Every time I drive back from my visits to Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTTFN), the natural landscape seems to shine brighter for me.  Yesterday was no exception.  The deep red and orange leaves put on a dance for me as they floated past my windshield.  Again, I felt an affirmation of sorts, that this was important work, and I was where I needed to be.

I, and my team at the London Environmental Network, have been working with COTTFN’s Treaty, Lands and Environment Department on sustainability goals.  COTTFN has identified, through their Community Energy Plan important, tangible goals;

  • Lower Energy Consumption
  • Manage Energy Costs
  • Reduce Carbon Emissions

We, at the London Environmental Network (LEN), have been working on developing a lot of resources in this area, through our Greener Homes London program and our Green Economy London program, and I felt that we could help support COTTFN’s goals, while working towards our goals of incorporating First Nations’ environmental worldviews into our programming and taking meaningful steps towards reconciliation in the environmental sector.  

We hatched a plan for a Retrofit Project, where our goal was to take a home on COTTFN to near net-zero and eliminate the costly, and unsustainable propane reliance.

We pitched our idea to Natural Resources Canada and were delighted to be selected for funding to retrofit 1 home and build capacity for clean energy in the community through education, and green technology mentorship.

I put together an application for interested homeowners, realizing the huge commitment that they would need to make in terms of time and energy, and also in opening up their home to the community and a myriad of contractors.  I was worried folks wouldn’t be interested, but I was wrong.  Of the roughly 350 homes on COTTFN, we had 40 people apply right away.

This was and remains so encouraging.  To me, it said that people care about their home's environmental impact and are willing to do the work to reduce their impact.  It also said that folks need financial support to get this done and that the investment is the barrier, not the concept.

The selection process was difficult for the team, but we used building science principles to narrow the applicant homes down to those that could achieve near net-zero.  After walkthroughs of the homes and community consultation, we had a homeowner to work with who was already starting their retrofit journey on their own and we were able to accelerate it.  Wanda has been so incredible and she is a great champion for clean energy and sustainability.  A generational home, that once belonged to her parents, and now houses, Wanda, her husband and oftentimes their granddaughter was reliant on propane, as natural gas lines are not available on most of COTTFN.

Roughly 80% of the homes in this community are reliant on propane. This is in comparison to the only 1% of Canadian households that rely on propane.

Learning this has been frustrating, angering, and then ultimately inspiring.  This is where we need to focus.

Throughout 2022, we have completed the retrofit.  Wanda’s home now has:

  • Air sealing
  • Increased attic insulation, basement insulation, and continuous exterior wall insulation
  • An electric air source heat pump for heating and cooling
  • An electric water heater
  • New doors and windows
  • New Energy Star appliances, and
  • A solar PV system

We have hosted an enthusiastic cohort of 10 participants from COTTFN and Oneida in home sustainability training that included a live tour of the technology used and interviews with the contractors.

With the response and success of this pilot, our project team is inspired to keep the momentum going.  We want to retrofit more houses in this community and develop an Energy Champion in the COTTFN community.

By converting these homes to the highest standard of efficiency; ground or air source heat pumps that run on electricity, we are able to reduce a lot of emissions and save the homeowners thousands of dollars per year, shifting these dollars into the local economy. 

I believe that no one should be left behind in the transition to clean energy and that being able to live within your value system should not be a luxury that is exclusive.  Focusing our efforts on where we can have the most GHG emission reductions, while also working towards reconciliation and a just future, is an incredible honour and I am so thankful for LEN and COTTFN and this collaborative approach.  We will continue to work hard to raise the capital and support needed to continue this work and this journey, in partnership for a just and clean future.

For more information on this project, visit our webpage here.

To support this specific project or other London Environmental Network programs, please visit our donation page here.

- Marianne Griffith, Executive Director, London Environmental Network