Greening your home

Older buildings can be environmentally friendly without compromising their character defining features.  

Energy advisor

Consider hiring a certified energy advisor to perform an ecoENERGY evaluation. A certified energy advisor is a trained and certified professional, often with a background in engineering, architecture or home inspection. An advisor can suggest improvements and help plan retrofits, as well as apply for grants on your behalf.

Before hiring an energy advisor, prepare a list of aspects of your home that you value. Traditionally constructed buildings feature character-defining elements that should remain untouched in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Air leaks

Older homes leak more air than newer, energy-efficient homes. You can find out where your home is leaking air by getting a blower door test from a certified energy assessor. This is an effective way to see air leakage and you’ll recoup the cost if after the test, you do the following:

  • Seal the worst leaks. Repair holes and gaps in a way that is complementary to existing finishes and that will have a long life expectancy
  • Close fireplace dampers when not in use
  • Insulate uninsulated walls. Blown cellulose (recycled newsprint), incorporating a borax additive, does not slump within the wall cavity
  • Insulate the attic at ceiling level, and when re-roofing insulate roof structures over dormers by removing sheathing or blowing in insulation
  • Ideally, overhaul (ease, strip, repaint, replace cords, wax sash grooves, weather strip, etc.) windows at the same time as insulating the wall and add interior or exterior storms
  • Don’t incorporate a vapour barrier. Interior moisture vapour is generally inhibited from entering the walls by layers of paint. Moisture entering from the exterior tends to dry out by itself through evaporation and convection
  • Avoid mixing building components made for sealed building envelopes (such as modern plastic and aluminum replacement windows) with traditional building envelopes

Heating and insulation

New energy-efficient domestic heating and hot water systems are both cost effective (they have short payback periods) and can be retrofitted without damaging the character of your home. 
  • Particularly in coastal B.C., an air-source heat pump can be used to heat air for distribution through an existing ducted air system or to heat water for radiators. In colder climates, a ground-source heat pump for heating may be the right choice
  • Consider going to an electric, gas or propane tankless hot water system
  • Retrieve waste heat from your soil and vent pipe with a heat exchanger
  • Seek federal government grants for these technologies
  • Purchase a lagging kit (an insulating cloak) for your hot water tank


Windows can account for up to 25 percent of total heat loss in a house. To increase the energy efficiency of your windows, consider repairing, retrofitting or resealing your windows. Repairing your traditional windows is almost always more cost effective and environmentally friendly than replacing them. 
Find air leaks by holding a thin piece of plastic or tissue near your windows on a cold or windy day. If it moves, you have leak. Here are some repairs you can do to improve energy efficiency. 
  • Caulking and sealing cracks will help to minimize air leaks in windows and keep cold air out in the winter
  • Install a heat shrink film if you rent or can’t commit to repairs
  • Consider installing storm windows. Storm windows (also known as storm sashes) are additional layers of glazing that are fixed to either the exterior or interior of your existing windows
All windows require maintenance and repairs to keep them in good working order. Every year, hardware should be cleaned, tightened and lubricated, and any cracked glazing should be replaced.

Traditional doors

As with windows, it is always better to repair rather than replace. The energy savings of purchasing a new door will probably be negligible when compared to subtly improving your existing door with weather stripping.
If your door is not properly sealed, you might be losing heat through air leakages. Worn, cracked or deformed weather stripping will allow heat to escape and possibly make the area around your door uncomfortable for residents. Another way to reduce air leakage is to spray expanding foam in the shims (provided you have access to them).

Building materials

Repairing is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than replacing. If you must purchase new materials, choose materials that preserve—not pollute—the planet. Wood and brick require 2.5 mega joules per kilogram to manufacture, whereas vinyl requires 70. And while wood is biodegrable, the disposal of vinyl releases toxic chemicals like dioxins into the air we breathe. Always choose recycled materials if available, and new wood should be purchased from local and sustainable forests.
Old stone, wood and glass materials are usually of better quality than their modern equivalents. Properly maintained wooden windows, for example, will last for a hundred years or more, whereas vinyl windows will begin to degrade and discolour after about twenty. Think about the three Rs when sourcing building material:
  • Reduce the amount of new materials manufactured by repairing rather than replacing materials
  • Reuse old materials that have been recovered from demolished buildings
  • Recycle materials that cannot be repaired