News / Vancouver

Vancouver to use thermal imaging to identify energy inefficient homes

The City of Vancouver plans to use thermal imaging this winter to test the energy efficiency of up to 15,000 homes.

An example of a thermal image used to test homes for energy efficiency and heat loss.

Contributed/City of Vancouver

An example of a thermal image used to test homes for energy efficiency and heat loss.

Vancouver is about to launch a large-scale thermal imaging program that will show just how efficient thousands of homes in the city really are.

The city’s green building planner, Chris Higgins, told Metro that it hopes to have 12,000 to 15,000 homes tested this winter.

Similar to the technology used by Google street view, a vehicle equipped with thermal cameras would drive around neighbourhoods and capture images that show where a home is leaking heat by identifying gaps in insulation or faulty windows.

The results would then be sent to homeowners, along with information on incentives provided by companies like BC Hydro and Fortis, to encourage them to retrofit their home and potentially save hundreds of dollars annually in heating bills.

Higgins said the city is following the lead of Cambridge, Mass., Detroit and Calgary which have all already embarked on similar projects.

Other municipalities, like those on the North Shore, do currently offer thermal imaging to homeowners but only by request and on a house-by-house basis.

A house viewed through a thermal imaging camera.

Contributed/City of Vancouver

A house viewed through a thermal imaging camera.

“We do have a sense [of where homes require upgrades] by home age and block-by-block natural gas usage, but we don’t have the numbers for specific housing,” said Higgins. “Other cities that have done this found thermal images to be a really effective engagement technique. Knowing that a block consumes a lot of natural gas is helpful, the question is how do you communicate to those homeowners and say, ‘Hey, here are the grants available and here is your home compared to the average home.’”

Higgins said he had his own home imaged by a local company and learned one of the windows had failed.

“So we were able to put insulation in places where there was no insulation before, draft-proof a little bit and reduce air leakage,” he said. “One of the advantages was an upgrade in comfort. We noticed it was a lot less drafty and it was comfortable to sit near windows where it wasn’t before in the winter.”

Higgins expects anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 homes to be identified as being ones that would “benefit greatly” from added insulation.

The imaging is conducted in the winter because the contrast between heat inside and the cold air outside provides clearer results.

Any renovations done by homeowners as a result of the imaging would be voluntary.

A contractor will be hired to conduct the work soon.

The majority of homes tested will be single-family houses.

Partnering with the University of British Columbia, the pilot project is one of several community initiatives identified by the school’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning in its progress report to Metro Vancouver’s regional climate action committee, which next meets Wednesday.

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