Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • Green Communities Canada
  • Natural Resources Canada
  • Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy
  • Many local governments and utilities
  • 27,000,000 GJ per year
  • Average saving was 32 to 45 GJ (9,000 to 13,000 kWh) per household per year

Green Communities Canada’s Home Energy Retrofit Incentive and Home Visit Program

Making the housing stock more energy-efficient provides persistent and ongoing returns. However efforts to do so often run into obstacles that diminish program impacts. This program illustrates how to overcome many of these barriers, and how ongoing monitoring and evaluation can lead to program improvements over time. It’s also a great illustration of combining home visits with incentives for doing desired behaviours. Revised in September 2015.


Note: To minimize site maintenance costs, all case studies on this site are written in the past tense, even if they are ongoing as is the case with this particular program.

Since 1993, Canada’s Green Communities have been leaders in the development and implementation of residential energy efficiency programs, helping homeowners reduce their energy consumption with progressively sophisticated tools.

The home visit program was originally developed under the Ontario Government’s Green Communities Initiative. The network of participating communities was formed in 1995 and incorporated as the Green Communities Association in 1996. In early 2005, it became Green Communities Canada to better reflect its national scope. Case studies of some of these programs can be accessed from the notes section at the bottom of this case study.

The home visits targeted the owners of older, less energy-efficient homes in Canada.

Strengths of the program were as follows:

  • Successfully tackled the difficult and important issue of making the housing stock more energy efficient
  • Energy savings were high per household and ongoing energy savings persisted for decades
  • Pre- and post- assessments quantified impacts on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Cost-effective – each dollar of federal grants generated roughly $10 in local spending (cumulatively more than $8.15 billion between 1998 and 2011)
  • Holistic; addressed multiple energy-savings measures, and targeted high savings measures
  • Ongoing evaluation, and innovation led to program improvements over time and increased impact
  • Served as a model for many other home visit programs throughout the world

Delivering the Program

From 1993 to 1997, Green Communities conducted free Green Home Visits which engaged Ontario homeowners in taking action to make their homes more energy-efficient conserve water and reduce waste (Home Visits).

The home advisors were trained to use a range of community-based social marketing tools for improving program impact, such as:

  • Customized advice and recommendations, based on an onsite inspection of the house. Advice was tailored to specific building and heating systems conditions and (of equal importance) the real world barriers and incentives of the homeowner, including concerns, issues, priorities and plans (e.g., renovation plans). Advisors were trained to identify and address homeowner ‘hot buttons’ such as bill savings, home performance and comfort issues, and environmental responsibility. (Vivid, Personalized Communication)
  • Face to face interaction with the homeowner – a premium motivational tool. Advisors walked through each home with its owners, pointing out issues and opportunities, describing the total amount of air leakage in easy to grasp terms (e.g. a hole the size of a football), helping the owners to feel and/or see air leaks, and involving them in developing a written list of repair/retrofit priorities (Vivid, Personalized Communication)
  • Raising the visibility of participation (Norm Appeals)
  • Obtaining a commitment to take action (Obtaining a Commitment)

To overcome a number of common barriers to taking action and ensure proper use, small modifications and repairs were made on the spot: hot water thermostats were adjusted, toilet leaks repaired, and faucet washers replaced. Free water and energy-saving devices were offered as well. These included faucet aerators and washers, hot water pipe insulation, low energy light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. Some were installed by the advisors to ensure proper use. (Overcoming Specific Barriers)

At first, the energy efficiency portion of these assessments consisted only of a visual inspection of the house. To improve accuracy, a blower door test was integrated, because air leakage was considered to be the most serious area of energy loss, and the most effective and noticeable way to improve comfort and savings on energy bills. In a blower door test, a plastic sheet covers an open exterior doorway. A fan is used to blow air out of the house through a hole in the sheet, reducing the air pressure inside to 50Pa, and creating a relative vacuum. As air rushed into the house through leaky areas, the assessor used a smoke pencil to identify and demonstrate leaks in need of repair. The rate of leakage was measured, quantifying the need for air leakage control (pre-retrofit), and the success of draftproofing (post-retrofit).

The brightly-coloured blower door with its noisy fan attracted attention (Word of Mouth, Norm Appeals) and both dramatized and quantified an otherwise invisible, obscure concept. It also lent technical credibility to the visit and the recommendations. (Vivid, Credible Communications) EnerGuide for Houses Program

EnerGuide for Houses Program

Meanwhile, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), a federal government department, developed an assessment tool with many of the features of Ontario’s Green Home Visit, but focusing exclusively on home energy. Further, the tool – which eventually became known as the EnerGuide Rating System (ERS) – featured a standardized national home energy efficiency rating on a scale of 1-100 that helped homeowners understand the energy performance of their house relative to others of a similar age and type. The report also indicated the new rating that could be achieved with implementation of recommendations such as draft proofing, insulation, and heating system upgrade.

The EnerGuide Rating System was based on computerized modelling of the home, incorporating dimensional measurements and the blower door measurement. The computer-generated rating added credibility for homeowners. An optional post-retrofit B visit confirmed the retrofit work had been completed satisfactorily and measured the resulting improvement in energy efficiency. In 1997, Green Communities were chosen by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to pilot test the Canadian Home Energy Efficiency Rating System (CHEERS). Almost 400 homes were evaluated under the new rating system. A successful pilot of almost 400 homes paved the way for the EnerGuide for Houses program.

From 1998 to 2001, Green Communities were the exclusive delivery agent in Ontario for NRCan’s EnerGuide for Houses initiative.

Although EnerGuide for Houses was a success, the level of program participation was relatively low despite a subsidy to keep down the cost of the service. Among participants, relatively few completed post-retrofit B visits. To increase participation and stimulate retrofits, Green Communities Canada introduced a cash incentive tied to achieved energy savings as measured by the EnerGuide Rating System, based on pre- and post-retrofit assessments . The cost of the incentives was more than justified by the benefits, including bill savings, reduced emissions, increased home equity, and community economic development (direct and indirect business opportunities and job creation). (Financial Incentives)

In 2000, Green Communities, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada, Ontario Ministry of Environment, Enbridge Gas and Peterborough Green-Up piloted an incentive program in Peterborough, Ontario. The Home Performance Rating Rewards Programs provided grants to participants who improved the EnerGuide Rating of their house. It was the first project in Canada to use the EnerGuide for Houses home energy rating system to offer consumer incentives to complete whole house energy-efficiency ratings. Participants were required to have pre and post EnerGuide evaluations (A and B) to be eligible for grants. Rewards averaged $861 per household with an average increase on the EnerGuide rating scale of 14 points. Roughly half of the participants retrofitted their homes and requested B visits, demonstrating that the incentives worked in that regard.

From 2001 to 2003, a Phase II pilot project for Green Communities’ Home Performance Rating Rewards Program was conducted in Toronto in partnership with GreenSaver and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.

The success of Green Communities’ pilot incentive programs led to NRCan’s 2003 launch of the national EnerGuide for Houses incentive program, which rewarded homeowners for improving the energy rating of their houses. This program ran unto 2006 when it was cancelled.

ecoENERGY Retrofit- Homes initiative

The EnerGuide for Houses retrofit incentive program was replaced by the ecoENERGY Retrofit- Homes initiative. Instead of using the rating system to calculated incentive, grants were tied to specific energy-efficiency measures. The rewards under this initiative were somewhat richer than under the previous EnerGuide for Houses incentive program, especially when, in 2009, incentives were increased by 25 per cent as part of the government’s economic stimulus program. In some regions of the country, e.g., Ontario, the grants were augmented by matching provincial contributions. 

Measuring Achievements

Impacts were calculated based on changes between the A and B visits as measured using the blower door test and EnerGuide Rating System described above. g, insulation, and heating system upgrade.


With the introduction of the incentives in 2003 there was a marked increase in participation (households receiving pre-retrofit evaluations across Canada).

  • 2003 to 2006 (EnerGuide for Houses program): 93,000 homes were retrofitted for a savings of about 2,954,000 GJ (820,000,000,000 kWh) saved per year. Average saving was 31.8 GJ (8,833 kWh) per household per year.
  • 2007 – 2010 (EcoENERGY Program): 590,147 homes were retrofitted for a savings of 26,556,615 GJ (7,376,837,500 kWh) per year. Average saving was 45.3 GJ (12,583 kWh) per household per year.


Green Communities Canada


This is one of a number of Green Community case studies on this site. The others are:


Update June 2015, by Clifford Maynes, Executive Director

It’s 20 years ago since Green Communities Canada was founded as an extraordinary alliance of community organizations working to achieve practical environmental progress. It’s time to celebrate the accomplishments of our movement, and reflect on how far we’ve come over these past two decades.

There is much to celebrate. We’ve grown from an unincorporated network of community-based non-profit organizations, all based in Ontario, to a national non-profit with members located in every region of the country.

GCC has grown from one part-time coordinator working out of his home office (that would be me) to a staff complement of a dozen or more. We are based at multiple locations: our Peterborough headquarters (centre of the known universe), an office in Ottawa, and home offices in Toronto and Greater Minden.

Annual consolidated revenues have grown from $35,000 in the first year to $2.3 million.

We’ve sprouted a charitable affiliate, Green Communities Foundation, and a for-profit subsidiary, Green Communities, Inc. (This complicated structure was actually foreseen by our lawyers when we first incorporated as the Green Communities Association in July 1996.)

We designed and piloted the home energy retrofit incentive, which was adopted nationally, resulting in over 700,000 retrofits and annual savings of close to 30 million GJ. With our members we have delivered over 100,000 professional home energy audits. And we have also been leaders in ensuring effective low-income energy efficiency program design and delivery.

Much has changed in over two decades of Green Communities, but our basic approach remains much the same.

While many environmental organizations work top-down for better government policies, we work bottom up, at the community level, by engaging people where they live, work, and play.

And to maximize our impact we use a practical strategy known as community-based social marketing. CBSM addresses real world barriers and incentives to behaviour change.

Based on CBSM principles we don’t waste time telling people what they ought to do, which is largely ineffectual. Instead, we start by exploring why they do what they do. Then we set about systematically reducing barriers and maximizing incentives. And guess what? It works.

So, to use an example with a long history, we don’t just tell people they should invest in home energy efficiency, we deliver professional home energy audits.

Our certified energy auditors, blower door test, and detailed reports are highly credible, which promotes action. Face-to-face interaction between the homeowner and the auditor is much more motivating than mass marketing.

Further, recommendations are customized to address the homeowner’s personal priorities – e.g., a room that is too cold in winter and too hot in summer – which makes the experience more relevant and engaging than simply handing out a list of generic “tips”.

Cash incentives can be very effective in overcoming all sorts of barriers, including the up-front costs of home energy retrofits. For this reason, Green Communities Canada came up with the idea for a retrofit incentive tied to measured improvements in home energy efficiency. The incentive system we developed and tested was adopted by the federal government and others, with massive results.

Although CBSM often seems focused on individual action, it is ultimately about community-wide change. CBSM recognizes the need for market transformation so that the necessary goods and services are readily available and promoted in the marketplace.

For example, as part of our RAIN program, we are helping to train contractors to construct and maintain infiltration landscaping, like permeable pavement and rain gardens, so that people have access to these services to reduce their contribution to run-off and stormwater pollution.

Finally, CBSM also leverages social norms by working with respected community partners. Peer pressure also helps – the classic example is the recycling blue box, a visible reminder to join your neighbours in sorting your waste for curbside pick-up.

CBSM is not a substitute for courageous government policy, but it helps to soften the ground so that serious action on the big issues – say, climate change – wins support as practical, positive, and the natural thing to do. And CBSM is also needed to maximize the impact of good policy, to hasten on-the-ground implementation and maximize uptake of opportunities for green action.

Today, after more than two decades of on the ground experience, community-based social marketing principles continue to guide the way Green Communities design and deliver our programs. That’s not likely to change any time soon. It works.


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