Our homes are an effective place to reduce carbon emissions

by Corey Pembleton

In my last post, I covered some of the reasons why making individual lifestyle changes has a big impact on our communities and our country in terms of climate emissions. I left off by saying that the most effective way we can make a national change is through the ways we heat and cool our buildings, and keep them that way.

But just how important are buildings when it comes to energy reduction?

For starters, they comprise of the third largest national contributor to emissions following oil and gas and transportation sectors (first and second, respectively)–making buildings an ‘easy target’ in efficiency.

This same result was found in our own region – our houses are the third largest consumer of energy, and likely one of the easiest to change at the individual level. Second, for many of us it isn’t an easy choice to switch to cycling to work, or to buy a hybrid car. But making the move to retrofit our homes is often practical and affordable especially with the current Home Reno Rebate program.

There are others things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and save money: changing driving patterns, consuming less water, and recycling and composting waste are some; but in terms of effectiveness regarding money spent and emissions reduced residential and home upgrades are on top.

So what does this mean on the national and individual level? On that national stage, Canadians decreasing the energy consumed at home means we can remove ourselves from the infamous first place position of top energy users in the world. On the individual front, it means saving money and energy by reducing the amount of energy needed to keep our houses cool or warm.

A “tight” house is a good house!

When it comes to retrofitting there are some key aspects laid out by the government and home industry leaders which together keep our homes efficient: the building envelope, the mechanical system, and the people who live in them. We were missing this system-approach in our family home, and missing out on all the long-term benefits of investing in an efficient home.

Regardless of what your motivating factor is, an efficient and effective way we as individuals can collectively improve our standard of living: retrofitting your home brings clear and quick benefits such as increasing home comfort, saving money, and reducing your carbon footprint.

Like many Canadians, I was born and raised in an old, drafty house. It was impossible to keep cool in the summer or warm in the winter, and I was always put into a state of disbelief when I heard about my parents’ natural gas and electricity bills. Growing up, I assumed that this is the way it is with “old drafty houses”, it’s just part a parcel of living in an old home. In the 90s, the house got some retrofitting consisting mainly of new insulation in the walls and roof. These upgrades were a good start, but when it came to keeping the heat in, a few major things were missing: the house still wasn’t ‘tight’.

Different needs for retrofitting vary from house to house which is why it’s important to have a home energy evaluation before you start. But what they have in common is that we’re aiming to keep our buildings as tightly sealed as possible. The longer that temperature change can maintain itself after heating or cooling without needing more energy (such as turning on the furnace or air conditioner) the better off we are for comfort, time and energy consumption reasons.

In the most basic sense, keeping a tight house matters because:

  • Heat easily leaves the house from the ceiling, walls, windows and basement
  • Airflow between indoors and outdoors causes major heat loss
  • Heat and humidity levels varying between the indoors and outdoors can cause moisture to remain in undesirable quantities resulting in damage

How to upgrade your home’s energy efficiency

When considering what changes are best to be made, priorities vary house to house and are dependent upon what upgrades are in place (such as insulation and caulking), how old the house is, and how the house currently consumes energy. To find out more on how you can retrofit your house, and what retrofits may be best for you check out the Home Energy 101 posts on the REEP Green Solutions website, or the following great free resources:

  1. Natural Resources Canada: Keeping the Heat In
  2. Ontario SaveOnEnergy: Tips, rebates, savings

Together, we can make a greater impact!

In the Waterloo Region, energy use in homes is accountable for nearly a quarter of all energy in the region and half of the region’s total natural gas consumption. Because of this, energy use in our homes is one of the key areas of focus of the ClimateActionWR Plan which has set ambitious goals for energy reduction in total energy use measured through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the household level which carry a strong collective impact.

Already work being done by individual households taking on small individual changes at the community level has contributed to a reduction of nearly 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas–no small amount, which is only growing as more and more residents get involved.

When we make a small change at home such as putting new windows in, sealing our houses with caulking, installing more efficient furnaces or water heaters  we save money and reduce our carbon footprint. At the same time, we’re making our region a better place to live and reducing our impact on our planet.

Meeting our goal of reducing our entire region’s collective carbon footprint by 6% by 2020 is no small feat when considering the massive population and economic increases we’re anticipating. But by taking part and making changes in our homes from the small to the large we’re all contributing however we can, continuing to change and make Waterloo Region a leader in climate change mitigation in the country.

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