Mandatory energy labels for all homes are one of a handful of “big ideas” the outgoing mayor of Edmonton is leaving behind for the next city council.
The suggestion of a mandatory labeling policy – which could affect every homeowner in the city and thousands of people working in home-related fields – was contained in a energy note written by Mayor Don Iveson.
It was one of many transition memos he posted over the past week.
Without energy efficiency data, homebuyers can’t easily compare properties or determine what renovations or discounts might be worthwhile, Iveson told reporters on Friday.
“This has been a huge gap for a long time in the biggest financial decision most households have ever made,” he said.
Mandatory labeling is one of the policies Iveson wished it could have happened sooner, noting that it would benefit homebuyers and help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions by speeding up the shift to more energy efficient buildings.
Other proponents say it could address the lack of energy efficiency valuation in homes, which consume nearly 20% of all energy used in the city.
But obstacles to such a policy abound, including jurisdictional issues and opposition from those who sell inefficient homes.
Who could make labels mandatory?
In 2016, as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the federal government and provincial and territorial ministers have committed to working together to achieve the goal of requiring energy consumption labels on buildings by 2019 at the earliest.
“I think it’s safe to say that the jurisdictional issues are the reason we haven’t seen this delivered,” said Kevin Lockhart of Efficiency Canada, a nonprofit based at the Research Center. on sustainable energy from Carleton University.
It’s not that cities like Edmonton don’t want to regulate labeling, said Dave Turnbull, an energy consultant who sits on the board of directors of the non-profit Built Green Canada. But building codes and real estate sales transactions fall under provincial, not municipal, jurisdiction.
And provincially, as well as in some US states, real estate lobbyists have opposed a labeling policy.
In 2018, the Ontario Real Estate Association lobbied against a proposal that would have made energy audits mandatory before homes are sold and require the results to be linked to home listings. At the time, the industry group argued that the program would create red tape and hurt owners of older homes.
In a blog post, the association said its staff and volunteers lobbied nearly every member of the Ontario cabinet, including then-premier Kathleen Wynne.
When the Ontario government repealed the law that included the policy, the association celebrated it as “a great victory.”
The federal government faces a similar jurisdictional challenge, but the Liberal Party has promised that if re-elected it will require EnerGuide labels on homes at the time of sale. (EnerGuide is the federal government’s assessment and labeling program for products, vehicles and homes.)
Cities like Edmonton could require energy audits and labeling for new homes as part of the licensing process, said Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze, director of buildings and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute, a think tank on clean energy.
“This could increase the number of homes that have a rating and cause [real estate agents] understand what the rating is and use it when talking to potential buyers or sellers, ”he said.
Through a voluntary program called the Home Energy Retrofit Accelerator, some Edmontonians have already shared the energy ratings of their homes on a map of the city and exploring mandatory labeling regulations is an action item in the energy transition strategy.
Iveson said resistance to mandatory labeling from developers and builders has waned over time.
Sydney Bond, managing director of Effect Home Builders, which specializes in green homes, and president of the Edmonton branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association, said most home builders now support the ‘idea.
“For the most part, builders understand that a typical newly built home today is 47% more efficient than homes built in 1985,” she said.
Bond said a mandatory labeling system should be designed to be easy to understand for homeowners, builders and real estate agents.
“We have to make sure it’s easy for people because we don’t want to add complicated barriers to owning, buying or transferring,” she said.