Water Heater Exchange Program Overview

Posted 2013-10-18
Written by
Category Taking Action

by Brad Heath for AEA

Homeowners in four NWT communities are being offered an opportunity to replace their atomic hot water heaters with energy efficient fuel-fired units.

The NWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is funding a $400,000 pilot project with a target to install 55 fuel-fired hot water heaters in Deline, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson and Tulita.

The project is being administered by the Arctic Energy Alliance (AEA) and launches this October in Fort Providence, says AEA Operations Coordinator Marie-Soleil Lacoursiere.

AEA is scheduled to install five fuel-fired hot water heaters in Fort Providence in October; 30 in Fort Simpson in late November - December; 10 in Tulita next January; and 10 in Deline in February.

Switching from an atomic to a fuel-fired hot water heater is expected to save homeowners approximately $225 to $400 per year, however, the savings would be much greater if the price of electricity paid by NWT residents was not already being subsidized.

Homeowners will also benefit from the program because the fuel-fired water heaters last longer than atomic water heaters and they increase the resale value of the homes. 

Homeowners taking part in the pilot project do not have to purchase the fuel-fired hot water heater, nor is there a charge for removing their atomic hot water heater and installing the new heater, says Lacoursiere. Homeowners are, however, required to pay $150 to have the AEA conduct a Home Energy Evaluation to determine if the house is suitable for the project.

“Health and safety are our number one concern, that’s why we need to conduct the Home Energy Evaluation, which includes a blower door test, to make sure that it is safe to add another oil-fired appliance in these homes,” she adds.

Lacoursiere adds that AEA went through a public tender process to hire a professional engineering firm to develop the step-by-step, technical details for installation of the oil or propane-fired hot water heaters.

Williams Engineering will also inspect the oil-fired water heaters after the units are installed by the contractors.  Propane water heaters will be inspected by the GNWT’s Chief Gas Inspector.

“We know that the contractors will do a professional job but we’re making sure that the installations will meet all codes and standards.  It’s an expensive approach but, as I said, health and safety are our number one concern,” says Lacoursiere. 

“We also gave a lot of thought to the particular fuel-fired water heating unit that’s going to be installed in these homes. We did a lot of research to ensure it’s a very efficient, top of the line unit and that it’s a unit being used by the NWT Housing Corporation, so that mechanical parts are readily available in communities and that there are people in each community who know how to maintain them. We estimate each replacement to be worth about $4,000. The new water heater will help them save money each year, and it will last longer than their atomic one.”

Lacoursiere adds that the fuel-fired water heaters require an annual servicing – which is the same maintenance needed for a home furnace.  And at the end of the project the AEA will hold a workshop in each of the four communities for the homeowners on how to maintain their new fuel-fired water heaters.

As part of this project, AEA has contacted the NWT Apprentice Board to see if there are available Oil Burner Mechanic apprentices from each of the four communities.  If so, that person will be hired to work with the contractor, says Lacoursiere.  “It’s just an extra step we’re taking to try and build local capacity if at all possible.”

Participating homeowners will be recruited by the temporary Community Liaison Worker that AEA is hiring in each community.  Roland Nadli was hired and started in August in Fort Providence and the other hires will follow soon.

The Community Liaison Workers will spread the word about the pilot project throughout the four communities to make sure that everyone who is interested in the program gets a fair chance to participate.

Lacoursiere says the Community Liaison Workers will also be coordinating the home energy evaluations and the installation of the fuel-fired water heaters in their community. They will also be responsible for following up with homeowners after the installations are complete to make sure there are no outstanding questions or concerns.

Anyone interested in taking part in the project is asked to contact their Community Liaison Worker. Contact info is available from the AEA.

For those NWT communities who are feeling left out of the pilot program, Lacoursiere assures Northerners that the AEA applied a rigorous and fair process to selecting the four participating communities.

The project was first limited to non-hydro communities to achieve the maximum GHG reduction, and since the pilot project’s planning started in May, communities supplied by barge only were not able to take part. Norman Wells and Inuvik were not considered because it is uncertain at this time which fuel the communities will use in the future.

All remaining communities were then ranked by the local cost of fuel, and only those with above average cost proceeded to the next stage where the list was filtered by economies of scale.  “In some of the smaller communities it was just not efficient enough to mobilize all of the work for a pilot project,” says Lacoursiere.

That left six communities and the governing body in each community was asked to submit a letter of support for the project to the AEA.  Fort Good Hope and the four successful communities expressed interest in the project but Fort Good Hope was not chosen due to logistics.

“We just can’t do five communities in one year,” says Lacoursiere. “But we want all NWT communities to know that it was a very fair and transparent process to maximize homeowner savings.”

Will the other NWT communities be offered a chance to participate in a similar project in the future? Lacoursiere says that depends on the success of the pilot project and the availability of funding in the future.

“We can only hope that where there’s a pilot project that the program has a future!”