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Households are becoming ever smaller and living in ever larger homes, says report.

Housing, energy: an “empty room crisis” in Quebec ;bec

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A large unoccupied room, heated to 22 degrees.

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There have never been so many empty spaces in Quebec homes. A paradox, in the middle of the housing crisis. It is also an issue of overconsumption of electricity, at a time when it is becoming rarer, notes the 2024 edition of the State of Energy in Quebec, published Thursday .

There are more and more people who have second homes, who have larger homes. All that adds up to extra square meters to build, heat, air-condition, etc., deplores the holder of the Chair of Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal, Pierre-Olivier Pineau, co-author of the report (New window), with her colleague Johanne Whitmore.

Between 1990 and 2021, in Quebec, the average surface area of ​​housing (floor area) has increased by 23%. Over the same period, the number of housing units per 1,000 inhabitants increased by 18%.

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Graph published in The State of Energy in Quebec, 2024 edition, based on data from the Office of Energy Efficiency.

Quebec families are smaller than before and we live more and more alone.

In all the debate on the housing crisis, no one seems to be talking about the crisis of empty rooms, notes Mr. Pineau.

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We have become a society that cultivates empty spaces and only thinks about building more, rather than better distributing what exists.

A quote from Pierre-Olivier Pineau, chair holder in energy sector management, at HEC Montréal

While the surface area per household increases, the number of occupants per dwelling decreases, shows the following graph.

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Graph created by Pierre-Olivier Pineau with data from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Statistics Canada.

The area of ​​floor space to be heated continued to increase faster than the population, notes the report. It’s an energy issue, says Mr. Pineau. We heat all these spaces.

The total number of housing units in Quebec increased by 45%, while the population only increased by 23%. This is explained by a decrease in the number of people per household, explain the authors of the report.

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Pierre-Olivier Pineau, professor at HEC Montréal and holder of the Chair of Management of the energy sector

The average floor area is increasing not only because inhabited dwellings are larger, but also because the stock of single-family and attached houses is growing more quickly than that of apartments (including condos).

In addition to being smaller, apartments require 28% less energy per square meter, per year, than a single-family home.

This explains why a household living in an apartment consumes nearly 44% less energy than a household occupying a single-family home.

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Table published in The State of Energy in Quebec, 2024 edition.

Pierre-Olivier Pineau notes that the automated management of heating in homes, to lower the temperature in unused rooms, is still not widespread. There's Hilo, but it's having trouble penetrating the market, he said. Ultimately, efficient buildings will be required to have good energy efficiency.

The Quebec government has tabled a bill to improve the energy performance of buildings, but it does not concern plexes or houses, as in France.

Hydro-Québec foresees the end of its electricity surpluses for 2026-2027 and must launch a major project to increase production in order to meet demand (New window).

Canadians and Quebecers are among the world champions in per capita energy consumption.

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Table drawn of the State of Energy in Quebec, 2024 edition.

The authors calculate that 61% of the energy used by Quebec residences is used for heating, 18% for the operation of electrical appliances and 14% for heating of the water. Lighting only accounts for 4% of total consumption and air conditioning for 3%.

The report shows that the richer Quebecers are, the more they consume electricity.

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Table published in The state of energy in Quebec, 2024 edition.

This is problematic, according to Pierre-Olivier Pineau, because we should not subsidize high-income households who have more and more square meters.

In Quebec, residential customers pay a rate equivalent to 85% of what Hydro-Québec costs to power them. It is manufacturers and especially commercial customers, such as small medium-sized businesses (SMEs), who make up the difference.

According to him, one possibility would be to charge for electricity according to one's income.

I have no pity, because it's not poor people who have empty spaces, it's rich people.

A quote from Pierre-Olivier Pineau, co-author of the ;2024 edition of the State of Energy in Quebec

I would prefer that everyone pay a higher price, but that we do targeted programs for low-income people, he explains. This is what we did with the GST-QST, everyone pays it, but below a certain income, you have a tax return from the government.

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19% of Quebecers live alone in their home.

Mr. Pineau even mentions an eco-tax penalizing square meters beyond 50 m2 per person, which would create an incentive for rental/shared accommodation, in addition to generating funds for social housing.

In Canada, in 2021, 4.4 million people lived alone, compared to 1.7 million in 1981. And Quebec is the province with the highest proportion: 19%.

According to a Statistics Canada study published in 2022, this increase in the number of single-person households (which continues despite the economic slowdown and housing affordability problems housing in certain regions) is almost entirely explained by the aging of the population.

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