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EE Q & A: Jay Nordenstrom, NAIMA Canada

The Key to Selling Energy Efficiency? Educating Home Buyers about Building Envelopes

Jay NordenstromJay Nordenstrom is the executive director of the national association for fibre glass, rock and slag wool insulation manufacturers. Established in 2004 and based in Ottawa, NAIMA Canada represents five leading North American manufacturers and nine manufacturing plants across Canada. Members include CertainTeed, John’s Manville, Knauf, Owens Corning and Roxul. The association focuses on promoting energy efficiency and environmental preservation in the insulation industry and encourages its safe production and use. NAIMA Canada is a CEEA member and Nordenstrom is also treasurer of the Alliance.

Q. What drew you to working for NAIMA Canada?

A. I used to work for a federal cabinet minister and then I went to the Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers for close to a decade. I loved the efficiency aspect from the transportation perspective. Safely moving freight and passengers in an environmentally conscious manner, part of the answer to that question here in Canada is trains. I also believe change is good, so when I wanted to tackle some new challenges I was drawn to insulation. What they do, what they manufacture, how they manufacture insulation – it’s a great story. My member companies are some of the most innovative, lean and competitive manufacturing companies in Canada. So when I had the opportunity to be a part of the team, I jumped at the chance. When it comes to energy efficiency the most important aspect is the energy that is saved. NAIMA Canada tells that story very well through both its product and process.

Q. What have been the biggest changes in the insulation industry in the past five years?

A. We’ve seen a monumental shift towards energy efficiency within government policy and in many cases regulation. Provincial governments are beginning to adopt national energy efficiency requirements and in some cases expanding on previous standards. They recognized that Canada can no longer rely on relatively cheap energy with an abundance of natural resources. Canadians need to become leaders in energy use and not only energy extraction. And the most sustainable energy is energy saved. I should stress that residential builders nationally have been supporting energy efficiency in a big way for quite some time. We work closely with the builders to ensure we can help them meet their targets in a cost effective way. ICI, or the industrial, commercial and institutional buildings, have a long way to go from a regulatory perspective. My argument is to get the right technology, and innovate, but let’s get the building envelope right first – if it’s leaky it doesn’t matter how energy efficient your mechanicals and technology are.

Also there’s the educational piece, from ownership to management. For new homeowners they know there’s a mortgage payment, but they also need to be keenly aware about the operations of the house before they buy or rent a new property. We have come a long way with assessments, which is a critical educational component. More people know how they [assessments] work and why it matters but we’re just at the beginning. Also, BC has just adopted energy efficiency codes for residences, Nova Scotia is doing the same, and Ontario and Quebec are also leaders in this area. We’re encouraged to see more provinces on board. But that’s just for new builds. The real opportunity is in existing buildings. With the rebooting of CEEA we’re planning to do a better job of educating Canadians of the importance of energy efficiency for existing home owners. We also must continue to look at ways to help Canadians make it easier to undertake deep energy efficiency retrofits to the existing housing stock. Incentives for the uptake of new technologies have been effective in the past but arguably this low-hanging fruit has been picked. We need to find innovative financial tools such as on-bill financing to help improve the building envelopes for many Canadian families. This will lead to increased long-term energy efficiencies, increased comfort and home values, as well as decreased utility bills and GHG emissions.

Q. The CEEA survey found 53% of Canadians believe improved insulation would save them a great deal of money. Why isn’t that number higher?

A. Aside from blowing in attic insulation, to get into the cavity you have to get behind the walls. It might be a mental barrier. We need to do a better job of educating people about the importance of the building envelope when doing renovations. We then need to offer help to home owners when faced with high up front capital costs. On-bill financing is a great option so upgrades in cavity insulation can be paid over time on their utility bill. At the end of the day you’ll have a more comfortable home, a more energy efficient home. On-bill financing would fall under provincial jurisdiction, done through local distribution companies, or LDCs. It’s one thing to have the tool or mechanism available, but if people don’t know that help exists, it’s a lost opportunity. CEEA’s role is important to help educate consumers about these opportunities. And we’re working with LDC’s to help support getting the message out to the public. They play a critical role to enable deep energy savings.

Getting Canadians on board with energy efficiency through insulation or the building envelope is akin to recycling bins. When they first came out it was regulated but people still chose if they wanted to use it or not. And then the education piece was there – it was hammered in schools, on TV, on the airwaves and in print. Now, if you’re not recycling there’s a social price to that – you look like a knuckle dragger. That’s where we need to go with energy efficiency. It won’t happen by itself. And we can’t afford to not do it!

Understanding where your electricity or gas comes from, understanding the things you can do to be more energy efficient. The low-hanging fruit has been taken care of. We now need the deep energy savings you can get from the envelope, from the retrofit point of view. The need to address this issue will only exacerbate with the volatile weather and extreme temperatures we experience across Canada.

Q. What trends in energy efficiency do you think will have the most traction over the next 2 years?

A. Labeling, post 2014, when the new energy rating system comes online. The current EnerGuide Rating System (ERS) is difficult for the general public to understand. Take for example a new home in Ontario that is built at an ERS80; going from a rating of 80 to 83 is not 3% better, but 25% better. It’s confusing. Natural Resources Canada, working with provinces and stakeholders, has come up with a system much like a game of golf. You want to get to the lowest score. Scoring a zero would mean you do not require energy from the grid. I want to see more Canadians demanding to see the full cost of operating a home prior to the purchase by a rating system they can understand and compare. It should be as important as a pre-purchase home inspection.

Q. What are your insulation tips that consumers need to know?

A. Through our partnership with our sister organization in the US, we provide videos and tips on how to install insulation through our website. When fibre glass and rock and slag wool is installed it provides an environment where you can live, work and play in comfort, all while reducing your energy consumption. It’s a win-win.

Q. You just bought a new house – what’s its insulation status?

A. I made sure it was energy-rated, and the assessment showed it was well-insulated by our products!

To learn more about the economic benefits of insulation go to NAIMA Canada.

Posted by Jane L. Thompson on July 30, 2013. The interview was edited and condensed.