Posts filed under ‘Power-saving solutions’

Add a humidifier, add cosy comfort


According to “The Little Green Book” (Creative Homeowner, 2008), winter’s dry indoor air makes us want to crank the thermostat. “Body moisture evapourates quickly and we feel cold,” according to the book, so if you add moisture to the air you’ll feel warmer, and you’ll use less energy in heating your home.

My skin gets pretty dry in the winter, so I think this is good advice for more many reasons. I chose a hot-water mist humidifier last time I purchased one. I think that the type that essentially boil water will not allow mould growth within the humidifier itself, while I’ve seen this problem in the older filter type of cold mist humidifier.

That humidifier worked for a couple of years, but eventually the seals split and it made a big leaky mess. While looking around for humidifier pictures online, I came across these cute ceramic models. They’re basically vases that you hang from your radiator. I know a lot of people don’t have rads anymore, but if you’re like me and you do, this ceramic option seem to make good sense. You don’t need to plug in another appliance to heat the water, there are no filters to change and unless you drop it hard it should last for a long time.

November 6, 2009 at 2:22 PM 2 comments

Quick work for your brickwork

Mauern - build 01After visits by ghouls, princesses and Dracula this Hallowe’en weekend, and with all the candy chased out of the house, it was finally time to to finish some energy-saving projects. Aside from typical fall homeowner stuff – raking leaves and emptying eavestroughs, I finally finished the brick work I talked about a few weeks ago, posted here.

My home is a small brick bungalow. It’s in pretty good shape overall, but a lot of little things need attention. A couple of months ago I hired Mike from Red Robin to come and replace some damaged bricks. We even had a few bricks missing on the bottom of one corner of the house! Others had become soft, likely because water had seeped in. Mike pointed out that the mortar between the brick was set too far back, particularly for the base of a wall, making it easy for water to settle on top of the brick and seep down.

When Mike finished replacing the damaged bricks, I vowed to follow-up with the tuck pointing, since there were a lot of gaps, and yes even some holes between the bricks – obvious points of heat loss. Yesterday I finally got around to it. Here’s what I did, for those of you interested in giving your brickwork a little makeover.

I bought mortar mix that takes about 72 hours to fully dry. It stays wet enough to work with for an hour or so. Using a paint mixer chucked into a drill, I slowly mixed in the water, using the base of a juice jug as a bucket (I cut off the top, but left the handle intact). I donned a pair of thin rubber gloves, and assembled my tools: a ladder, a trowel, an old screwdriver an old toothbrush and a spritz bottle.

As I combed the brickwork all the way around the house, from the top of the wall to its base, every time I found a crack or hole I’d use the screwdriver to break out any loose material, then use the toothbrush to clear out the dust. Next I spritzed the crack with water, since the mortar adheres better to a damp surface. If I had a big gap to fill I’d use the trowel, but most of the time I’d just pick up a small handful of mortar and squeeze it into a cylindrical shape, then use my fingers to squeeze it into the gap, tapping it in as far as it would go. I tried to avoid getting mortar on the brick, since it leaves a whitish haze, but I used the toothbrush to remove the mortar I’d missed. Finally, I’d swipe a finger over the wet mortar to smooth it out. (You could use a jointing tool for this purpose as well.)

That’s it! While I’m sure that adding more insulation will do more to prevent heat loss than sealing tiny cracks in the mortar, surely it will help.

Do you have to do anything to get your home ready for winter?

November 2, 2009 at 11:50 AM Leave a comment

Attic insulation: lessons from above


Gateway to the attic

If you’ve ever done a home renovation project, you know that the project you intend to complete isn’t the one you need to start with.

For example, my partner and I would like to add additional insulation to our attic, so we can make sure we’re using as little energy as possible to heat our home. The attic currently sports a messy mix of fibreglass batts and cellulose. According to our energy audit the level of insulation there only amounts to R 19.9 (R level is a measure of insulation value), whereas the EcoEnergy program recommends R 50.

That project will involve us calling in some help in sealing tops of walls with foam boxes and blowing in more cellulose insulation. But first, before we can do any of that, we have to replace the bathroom vent, and make sure it’s vented it outside. You see, the existing bathroom vent, which is mounted over the bathroom in the attic, isn’t well sealed, and it wasn’t properly vented either, so it spewed warm, moist air into the attic. Yesterday a roofer came by to install a roof vent for the bathroom fan. Excited by the upgrade, my partner decided we should connect our existing bath fan to the roof vent right away. So off to the home centre we went. Half an hour later we had all the insulated ducting, tape and fittings to do the job, and thanks to my partner’s handiwork, the fan is now vented outdoors.

So now we can get on with the business of insulating the attic!

Well, after we have a look at the electrical…

Have you added insulation to your home lately, or are you trying to plan the job?

October 29, 2009 at 10:49 AM Leave a comment

Efficient lighting of the future?

I thought LED lighting was neat, as I mentioned in a previous post, and it is, especially wrapped into this new source of light — LED light panels, called organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) — shown in this video of designs by students at the Cleveland Institute for Art, with technology by GE. Flexible and thin, OLEDs are practically like paper lighting. I love the idea that a wall could be on or off, providing efficient light sort of like a window when it’s needed. And yes, lighting fans, OLEDs are dimmable.

I would love to see this technology move even further, to essentially be able to order a large sheet of this material as a screen, so I could turn a wall into an efficient, uplifting light source, yes, but also splash a fabulous photo across a wall, add a pattern light wallpaper, use it as a computer screen I could control with a wireless keyboard and mouse, watch movies on it… the possibilities seem endless!

July 6, 2009 at 12:06 PM Leave a comment

Eco Concept: Going carbon neutral

I receive a fair number of media releases at my post at Homemakers magazine, and I love reading about the terrific things some companies are doing to try to produce the stuff we need while curtailing their output of greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Today I received word from Aveda that they’re purchasing wind credits against 100 per cent of the power they use in their main manufacturing plant. I believe they’ve been doing this for a while, and I’m glad they’re sticking to their commitment.

Last week I was having a look at the Attitude dishwashing tabs package for an upcoming article on dishwasher tabs in Homemakers magazine, and I noticed that Attitude has joined Carbon Zero. That means that they’re purchasing carbon offsets for the manufacturing, distribution and retail sale of their products; those offsets are essentially used to plant enough trees to absorb the carbon used to get you the dishwasher tabs.

A couple of months ago I heard about the Motorola w233Renew, a mobile phone made with recycled plastic from those big water-cooler water bottles. The phones are also carbon offset, for the manufacturing, shipping, retail sale, and even the power the consumer uses for a two year period AND the recycling energy needed to take the phone apart at the end of its life. I was really impressed with this end-to-end approach to energy use.

All of these firms also reduced the energy they use in the first place; after all, it will cost them less in carbon offsets if they aren’t using as much power. But it’s also the right thing to do. And the sustainability expert at Motorola told me that the company learned how to dramatically reduce their shipping costs by sending out phones in smaller boxes, a practice they plan to use for their other phones. It makes green sense, whether we’re talking the environment or the wallet.

If a product you’re considering buying has been carbon offset, are you more interested in purchasing it?

June 12, 2009 at 10:58 AM 1 comment

Crank the air conditioning or embrace summer’s heat?

Thermometer - Heatwave. Credit: iStockphoto.comWe’ve been lucky to have some stretches of cool days here in Toronto, so, at least at my place, there’s been no need to think about cooling the house down just yet. I hope that, when the steady heat does come, we’ll be able to keep the house cooler. The house has awnings over the front windows and the front door, so that keeps direct sun out until very late in the day. We have blinds with light-coloured fabric on the back, so if we close those during the day we should reflect some heat away from the house. And if we add some insulation to the attic, we’ll isolate the indoor air temperature from the heat of the attic. In the evening we should be able to let the heat out by opening the casement windows to let the breeze run through. We have a couple of fans to move air around the house, and the previous owner of our house installed a high-efficiency air conditioning unit, which hopefully will take the edge off the heat and humidity on the worst days.

I really like to avoid the air conditioner and just accept the fact that it’s summer. Toronto Hydro sent me a few interesting facts on air conditioning in Ontario; these just reinforce my resolve. There are currently over one million older room or window air conditioning units in Ontario homes. Each one of these units generates 1.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly, contributing an estimated total of well over one million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the environment, a significant contributor to climate change. These older units are also often rusty or eroding, which means they could also be emitting harmful refrigerants.

Toronto Hydro offers some compelling reasons to update an old air conditioner. Apparently an older unit uses between 30 and 70 per cent more energy than a newer, efficient ENERGY STAR model; by switching to one of these newer models, you can cut their monthly cooling expenses in half. Similarly, depending on the size and capacity, older dehumidifiers use between 10 and 23 percent more energy to remove the same amount of moisture as new ENERGY STAR dehumidifiers.

To try to combat the dramatic increase in demand on electricity production in the summer (and of course the use of fossil fuels burned to produce that energy), in part due to the inefficiency of older air conditioners and dehumidifiers, Toronto Hydro has a competition within the city limits. Their new campaign, dubbed “Count Me In Toronto” asks residents to visit Actions taken from May 18 to September 6 , such as having an old fridge removed, upgrading your dehumidifier or installing energy-saving devices, will qualify for the Count Me In Toronto challenge. The winning ward will receive an environmentally sustainable retrofit to a public building within its civic boundaries, and there are other prizes for individuals too.

Toronto Hydro’s Keep Cool program, in partnership with the Clean Air Foundation, invites you to bring your old, inefficient air conditioners to The Home Depot to be responsibly recycled; you get a $25 Home Depot gift card in exchange. New in 2009, Keep Cool will also reward Torontonians with a $10 gift card to those who bring in an old, inefficient dehumidifier. The program will run in Toronto-area The Home Depots for the first three weekends in June.

Do you use an air conditioner or dehumidifier? How else do you keep your home cool?

June 9, 2009 at 9:57 AM 2 comments

LED light bulbs: A bright idea

LEDbulbsOne popular green message is that we can all do simple things, like changing a light bulb. Sure, that’s true, and Canadians are doing that – according to Statistics Canada, “Between 2006 and 2007, the proportion [of households] using at least one compact fluorescent light bulb rose from 56% to 69%. Households in all provinces contributed to this increase.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great thing. Reducing energy consumption, and thus greenhouse gas output, is top priority. I’d like to suggest that we go one step further.

Most people have switched to LED light strings for the holidays, and I know I’m not alone in having LED solar lights in the garden, but general-purpose screw-base LED light bulbs for the home are another story. They aren’t sold in most mass-market stores, so they aren’t very accessible. But they are sold online at stores like Efston Science and Super Bright LEDs. LED bulbs aren’t ideal if you want to light a room with one overhead bulb. They aren’t available in that level of brightness (measured in lumens). But if you prefer accent lighting and  use a few types of lighting in each room, why not try a few LED bulbs? (I suggest warm-white bulbs for a light colour that’s closer to incandescent.) They are very efficient, producing very little heat (heat and energy waste are really the same thing – the bulb is converting electricity to light or heat), lasting for about 50,000 hours – about five times as long as a compact fluorescent bulb and 50 times as long as an incandescent bulb.

LED light bulbs are a better choice from a health point of view as well – they don’t contain mercury as compact fluorescents do. While there isn’t much mercury in a CFL, we have to rely on everyone to handle them carefully and recycle them, otherwise we risk contaminating the earth through landfills. That’s why it’s great news that many TV, computer and other electronics companies are moving to LED-lit screens from fluorescent tubes. LEDs should also be recycled, of course, like any other electronics – but you won’t have to worry about that for years.

Have you switched to more energy-efficient bulbs in your home?

May 14, 2009 at 12:37 PM 1 comment

Getting an energy audit – The Eco Energy Retrofit Program

Blower door test

Blower door test

Last fall, my partner and I bought a house in mid-town Toronto. I scheduled an energy audit through the Eco Energy Retrofit Program for a week after we took possession. We had the house for six weeks before moving in, so I wanted to see if anything messy should be done before we brought in our stuff. We knew we were buying an older home, and while it’s a sturdy brick box without any major issues, we were sure a lot could be done to make it more energy efficient. We plan on doing some renovations anyway, including refinishing our basement and our bathroom, and we’d like to reduce the carbon footprint of the place — and our energy bills — as much as possible.

The audit cost $340, but the province of Ontario sent me a refund for $150 (they automatically send auditees 50 per cent of the fee or up to $150).

I hired Greensaver to come in and do our audit. The technician spent about 20 minutes looking around the house, evaluating how it was constructed and what updates have been done. We talked about the kinds of improvements we’d like to add, and I think he was surprised at some of our ambitions, such as adding a PowerPipe drainwater heat recovery system, an on-demand hot-water heater, blow-in wall insulation to fill the space between the plaster and the brick walls, and other reno goodies. It was worth mentioning these, as it seemed that the technician can gear the report to the kinds of upgrades you’re planning to do.

Next, the technician went up into the attic. Our home inspector had reported that there’s plenty of insulation up there, but the technician said the standards are higher now — the EcoEnergy program recommends taking attics up to R50! He found some gaps in the insulation levels and suggested we could save a lot of money on our heating and cooling bills if we topped up the cellulose in the attic.

The blower door test was somewhat dramatic. As you can see in the picture above, the technician sealed up our front door (a fairly new, well-sealed, efficient door) and proceeded to use a fan to suck air out of the house and through a hole in the enclosure. With the test underway, we ran our hands around the edges of windows, doors, baseboards and other cracks. Wherever there was a gap, however small, I could really feel the air flowing over my hands. Our patio door is definitely leaky, but it’s nothing compared to our back door!

We received our report a couple of weeks later — our house scored a measly 49 where the Ontario average for a house of similar age is 57. The technician noted that, with improvements to the wall insulation, attic, basement walls and door and some general draft sealing we should be able to bring our house up to a 75.

Now we have 13 months left to do our renovations and get re-audited so we can qualify for all of the federal and provincial rebates, and we’ll also qualify for the new Home Renovation Tax Credit. We’ve already added insulation to the walls, but I’m looking forward to doing more to make our house a greener home.

Are you thinking of getting an energy audit? How do you think an audit could help in greening up your place?

April 16, 2009 at 10:34 AM 5 comments

Earth Hour stretched into Earth Night


Lighting during Earth Hour

Lighting during Earth Hour

Earth Hour ended up being a lot of fun. My folks and my partner and I went for a late afternoon walk in the woods. The Thousand Islands area is on the Canadian Shield. Meandering through the woods means making your way over tumbled chunks of rock covered in colourful lichens, surrounded by thick, spongy mosses, strewn with fragrant pine needles. Unfortunately, where my folks live, there is an out-of-control deer population, so one must steer clear of little round droppings everywhere.

After our walk, we prepped dinner on the barbecue and chopped up a salad. It’s pretty hard to eat locally in Ontario at this time of year – the winter stores have just about run out and nothing’s in the ground yet to harvest. But at least by cooking off the grid we minimized our power usage on Earth Hour night!

Dinner prep ticked into the final minutes leading up to Earth Hour, but we soon flicked off the last couple of lights and lit some candles. And then we started thinking of things that might be drawing power around the house! Before long, flashlights in hand, people were dispatched to unplug the DVD player and TV, and anything else potentially drawing power. It was a good exercise in thinking about all of the electronics and appliances that steal away a little power all the time.

I think the candlelight made for great dinner conversation. With the gentle candlelight flickering across our faces, illuminating the area around us and not much more, it’s no surprise we were focused on one another, and the lights were out well after Earth Hour was officially over.

Back in Toronto, I was thrilled to see everyone’s evident interest in Earth Hour — a 15 per cent power reduction, about double last year’s achievement. Congratulations, everybody! Here’s a video of Earth Hour’s lights out around the world.

What did you do for Earth Hour?

March 29, 2009 at 11:05 PM Leave a comment

Delicious dinner menu for Earth Hour

Cheese fondue in pot
During Earth Hour (this Saturday night at 8:30), my partner and I will be visiting my folks at their place in the Thousand Islands / Frontenac Arch region. If the weather plays nice, we’ll get to enjoy the fresh air (always has a hint of pine), get out for a good walk, hopefully do a little woodworking (my dad is making us some bedroom furniture) and then get ready for a nice, low-power Earth Hour.

I hope to get notes from you guys about what you did for Earth Hour, and what you saw. I’ll miss being in Toronto to witness lights blinking out across the city. Aside from the ever-present lights on the Thousand Island bridge, my folks’ place — and their neighbours’ — should be pretty dark.

At about 8:30 (Earth Hour), we’re usually having dinner. That takes power to make, but this year we’re planning to have a low-power meal. We’re still finalizing the menu, but my dad suggested fondue. Perfect! We’ll probably need a little camp stove to get things heated up – tealights don’t hold a candle to a stove’s ability to melt cheese – but once things are heated up we’ll be able to turn off the burner and dine by candle light.

After devouring the last bit of beer-softened cheese, we usually need to take a walk before embarking on the next fondue course. But when faced with chocolate and fruit, we always bravely find a way to scrape the pot clean.

Here are some recipes for chocolate, cheese and broth fondue from the Homemakers and Canadian Living Test Kitchens.

Which low-power foods might you enjoy during Earth Hour?

March 25, 2009 at 11:42 AM 2 comments

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