As an individual, climate action begins in the home. Some have no control over what they can do in their homes, but many of us do. I figured I was the former until my gas furnace began dying and a neighbour brought up the possibility of replacing it with a heat pump. Hmmm. Was that really doable? In England, I’ve learnt air-to-water heat pumps are common. Here, with our oil-obsessed politicians, we still see any kind of heat pump as for early adopters only. But since furnaces can last decades, I felt if someone could finance it…
Well! Apparently, all sorts of grants and “loans” out there for every kind of individual climate action you can think of. That lead to me thinking I could upgrade so many things to make my place comfortable and using less energy, at last. Unfortunately, that was a bit utopian. So with parental help, I focused on the big three: heat pump, insulation, and solar power. It’s been a fucking nightmare.
Too many awful surprises.
Perhaps Canadian-style subtle discrimination may explain some of the unusual or flat out puzzling. Then there’s the accept and do what I say authoritarian attitude so endemic on this continent in too many walks of life. And you all know how well that goes over with me! True, there’s less authoritarian attitude than there used to be. Used to be hire an electrician, grit your teeth and smile as they mansplained you to death. Not much anymore, thankfully. But after the latest, I stopped restraining myself and wrote this post this weekend. I’d planned to write a series once all the problems had been resolved and solutions found. But fuck it. I’m writing this post now.
Would I go through this nightmare again? Only if someone had a road map, and I wasn’t trying to outrace the stampede for government climate action programs. If the retrofitting industry wants widespread adoption, they’ll have to provide better customer service than the usual, clear explanations of how things work, and links to YouTube videos because it’s a whole new world and it ain’t easy to navigate and understand it on this side of the pond. On the other side of the Atlantic, they are well ahead of us. Solar and heat pumps seem to be as easy to install and customer-friendly over there as windows are here. The Canadian HVAC industry should be ashamed. While Enbridge is piloting geothermal heat pump rentals and plant-based natural gas, our politicians’ obsession with oil and gas, and HVAC attitudes of “you can’t [fill in the blank]”, have cost us decades in having way better heating, cooling, and power supply.
What really struck me was the huge difference between the customer service I got from those who insulated my home versus those providing climate action retrofit services. The former worked hard to make me happy. The latter was about focusing on me being happy because I was doing “something good” and so I had to work hard both to get the projects done and learn how to use them. It’s not that there wasn’t a major snafu with the insulation (more than one!), it’s how the snafus were resolved because the focus was on meeting my needs.
That’s why Climate Action, which should be taking off, isn’t. It isn’t set up to meet people’s needs, even though the tech can exceed our desires when the focus is on people not machinery.
Governments and Toronto Hydro provide token programs that create stampedes as people race each other for a rare spot. And industry is like that TTC engineer I met, who located streetcar stop request buttons based on engineering specs not on human ability and behaviour. If heat pumps and solar installations can’t meet a person’s needs, whether disabled or roaring with health, then they’ll remain in the bastion of early adopters.
I wasn’t going to blog on this until the retrofit was complete, with all problems resolved and me understanding how this new 21st century system works. But being told not to overthink, not to write critically, having part of my project dropped inexplicably, a neverending stream of new prove-work-done requirements…bugger it. I’ve had an insane year, and I reached my limit when my Aunt was hospitalized, disconnected from me, and died. I should be talking up my newest book, enjoying my updated photography software. Instead, while grieving, I’m still trying to figure out how to make my home comfortable in the morning, getting the “loan” and credits, wrestling for my usage data from Toronto Hydro, a nightmare all on its own, so I can see how much this new system is costing or saving me.
Psychologically, I wish I’d ignored my neighbour and gotten a new gas furnace. Physically and health wise, the air is dramatically cleaner, the heat is settled and balanced throughout my home in some unknowable but miraculous way, it’s much easier to cook and bake so I’ve begun again a bit, my home retains heat for hours, it’s brighter, and I’m not bothered by outside noise any more. It remains to be seen whether I’ll be worse off or better off financially. In the end, I think people will be more comfortable and energy-secure with well-insulated homes with heat pumps and off-grid solar.