Your home is your Castle. It is unfortunate, however that it has to feel this way; no home should be as drafty as a castle in the Scottish Highlands, although most often are. Many of today’s homes are as porous as a slice of Swiss cheese; heat seeps out of your house through inadequately insulated walls and through improperly caulked window frames. So rest assured, if you are reading this post right now, from your home computer you are not the only one wearing five or six layers of clothes. This frustrating reality puts a burden on family finances and also makes us look silly at dinner parties; it is pretty awkward for a host to greet his or her guest at the door, looking like Maggie Simpson in her winter snowsuit. To overcome our home energy woes, Claire Jean, Amy Phipps, Mike Bradley, Allison Julius and Alyssa Mundy from the BC Hydro Powersmart Team were happy to answer some questions about how to take your home from an environmental zero to an environmental hero.
Question # 1, To Tread Lightly [TTL]:For those readers who are unaware of the BC Hydro Power Smart Program what is it and how is it designed to help them and how did you come to be involved in the Power Smart team?
Power Smart Team: Power Smart is all about energy conservation. BC Hydro knows that the cheapest and best way to meet our future energy demands is through conservation and we have a whole program designed to help British Columbians do this.
Team Power Smart is an online program encouraging British Columbians to conserve electricity. Members of Team Power Smart commit to reducing their electricity consumption by 10% with the help of online tips, offers and tools. And as a bonus, if you hit your 10% target over 12 months, you will receive a $75 reward.
Members get a personalized online profile which shows them their real-time electricity consumption and helps them to track their progress towards their 10% goal. Other benefits of joining the team includes access to exclusive rebates and offers, subscription to the popular Connected newsletter, and access to helpful online tools, including one that allows you to compare your home’s energy usage to similar homes in BC. The best thing about this program is that it’s free and everybody can join!
Question # 2, TTL: Would you say that making sure a home is energy efficient, is one of the biggest ways an individual can contribute to combating climate change on a daily basis?
Power Smart Team: Every person has the ability to make lasting, energy efficiency changes in their lives. Decreased energy use means fewer generation plants are required; this, in turn, means reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
A common misconception people have is that you have to make expensive retrofits to reduce your consumption meaningfully. Reaching your electricity conservation goals can come from simple changes such as shortening showers by a minute, unplugging cell phone chargers when the charge is complete and switching to energy-efficient light bulbs.
Question # 3, TTL: Heat loss in older homes is a constant problem, what is the best way to identify and close air leakages to put a bothersome draft to an end?
Power Smart Team: Heating and cooling your home usually accounts for about half of your energy bill, making it the single largest energy expense for most homes in B.C. Whenever you feel cold air coming in around a window or a door, you have a leak, and warm air will escape through the same gap. The best and most cost-effective way to close air leakages is to seal gaps and cracks with caulking and weather stripping. Taking steps to draft proof your home can reduce heat loss by up to 10%. Another low cost option is applying window insulator film over single-paned windows. This clear, see-through film acts like a second window to keep heat in.
Question # 4, TTL: What is the best way to eliminate phantom load in your home?
Power Smart Team: Many appliances spend much of their lives in standby mode, collectively consuming a huge amount of energy called a phantom load. One of the best and easiest ways to eliminate phantom load in your home is to hook up household electronics and appliances to a power bar and then switching off that power bar when you go to bed at night, or if you’re really Power Smart, when you leave the room. Keep in mind that chargers draw power the entire time they’re plugged in, even when no device is attached, so consider setting up a charging station and keep this turned off until an item needs charging. To make it convenient and easy to remember, place power bars somewhere highly visible, such as on top of your desk.
TTL: What is the most significant thing a homeowner as well as a tenant can do to increase their energy efficiency and decrease their monthly home energy bill?
Power Smart Team: As mentioned previously, heating your home accounts for approximately fifty percent of the energy bill. Therefore, reducing the energy required for heating would have a significant effect on a homeowner’s or tenant’s hydro bill.
By making small, inexpensive changes such as draft-proofing, maintaining the homes heating system, or installing a programmable thermostat, homeowners and tenants will realize significant energy savings. In addition to these low-cost options, passive heating and cooling measures that only require a slight behavioural shift can also substantially reduce the energy required to heat a home. For example, using blinds or drapes to keep heat in or out depending on the season, or turning the thermostat down to 16 degrees when the home is vacant can add up to big savings
TTL: What are your thoughts on a home energy audit? Is this something, a homeowner can do themselves or should they hire a specialist?
Power Smart Team: After joining Team Power Smart, members can check out the “Analyze My Home” tool online. After filling out a survey on your home’s attributes, this tool offers a personalized break down of your home’s energy use and recommendations on where improvements can be made to lower consumption. This is a great, no-cost place to start for people considering an energy audit.
Hiring a professional home energy auditor can be beneficial as they are trained to view your house as a system. They will give your house a current and potential energy efficiency rating and let you know what is working and what needs to be upgraded. Typically, a professional auditor will focus on a home’s ventilation and humidity as well as heat loss areas. Remember that auditors are not out to sell you specific products and you are under no obligation to make the improvements they suggest.
Whether making changes on your own or with the help of an auditor, there are government incentive programs which can help pay for the upgrades you need.
TTL: There has been some heated debate online about the safety of CFL bulbs because of mercury content therein. Should this dissuade us from purchasing them and using incandescent light bulbs instead?
Power Smart Team: CFLs contain 2-4 mg of mercury; in comparison, there is about 500mg of mercury in one amalgam dental filling and 3,000mg in a typical household thermostat. It’s important to keep in mind that mercury is not released in any way when the bulb is on, and therefore does not make CFLs harmful to operate. However, it is important for people to remember to dispose of CFLs responsibly in order to protect the environment. Many retailers throughout the province now offer free recycling programs for CFLs, to find one near you visit www.lightrecycle.ca . When considering switching to more efficient lighting, it’s important to keep in mind that CLFs use approximately 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs and also last up to 10 times longer and therefore they not only save electricity but also create less waste.
TTL: The cost of energy efficient appliances can be prohibitive for those of a fixed income. Do you have an affordable solution for students or retirees who are cost sensitive?
Power Smart Team: Because purchasing more efficient appliance isn’t an option for everyone, we encourage people to focus on how they use their appliances in order to save energy. You can reduce the electricity consumption of your current appliances by keeping them well-maintained, using them efficiently and unplugging them when they’re not in use. Appliances account for approximately 20% of a typical households energy use. People can check out the appliance calculator to estimate how much energy and money their appliances are using.
Your fridge is the appliance that typically uses the most electricity over the course of a year so it’s a great place to start. Make sure the temperature in your fridge is between 2 and 3°C for food safety and efficiency. Check if your fridge is leaking cold air by inserting a piece of paper between the door when you close it. If you can move the paper freely, it probably time to replace the seal. Try to allow for a few inches of air space between the back of your fridge and the wall and one inch of air space along the sides to allow for good air circulation. And finally, if you have an old, secondary fridge, it could be costing you up to $85 per year! If you think you can part with it, consider participating in the Refrigerator Buy Back Program.
Your dryer is the appliance that typically uses the most electricity per-use, therefore, we recommend that people try to avoid using it at all. Hanging clothes on a drying rack or on a clothesline is a great, environmentally friendly alternative. However, if you do need to use a dryer there are still some steps you can take to save energy and money. Consider doing two loads in a row and taking advantage of the heat still in the dryer from the first load. Another little-known tip is to add a dry towel in with a wet load to help soak up excess moisture; this can cut your drying time by 50%. Finally, be sure to clean your lint screen after every load and give it a wash with a toothbrush and detergent once a year.
Freezers can also drain a lot of energy. The optimal temperature for a freezer is -18°C, setting it even 5°C colder can increase its energy use by as much at 25%. If your freezer isn’t full, fill plastic containers with water and freeze them. Once frozen, these ice blocks will help keep other things cold and will also help keep your food frozen in the event of a power outage.
Appliances account for approximately 20% of a typical households energy use. People can check out the appliance calculator to estimate how much energy and money their appliances are using.
TTL: Any closing tips and or advice for the blog readers?
Power Smart Team: There are lots of ways to save energy and money. Even for the people out there who think they’ve already done everything they can to be Power Smart, there are always new tips, technologies and programs to help you conserve. Check out bchydro.com for more energy saving advice.