Renovating for energy efficiency

Your home operates as a system. All its elements – the building envelope, ventilation, heating and cooling systems, the external environment and even the activities of the occupants – affect one another.

How these elements interact determines your home’s overall performance. For example, poor insulation or ventilation can cancel out your investment in a new furnace or upgraded windows and doors. Your energy efficiency upgrades will truly pay off only if you address the entire system.

Consult Natural Resources Canada’s publication Keeping the Heat In about upgrades in your home that can improve its energy efficiency.

Assess your home’s performance

The first step is to assess your home’s overall energy performance. You can schedule an EnerGuide home evaluation with an energy advisor who will prepare a comprehensive energy efficiency report.

This evaluation will show how much energy you are using, give insight into upgrades that can improve your energy efficiency, and even give you recommendations on what you should renovate.

Note that this service is not a home inspection. The energy advisor is not responsible for verifying that projects or products meet relevant building codes, standards or legislation.

And while energy advisors use NRCan’s official marks, trademarks, and software under a licencing agreement, they operate as independent businesses, and are not agents, partners, or employees of NRCan.

Planning your renovation

Once you know what type of upgrades you want to make, you’ll need to decide whether to tackle the project yourself or hire a contractor.

Doing it yourself

If you choose to do the work yourself, keep health and safety always in mind.

  • Use tools and products according to manufacturers’ directions.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing and equipment.
  • Protect your home and family from dust, debris and possible contaminants.
  • Take precautions when you work in areas that may contain vermin and their droppings, mould, lead, asbestos, vermiculite insulation and other hazardous materials.

Hiring a contractor

Your contractor is responsible for complying with local bylaws and relevant provincial, territorial and federal legislation and guidelines. Ask any prospective contractor questions such as:

  • May I contact your references?
  • Will this project comply with bylaws and other legislation and will it require building or utility permits?
  • Do the products you recommend meet all applicable legislation and can you provide any available Material Safety Data Sheets?
  • What experience do you and your team have with these products and procedures and what challenges have you experienced?
  • What steps will you take to protect my home and family during and after the renovation?

Once you choose a contractor, ask for quotes in writing. Insist on a written contract before work begins.

Do your homework

As the homeowner, you are responsible for choosing materials and getting the necessary building and utility permits. If no building permit is required or issued, you and your contractor are responsible for making sure all products, services and installations meet relevant building codes and standards.

Choosing products

Get the facts about the products you or your contractor intend to use.

  • Learn and follow proper installation techniques.
  • Ensure that products meet Canadian product standards. Some products carry a compliance mark or stamp. Others may have an evaluation number issued by the Canadian Construction Materials Centre.
  • Find out about any health and safety issues related to these products; request Material Safety Data Sheets if they apply and follow safety guidelines.

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Health and safety considerations for energy-efficient renovations

If you are planning home improvements, you should be aware of the following:

Urea-Formaldehyde-Based Foam Insulation (UFFI)

Urea formaldehyde based foam insulation, known as UFFI, was prohibited in Canada in December 1980 under the Hazardous Products Act because it may release formaldehyde gas into indoor air. For more information, read Health Canada’s publication entitled Canadian Prohibition of Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation.

Asbestos

There are several minerals commonly known as asbestos. These minerals can be used to make products strong, long-lasting and fire-resistant. Before 1990, asbestos was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. It was also used for fireproofing. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other diseases. You can be exposed to asbestos when a home or building is being renovated or demolished. For more information, read Health Canada's publication entitled Health Risks of Asbestos.

Vermiculite Insulation

Some vermiculite insulation found in older homes may contain asbestos fibres. There is currently no evidence of risk to human health if the insulation is sealed behind wallboards and floorboards, isolated in an attic, or otherwise kept from exposure to the interior environment. However, it can cause health risks if it is inhaled. For more information visit the Health Canada website.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It is formed from the radioactive decay of uranium, a natural material found in some soil, rock and groundwater. When radon is released into the outdoor air, it gets diluted to low concentrations and is not a concern. However, in enclosed spaces like houses, it can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which can pose a risk to both your or your family’s health. For more information, visit Health Canada’s website.

Other Health and Safety Considerations

For information on other health and safety considerations when renovating your home, read the Health and Safety Considerations section of the Natural Resources Canada publication entitled Keeping the Heat In.

How to get the ventilation you need in your house

Combustion gases in your home: What you should know about combustion spillage

Learn more

Explore About Your House fact sheets for renovations prepared by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Read more about renovating your home for energy efficiency in the NRCan publication Keeping the Heat In.

Learn more about hiring a contractor at the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s Get It In Writing section.