A large part of Canada’s carbon emissions come from the homes we live in – by some estimates, as much as 18% of the total come from buildings. Heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, it all adds up quickly, especially in a country with weather extremes like Canada has.
In order to meet Canada’s carbon-reduction targets and eventually get to net zero, emissions from our homes will have to come down substantially, and soon.
James Riley thinks most people genuinely want to help achieve those targets. He also thinks there are ways to make it simpler for homeowners to help overcome the barriers they face, understand the benefits of making their homes more energy efficient, and achieving those goals.
“There’s a psychological aspect, where people think, ‘I want to do something about it, but why isn't anyone else doing this?’ Or ‘it's too much work, it makes me feel too guilty to think about it,’” Riley says. “However, when homeowners realize the full benefits, a more comfortable home, ample evidence that these upgrades improve home value, saving energy and money, doing the right thing becomes even more obvious.”
Riley is the founder of Lightspark. His company aims to help people understand their own homes’ emissions and give them a realistic path to reduce them in the most cost-effective way possible.
Riley and his team created the Lightspark platform using artificial intelligence to let homeowners quickly and easily determine their home’s emissions, then aggregates information about available rebates and subsidies from all levels of government to help them make decisions about upgrades that could reduce those emissions. The platform will soon also provide links to trades people who could do the work, making the process that much easier.
Photo: The Lightspark platform provides homeowners with an energy score report.
“We believe in the value of doing something about a big problem collectively as a society, and that technology can enable the solutions to get through these kinds of problems,” Riley says. “That’s really our mission, to empower homeowners to make informed decisions about their energy use and retrofitting needs.”
Lightspark uses big data sources including property tax assessments, EnerGuide audit data, economic data and other proprietary and public data to statistically predict what the carbon rating of a home is, Riley says. It provides an initial score on a range from 1 to 100, and then users fine tune the score by entering the specifics of their home, including age, size, the fuel used for the heating system, hot water system, windows and doors and so on in Lighstpark’s Digital Home Survey. The higher the score, the greener the building. At the same time, it shows the homeowner the Energy Score in Gigajoules and the Carbon Score in tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
Using all that data, Lightspark can then provide recommendations about the various ways to improve the score by making home improvements.
“Our goal is to get people through the awareness stage and into the ability to make a decision much faster,” Riley says.
Scotiabank has partnered with Lightspark as it launches a pilot project in Calgary and Edmonton, where residents will be given the opportunity to try out the new platform. Riley says he’s aiming to get 20,000 people in those cities to use the Lightspark Digital Home Survey during the pilot.
As a member of the Net Zero Banking Alliance, Scotiabank is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. That includes emissions from its operations as well as its financed emissions. Financed emissions are those produced by customers to whom the Bank has provided financing of some kind. They fall under what’s called Scope 3 emissions. The emissions produced by the homes of the Bank’s residential mortgage customers make up a significant part of its financed emissions.
“We believe in the value of doing something about a big problem collectively as a society, and that technology can enable the solutions to get through these kinds of problems."
Because the Bank provides mortgage financing to so many people, with so many different types of housing and in so many different parts of the country, a big challenge is simply determining what those emissions are. There is relatively little public data available on household emissions. One of the goals of the Lightspark partnership is to improve data quality and coverage for those emissions.
“Initially it’s very much about getting a tool in homeowners’ hands so they can get that score and be empowered to make decisions to reduce their own emissions and save energy costs,” said John Webster, Head, Real Estate Secured Lending & Scotia Mortgage Authority at Scotiabank.
But as Lightspark aims to scale the platform nationally, then the hope is that they will start collecting good data on household emissions that can be used by governments, banks and others, he said.
“We see it as an opportunity to support an important effort of getting more accurate regionally representative emissions data and to get a more accurate sense at the client level of the emissions, then we can be more targeted in the solutions we offer and in our actions and hopefully achieve better outcomes.”
Riley understands that consumers may be skeptical about investing money in foundational and seemingly invisible home assets – like insulation or a heat pump, for example – that don’t give their homes that extra glow that, say, a new kitchen can. But he points to the returns in both energy savings as well the potential resale value of their homes.
“We know from U.S. research that eco-friendly features help homes sell up to 10 days faster and for more money because energy-efficient homes have lower operating costs,” he says.
“We’re trying to show people the benefits of taking this kind of action – it makes your home more comfortable, it makes it more saleable, it reduces your energy costs. And you know, it’s the right thing to do.”