01/13/2012 11:40 EST | Updated 03/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Ontario studies new regulations to ensure home renovations are energy efficient

TORONTO - Ontario is looking at possible regulations to ensure home renovations are done in an energy efficient manner, triggering warnings any new rules could drive more people to the underground economy.

The province has put out a request-for-proposals looking for companies to study ways of developing regulations to make sure energy efficient standards are observed in home renovations. Similar regulations were introduced Jan. 1 for new home construction.

However, it will be years before the government decides if there will be new rules for renovations of existing homes, said Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne.

"This request for proposal has to do with down-the-line changes that may or may not take place, but we have to continue to do research to find out where we should be going," Wynne said in an interview.

"People want energy efficient homes. What we need to find out is what could be in the building code that might help that."

The Ontario Home Builders Association, which also represents home renovators, welcomed the government's research, but cautioned more regulations only add to costs and drive up prices for consumers.

"There’s an information gap and this research will be helpful," said Joe Vaccaro who heads the association.

"The reality is we are always wary about regulators' costs and the impact on the consumers ... specifically in the renovation sector, where the underground economic activity is always a concern."

The Progressive Conservatives said there's no need for more red tape and regulations when people are doing renovations to make their homes more energy efficient and lower electricity bills.

"We all support making our homes more energy efficient, and I think people are going in that direction without having to be told to by the government," said Opposition housing critic Steve Clark.

"That’s the concern, that people are going to turn to the underground economy, they’re going to renovate their homes without permits, and that’s certainly not what anyone wants."

However, Wynne said there's no guarantee the government will introduce new regulations and if it does, they will come after years of research and consultation with the industry and the public.

"We’re going to do an inter-jurisdictional review, we’re going to gather data, we have to carry out a cost benefit analysis, and then potentially develop building code changes, but there’s no decision at this point," she said

"They’re a number of years away. This is very preliminary and it’s the due diligence that has to be undertaken whenever there is a building code change."

The building code helps consumers by identifying the best methods and practices to make homes more energy efficient, which do change over time, added Wynne.

"It is about consumer protection," she said.

"The building code makes it clear what works, what is the best practice at a given point in time."

However, any time a government looks at new regulations, people can expect they will be implemented eventually, warned the Tories.

"If they can improve their home and make it more energy efficient, they’re doing it already," said Clark.

"They don’t need the nanny state government that Dalton (McGuinty) runs to tell them to do it."

The Home Builders Association said it was "interesting" how the potential for new regulations for home renovations were being studied just as the Liberals introduced a tax credit for seniors who upgrade their homes.