted last week to reinstate a bylaw that requires people camping in parks to pack their belongings by 7 a.m. after it eased restrictions last year because the pandemic forced shelters to reduce available beds.

Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park has been the site of a tent encampment of homeless people that has grown during the pandemic, bringing with it crime and community resentment.