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Green house effect 

Tim Bousquet renovates for the planet.

I've found a bunch of stuff in my attic: a milk bottle cap with "Buy Savings Stamps and Help Smash Hitler" stamped on it, 1950s-era hockey cards for Walter Hergesheimer and Jim Morrison, a baseball card for Angel Scull and a boy's "hockey diary," in which he laments he didn't get to face his "mortal enemy Vanorstand" in that day's game.

These things were under the floorboards, which I had pulled up in order to properly insulate my house. Big job, that.

My partner and I have an 85-year-old house built with little thought of insulation or energy efficiency. This just wouldn't do: we'd like to consider ourselves good environmentalists and, besides, it was costing us a lot of dough to heat the place. So back in the fall of 2005 we took advantage of the federal housing retrofit program, then called EnerGuide, to help us along.

There are two non-profit organizations doing the work in this part of the province: Clean Nova Scotia and Sustainable Housing. We used the latter. A fellow named Tim came by, examined the basement, the attic, looked at the lights, furnace and water heater. He then put a giant fan on the front door and tested how air-tight the place is. He gave our house a rating: 54 out of a possible 100.

Tim wrote up a report suggesting we insulate the walls, attic and basement, weatherstrip and seal off the attic door, caulk up all the cracks and get a better water heater.

Money's an issue, but we did what we could. We hired a firm to blow cellulose insulation into our walls, but I did much of the other work myself. I learned a lot about insulation, and figured out how to caulk at unlikely angles.

We also put in a fireplace insert, so we could use wood for heat. That wasn't one of Tim's recommendations, but we wanted to use a fuel that is at least theoretically carbon-neutral.

By then we were out of money, so the basement insulation was left undone and we're still using the same water heater.

But we've noticed a big change in the house—it's no longer drafty, and it holds the heat. Nowadays we have a routine. The thermostat's set at 12 degrees Celsius. When we're running around in the morning we bump it up to 18, and when we return at night, we build a fire. Often the temperature goes up to 21 or 22.

We've cut our fuel bills in half.

Another fellow, Andy, came by the other day and re-tested the house. We scored a 69. And there's happy news: we'll soon get $1,800 in rebate checks. That pays for about 20 percent of our expenses. The rest will pay for itself in about three years.

According to Terry Watters, president of Sustainable Housing, our house now scores better than many brand new houses, which tells us just how horrible Nova Scotia's building codes are.

After dumping the Liberals' EnerGuide program, "Canada's New Government" has resurrected it, changed some of the details, and now calls it ecoEnergy Retrofit-Homes. The provincial government matches the rebates.

When we can, we'll also take advantage of the new program. We'll do that basement work and install a solar water heating system.

Watters figures that just two percent of houses in Nova Scotia have been retrofitted. Obviously, people want to save money, but many can't afford the upfront costs. The province should look to bridge the financing gap, with no- or low-interest loans for low-income residents, so everyone can enjoy the fruits of energy efficiency. But those of you with credit or savings should get at it already.

Now, does anyone have any idea who Vanorstand is?

What’s hidden under your floorboards? Email: timb@thecoast.ca

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