by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

Governments use home improvement rebates as an incentive for people to upgrade their old appliances or home equipment for new and more energy-efficient products. The Alberta government, for example, introduced a program last week that offers up to $3,500 back to those who replace their attic insulation, windows, or who invest in tankless water heaters.

On a smaller scale than that of the Province’s, the Town of Morinville also has a similar initiative called, the toilet rebate program. Claude Valcourt, Morinville’s Director of Public Works, said the Town’s program is beneficial in terms of return on investment.

“Residents will notice savings in their water use,” he said, as he notes, “some drawbacks that municipalities have noticed are issues with plugged sanitary lines due to less flow, [but] in Morinville, we have an annual sewer flushing program that alleviates that concern.”

Valcourt also explained, the less water a household uses, the smaller the charge for sewer on the next utility bill as well, since the two services are linked.

Programs like this have minimal long-term effects on the Town’s infrastructure, however, according to the Public Works Director, the primary goal is water conversation. The low-flush program helps to accomplish that and therefore is beneficial to the region (a full flush toilet can use up to five or six gallons of water per flush, while a low-flow toilet uses around 1.6 gallons of water).

Each year, for the past three years, Morinville has earmarked $7,500 for this program, which roughly equates to 100 rebates (though, they’ve never used that full amount). Currently, the Town says there are about 80 rebates (or $6,000) left for 2017.

The program applies only to the replacement of older, full-flush, toilets, and not to any new home construction. To get the rebate of $75, a resident must fill out a form, provide proof of purchase, including required information on the low-flow toilet, and arrange for a visual inspection by the Town.

Tim Quinn, journeyman plumber and owner of Quinn’s Plumbing in Morinville, said replacing an old toilet to one that is low-flow will indeed help out in reducing costs; however, he cautions, do your research and look for what will fit your household needs.

“Different manufacturers make different quality toilets…it’s important to remember: it’s not just about low-flow, it’s about good low-flow,” he said. A lower quality toilet could, for example, plug more easily.

Quinn’s Plumbing is currently undergoing the process for getting added to the approved list of Alberta Contractors for the new Alberta Home Improvement Program. Though, Quinn is not convinced this particular rebate program will flush out a lot of new business for him (versus a program that existed a few years ago, which encompassed more energy efficiency products and included a mandatory, comprehensive, energy audit).

“Tankless, or on-demand, hot water heaters are quite an investment,” he explains, “and they don’t do particularly well with our hard water.” This means the cost of the water heater and annual maintenance should be considered when working out the cost of going tankless.

Quinn likens tankless hot water heaters to a kettle. The units, which cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, heats water very quickly. Without regular maintenance, he said, scaling occurs inside the unit, just like in does in your kettle. “To counter this, you can install a water softener,” he suggests, “but again, a lot of it comes down to quality of the product. You get what you pay for.”

A traditional hot water tank uses about 50,000BTUs to heat water and turns on to reheat stored water about five or six times a day. A tankless water heater uses 200,000BTUs and only turns on when it has to. Quinn said there is also a third option which is the traditional hot water tank, with a high-efficiency burner (these are not included in the Albert Home Improvement Program; however, Quinn suggests they can achieve similar efficiencies as a tankless unit and cost slightly less).

“It comes down to doing your homework. On the surface, upgrading looks great but always remember to consider the real costs so you can make an informed decision.”

The Alberta Home Improvement Program offers up to $1,000 in rebates for a tankless water heater; they recommend consumers get three quotes from registered contractors for more information and estimates on rebates.

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