Building a rain garden from start to finish

Kitchener – On Saturday, May 20, a group of family, neighbours and volunteers will build a rain garden from start to finish at 200 Waterloo Street in Kitchener’s Mount Hope neighbourhood. The first shovel will go into the ground at 10:30 a.m. following a presentation on how to build rain gardens at 10 a.m. by Reep Green Solutions RAIN Coach Becca Robinson. Digging out the basin and mixing the soil is expected to take until early afternoon when it will be filled with amended soil design to soak up stormwater and planted with native plants.

The garden is how Steven and Jessica Reesor-Rempel chose to use their Front Yard Makeover prize they won last year as part of the RAIN Smart Neighbourhood project. It is an example of how their neighbours can also make their homes rain smart. Financial incentives are available this year to residents of Kitchener’s Mount Hope and Lakeside neighbourhoods to take on a variety of similar projects.

“We hope that this rain garden and two other demonstration projects help inspire homeowners in these neighbourhoods to manage rain and other precipitation where it falls,” said Patrick Gilbride, RAIN Program Manager. “We are working with neighbourhoods because when people help to manage rain at their home it can provide a benefit in their neighbourhood. Especially given the increasingly unpredictably of storms we are having it can often lead to soggy backyards and wet basements. If everyone better manages rain on their property, everyone nearby stands to benefit. These yard improvement projects also help to beautify and enhance the quality of life for neighbourhood residents.”

While presentations are also scheduled for May 28 and June 3 at the other two demonstration projects, Saturday features the only work party scheduled.

Funded by the Ontario Trillium Fund, Reep Green Solutions leads the RAIN Smart Neighbourhood project in partnership with the City of Kitchener and Partners for Action.

REEP Green Solutions is an environmental charity that helps people to live sustainably. Programs and services focus on residential energy efficiency, managing storm water management, water conservation and waste reduction. It co-leads ClimateActionWR with Sustainable Waterloo Region. The Reep House for Sustainable Living is a model home with a variety of environmentally friendly features and often hosts workshops and presentations.

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Chapter 5: Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home

This post is the fifth in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

Winning a $10,000 dollar grand prize is exciting enough, but knowing that the prize is going to have an impact on the future of your family, your community, and the environment makes it even more enjoyable. Alexis Motuz has been feeling that joy ever since she won the Rain Smart Front Yard Makeover contest grand prize last year.

Since winning the prize, she has met with our RAIN Coach, brainstormed landscape ideas and determined a RAIN smart design for her home.

Now it is time to get some help actually doing the work. Let’s look at what Alexis learned as she began the next step of the project – finding a contractor.

Alexis on finding a contractor

When I began the process of making my property RAIN Smart, I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to go. When I learned that I needed to find my own contractors to do the work, I found it a little bit intimidating. Reep suggested that I find three different contractors to give quotes on the work. That process would help me decide how much of the planned work I could hire others to do and how much I would need to do myself.

I began my search for a contractor by checking out the list of contractors on the REEP Green Solutions website. I knew someone in the neighbourhood who happened to be on the list, so I began by contacting him. Once we looked at the project, he recommended another company that could handle large jobs (and have the machinery required) for a job like the one I would be undertaking.

What I found most challenging was carving out the time to meet with contractors, do the site visit, discuss options, figure out the costs and work within the budget.  There was a fair bit of back and forth as landscaping materials and labour add up quickly. To offset some of the costs, I will have the contractor lay out the yard, install edging, dig and install the storm crates, but leave laying some of the landscaping fabric and mulch to me.

Having found a contractor to do the work, I was excited for the work to start.

Choosing a contractor

The RAIN Smart techniques you plan to implement at your home will determine if you need to hire a contractor. For example, installing a rain barrel may be something that you are able to do yourself, whereas creating an inground cistern will likely require you to hire a professional.

Choosing a contractor is an important step in the process. Your contractor becomes your partner in the project. Finding a good contractor can make your RAIN Smart project that much more enjoyable.

While there are no exact rules for choosing a contractor, here are some basic principles which can help you.

Ask for recommendations

One of the best ways to find a reliable contractor is by speaking with someone who has had a similar project completed on their property. If they are willing to recommend  the contractor they used that is usually a good sign. Asking your designer for suggestions may be one place to start.

Get estimates from at least three different contractors

Getting three different estimates will allow you to get an idea of the general price range of the project. It will also give you a better  opportunity to find a contractor who is a good fit for you and your project.

Make sure they have up-to-date insurance

In Ontario, contractors should have WSIB coverage, liability insurance and personal injury insurance. They may also need to have a fall protection awareness course and WHMIS.

Don’t always take the lowest estimate

You want to find a contractor that you are going to be able to work with well. This isn’t necessarily the one with the lowest estimate. In fact, if one contractor’s estimate is well below all the others, perhaps this is a warning sign. Do they fully understand the project? Are they going to cut corners? Instead, look for someone who has the experience and resources to do the job, who has a good business reputation, and who shows signs of good communication.

Get everything put down in writing

When it comes to hiring a contractor, don’t let a handshake suffice. A project can change over time and unless every step of the project is in writing, the cost of the project can quickly increase. Having things in writing is another way to have clear communication with your contractor throughout the project.

You may also be interested in the advice of our home energy coach on how to choose and work with contractors.

Alexis and the RAIN Smart House: Chapter 4

This post is the fourth in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

As the winner of the RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover contest Alexis Motuz receives $10,000 to spend on a Front Yard Makeover that will both enhance her property and reduce the amount of stormwater running off her property and directly into the storm sewer.

The prize included a consultation by our RAIN Coach to assess her home and provide some ideas of how best to manage water on her property. The Coach then turned those ideas into an appealing design for Alexis’ outdoor space.

Rebecca Robinson – RAIN Coach

Alexis and her family already use their yard heavily and she had some great ideas for how it could be improved. Having two young kids, she wanted to maintain some open space for play. She also wanted to have raised beds for growing vegetables.

Alexis and I sat down and in a very short time, we were able to take these priorities and build them into something that will increase the environmental sustainability of the space and enhance its functionality for her and her family.


landscape design featuresWorking with a designer was a lot of fun. I had already sketched out some ideas, but the designer was able to take those ideas and really make the most of the space that I have. I wanted to keep an open space for my kids to play, but I also wanted to keep the vegetable garden and direct water into it.

Rebecca helped me come up with a design for the yard that maximizes play space while allowing me to keep my vegetable garden and reduce the amount of time I spend watering.

I really look forward to seeing how my family uses the space differently when it is finished, and I am excited that the design is both environmentally sustainable and has elements that can leverage the skills of artists and businesses in the neighbourhood.

In the end, Rebecca and I decided on a kid-friendly strawberry patch and allium garden at the front of the yard—something Dr. Seuss-ish. This will be planted overtop of storm water crates (B) that will redirect a significant amount of water from the roof that is currently running onto the driveway and street into the storm sewer.

In the back of the yard, we decided to use a cistern to collect water from the roof (D). We will then hook it up to weeping hoses and use this for irrigating the vegetable garden boxes. Although it may seem like a small gain to some, I am so excited not to have to water every evening and to move away from using municipal water.

We also decided to move the apple tree into the side yard because it is not flourishing out front, and we are going to install a second large rain barrel on the other side of the house (C) so that I can collect water to use for the front garden and raspberry boxes.

There were some design challenges that required me to keep an open mind. When the design first suggested moving the garden boxes in front of the deck so that we could do the passive irrigation (4), I thought this would look strange. I took some time to think about it more, though, and as I walked my yard, the idea grew on me. It is a something I would never have thought of myself, but I’m excited to see how it turns out.

Before meeting with Rebecca, I had thought about redoing the driveway in permeable pavers. While these are very effective at soaking up rainwater and they look fantastic, they are pricey and I wouldn’t have been able to develop my yard into the garden/play space that will be of much more benefit in the long term.

Finally, I had originally thought a rain garden might work on my property but between keeping an open play space, moving the apple tree, and the proximity to my foundations, it seemed the stormwater crates would be a better solution. So there was a lot to learn through this process and I had to keep an open mind. It’s been a wonderfully collaborative process with lots of back and forth, and I am happy to be adopting new design ideas and rain management systems in my yard.

RAIN Smart design solutions used

Here’s a closer look at some of the features included in this RAIN Smart Home.

design diagram of RAIN smart featuresA – Replace rain barrel

B – Infiltration gallery/basin

Alexis is also going to use an underground infiltration gallery to allow more water to soak down into the soil. Traditionally, infiltration galleries are made by digging a hole and filling it with rock or sand. Or as used at Alexis’ home, specially designed crates are placed into a hole and covered. It is recommended that infiltration galleries be professionally installed.

C – Added rain barrel

D – Cistern

Alexis has decided to use a cistern to capture the rain from her roof and use it as a resource for her vegetable garden. A cistern is essentially a larger version of a rain barrel. It is usually made of a heavy-duty plastic or concrete. Cisterns are sometimes buried underground, but in Alexis case, the cistern is kept above ground and raised slightly, which allows her to use gravity to passively water the plants in her garden. Cisterns can vary widely in size from between approximately 350-5200 litres of water.

Native plants

Although Alexis had hoped to plant a rain garden, she ultimately went with the infiltration gallery to maximize usable play space for her kids.  As an alternative, she intends to use native plants above the infiltration gallery and in the garden beds surrounding her yard. Native plants are being used because they are well suited to the local soil and sunlight conditions.

To learn about other RAIN Smart techniques, you are invited to visit the Reep  House for Sustainable Living at 20 Mill Street, Kitchener to see these techniques in action. We also invite you to sign up for our newsletter and learn more at one of our upcoming events.



Chapter 3: Alexis and the RAIN Smart House

This post is the third in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

With $10,000 at her disposal, Alexis Motuz is going to transform her property into a showcase of the latest and greatest in stormwater management best practices thanks to winning our RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover contest in Mount Hope.

In this chapter, we look at how Alexis got her project underway with a RAIN Coach Consultation.

The RAIN Coach Consultation

After the excitement of winning the grand prize had passed, Alexis’ first step was to meet with the RAIN Coach. This consultation would give her guidelines that would help with deciding what direction to go with the project.

Here is a look at the consultation from the perspective of the coach and homeowner.

Name: Rebecca Robinson

Occupation: RAIN Coach

“On a bright October afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit Alexis’ property. It is always interesting visiting different properties because each has its own issues and opportunities. In the case of Alexis’ property, one of the things she was facing was that the runoff from her roof, although directed into a rain barrel, was not easily accessible for other uses. It was good to see that the landscaping around the house was effective at keeping water away from the basement. That would be one less thing for her to worry about.

After looking around and taking some measurements I was able to suggest a few courses of action that Alexis could take. Although she was interested in a rain garden as one way to use rainwater, she also wanted to plant an apple tree in the same area. Because there is a recommended minimum distance between these two, we opted for a solution to divert the water underground into an infiltration gallery that allows water to collect and slowly go into the ground. The rest of the water would be stored in a large cistern on her side yard deck. I proposed a design to move her garden boxes in front of the deck so that she could use the water from the cistern for passive irrigation for her raised beds.”


“The RAIN Coach consultation helped me to see that water management didn’t just have to be about how to prevent runoff from reaching the stormwater drains, but that it could also be about how to take that water and use it more efficiently as a resource. Because of the position of my drain spouts, my rain barrel is on the opposite side of the house from my garden. Rebecca helped me to see that there were things I could do to take advantage of that water and use it to my family’s benefit.  In the past, I spent a lot of time filling my watering can and watering by hand to empty my rain barrel; this year I am planning to raise the barrel and use passive irrigation for my front garden. This is what Rebecca suggested for my side garden boxes and I love the idea. In the past, I spent a lot of time (and municipal water!) watering my garden. I see this passive irrigation as a huge time and resource saver, and I’m excited to see how the veggies benefit from it.”

The benefits of a consultation

The RAIN Coach consultation offers an opportunity to consult with an expert on how to improve your outdoor space. The goal of the visit is to help the homeowner realize their goals for their outdoor space in a RAIN Smart way. This means taking into consideration three different things

The home

Homeowners dread a leaky or damp basement. It can be the cause of mold, rot, and other damage. Before implementing any landscaping solutions, you want to ensure that you are not causing problems for your home. The RAIN Coach can give you suggestions on how to avoid water from flowing towards your foundation.


Passing your water problem onto your neighbours property is not a solution or a way to make friends. The RAIN Coach helps you to see how your landscaping decisions can impact your neighbour. At the same time, steps that you take to slow the water down, let it soak into the ground, and keep it clean, can have a positive impact on your neighbour’s property. This is something you can do to be a good neighbour.

The environment

The impact on the environment when everyone does their part can be significant. The RAIN Coach can help you to help the environment. She will show you how you can make a difference that matters.

If you live in our RAIN Smart neighbourhoods of Lakeside or Mount Hope, contact us to arrange your own RAIN Coach Consultation.


by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

This post is the second in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home: Chapter 2

In chapter one, we met Alexis who is going to go through a five step process to reach her goal of having a RAIN Smart Home. These are the same steps that each of us can go through to make positive changes in stormwater management.

5 steps to a RAIN Smart Home

Step 1 – Thinking of Water

Some collaboration is needed to implement stormwater management best practices. That is where REEP Green Solutions can help.

There are small things you can do, like installing rain barrels, and larger projects, such as building rain gardens. REEP can provide RAIN Coach visits for a nominal fee. These visits can give you the extra information you might need to put your plans into action.

Step 2 – Coming up with a vision

Once you have a better understanding of how water flows on your property, you will want to think about your priorities for your outdoor space. Working with a landscaper or designer can be beneficial or, if you are a do-it-yourselfer, get out that sketch book and begin to plan. This is where you can be creative. Build your space to enhance your family’s enjoyment.

Step 3- Taking Action

Some things you might be able to implement yourself, such as installing a rain barrel. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to try building a rain garden. Know your limits and when it is best to bring in a professional.

Finding a contractor who can help you with the work doesn’t need to be daunting. We have a list of a number of businesses that provide storm water management services. This is probably a good place to start. Be sure to get at least three quotes for bigger projects. This will help you find the contractor that works for you.

Step 4 – Involving the Neighbours

Organizing a work party can help bring a neighbourhood closer together. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbours, even the ones you might not know well, for help. Most people are more than happy to lend a hand, especially if there are snacks and refreshments involved. This will give your neighbours the opportunity to learn about being rain smart too, and who knows, maybe it won’t be long before you are helping at their work party.

Step 5  – REEPing the Rewards

Now that your project is finished, you get to sit back and enjoy it. You will be looking forward to the next time it rains, just so that you can see the fruits of your labour. You will be happy knowing that you did your part for the environment, that you have improved the value of your property and maybe even that you made some new friends in the neighbourhood. Oh, and each time that your water bill comes in the mail and you see that stormwater credit (don’t forget to apply for the rebate) you will be sure to smile. Here’s where to get started in Kitchener or Waterloo.

These are the steps that Alexis will be taking over the next few weeks. We encourage you to come along! Follow her through this journey, as she works towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

Last summer a group of intrepid workers and volunteers visited each home in the Mount Hope and Lakeside neighbourhoods. What message were they spreading? A message about building neighbourhood resiliency and, to everyone’s delight, a message about contests and savings.

The RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project, in partnership with the City of Kitchener, Partners for Action and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, offered one homeowner the exciting opportunity to walk away with a $10,000 front-yard makeover.

Other prizes included $1,500 towards a RAIN Smart improvement project and free home consultations by a “RAIN Coach

Why RAIN Smart?

In nature, when it rains, the rain falls on trees and plants and slowly makes its way to the ground, soaking into the soil and replenishing the groundwater. Unfortunately, in our world of concrete and asphalt, when it storms, the water hits these hard surfaces and runs off into the storm pipes, picking up dirt, oil and debris as it goes.

Often this water goes untreated and makes its way into our rivers and lakes, polluting, eroding and warming the surface temperature of these water bodies, which can lead to algae outbreaks and other nastiness. Health problems related to water pollution are estimated to cost Canadians $300 million dollars per year.

The RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project encourages people to make a small but meaningful contribution to the solution by using three simple principles: 1) Slow it down; 2) Soak it up; and 3) Keep it clean.

The winner of the RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover has the opportunity to put these three principles into practice with the help of Reep Green Solutions. So let’s see who won!

Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home

Chapter 1

Alexis MotuzAlexis Motuz

Occupation: Recruitment Consultant and mother of two

Neighbourhood: Mount Hope

Enjoys: gardening, teaching, and collaborating on artistic and community development projects

Alexis’ story in her own words:

Last July, a kind young man with a slight German accent knocked on my door. He was wearing a shirt that said Reep Green Solutions. I had heard about them through their involvement in the home energy evaluation program, but the RAIN program was new to me. He began to tell me about the RAIN Smart Neighbourhood initiative and the contest that they were holding for our area.  

I knew a little about the pollution caused by stormwater run off and I already had a rain barrel that I used to divert some of this water and use it for gardening. I was eager to learn more, specifically about the more creative solutions that have been devised to divert (and use) this water.

When I learned I had been selected in a random draw to move to the next stage of the contest, I was very excited – as I told my son, with whom I was reading Charlie and The Chocolate Factory at this time, that this was like my own “golden ticket!”

In August, I was contacted and told that I was one of the finalists. On August 2 at the Guelph Street Community Garden, they announced the winners and, though I could hardly believe it, I had been chosen to be grand prize recipient for my neighbourhood.

I feel very grateful to be a part in this program. I look forward to having my outdoor space transformed and serve as an inspiration for others in the neighbourhood who will be able to take advantage of incentives. I‘m eagerly anticipating the work parties in our neighbourhood, to getting my kids involved and educating them on gardening and rain water solutions, and to seeing the overall transformation of front yards in what is already a creative, vibrant, and eco-friendly community.

I’m excited to see the final product for my yard and to having it be a showcase for what others can do. I also look forward to sharing my experience, and promoting the local workers/artists involved in the project, as I go through it.

In future posts, we’ll share the process used and progress that Alexis is making towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by: Katharine Clarkson, Waste Reduction Programs Coordinator

Waste changes are officially here! From weekly garbage collection to garbage every other week with recycling and green bin collection every week. Waste collection in Waterloo Region has changed drastically.

Although the majority of our household waste can be diverted to either the blue box or the green bin, one common item cannot: Diapers.

As a result families with young children using disposable diapers will produce more waste. Luckily, there are means to reduce diaper waste and still meet the new garbage limits.

Choose reusable diapers with liners

The best and most obvious way to reduce your household waste is to replace those disposable diapers with reusable ones. Although reusable diapers are initially more expensive, they are cost effective for prolonged use.

To make using reusable diapers more convenient, consider buying disposable diaper liners to use in reusable diapers. Disposable liners will still produce waste that must go into the garbage but liner waste will be significantly less than using disposable diapers. This hybrid alternative may be enticing for those unsure about using reusable diapers.  For more information and helpful tips on using reusable diapers, visit the Real Diaper Association.

Take diapers to the landfill

If reusable diapers are definitely not an option for you, there are other opportunities to reduce your diaper waste. The Region of Waterloo will accept diapers in clear bags at either the Waterloo or Cambridge transfer station. While perhaps an inconvenient route for some families, directly dropping diapers off is one option to reduce your weekly household waste drastically if you are having difficulty meeting the new limits.

Aside from the free diaper drop off, there are no other free options for disposing of diapers other than in your own garbage. Nevertheless, using the blue box and green bin can reduce your household waste by over 60%, leaving plenty of room within the biweekly four-bag limit for diapers!

Minimize smell

To prepare your home and diapers for bi-weekly garbage pick up, consider using a diaper pail (Diaper Genie being a commonly known model) or another means of containment to manage the smell of soiled diapers. Emptying your diaper pail and putting the contained diapers in another bag or container is a sure way to continue to keep smells and pests away.

What do you do?

Do you have any tips to share on using cloth diapers? Or how to manage using disposables with the new rules and schedule? Share in the comment section below!

photo credit: Baby Shower Diaper Cake via photopin (license)


by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

No, this is not a post about ghosts. It is however about the energy that is used by electronic equipment even when they are turned off.  That energy is called “phantom power” or “vampire power”, and it can represent up to 10% of your electricity bill. If you’re not sure when I’m talking about, read on.  You might be surprised to see just how prolific it is.

Phantom power can be found everywhere

The easiest way to describe a device that uses phantom power is anything uses a remote or has a digital clock display. Sounds like most of the electronics in your home? You’re right, it probably does. The convenience of having these items always at the ready for us to use comes at the cost of them constantly using power, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With some items, it might not be much, but with others, they use almost as much power when turned off as they do when they’re on.

Check out this chart provided by the Ontario Ministry of Energy :

phantom power usage by device

As you can see, equipment like your desktop PC or video game console use more power when turned off then when they’re actually being used. The total cost of the power used by each device may not seem like much (maybe $10/year), but when you consider that you probably have upwards of 30 or 40 devices that use phantom power – it can really add up.

The worst offenders for phantom power use

According to Burlington Hydro, the top 10 products that use phantom or standby power are:

  1. Room Air Conditioner
  2. Answering Machines
  3. Clock Radios
  4. Clothes Washer
  5. Cordless Phones
  6. Desktop / Laptop Computer
  7. Fax Machine
  8. Microwave Oven
  9. Computer Speakers
  10. Video Game Console

This list is not nearly complete though. You could still add as major culprits; phone chargers, printers, dryers (digital display), cable boxes (especially with DVR’s), coffee makers, surround sound systems, and televisions.

And we still haven’t exhausted the list. Look around at the electronic devices near you.  If you see anything that is turned off but see has a light on or you know is always at the ready – it is using phantom power.  That is a lot of things consuming power when they’re not even being used!

How to curb phantom power

power bar with timerThe most effective way to eliminate phantom power is to unplug your electronics when not in use. While not a convenient method, it would be effective. For things that you don’t regularly unplug (printer, computer, stereo system), you could plug them into a power bar, and then turn off the power bar.  That would also eliminate any power they would potentially try and use when off.

Then there are power bars with energy saving built in. If devices are used on a regularly scheduled pattern, then a power bar with timers would kill the power during the down time of those devices.

For a coupon to save money on advanced power bars and other energy-saving products, check out saveONenergy.

energy star programAn even better opportunity to make changes is when you buy items. Look for the Energy Star label before you buy.  It identifies the most energy efficient products, with reduced energy use even in standby mode.

Phantom power: a by-product of a convenience-based society

There is no doubt that we have more conveniences today than at any time previously. Our coffee makers have coffee ready for us when we wake up.  Our DVR records our favourite shows when we’re not home, and we have digital clocks everywhere, making finding out the time easier than ever.  All this convenience comes with a cost though, one that some people may not be happy to pay.  How comfortable you are with the extra few dollars on your electrical bill every month is up to you.

One final thought: if we all decreased our phantom power use, even by little, and multiplied those savings by the millions of homes in Canada –that would save a lot of energy in the long run.  Just something to think about.

feature photo credit: aronalison Macro Buttons! via photopin (license)

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. Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance: Energy Efficiency Tips
  3. 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.

By Corey Pembleton

It wasn’t until long ago that I doubted the importance of individual action on our collective fight against a rapidly changing climate. In the face of such massive national and international carbon emissions, I considered what difference my ‘little’ impact would even have?

Our actions have a massive collective impact on the planet

The answer is, our individual actions have a massive collective impact on the planet. In many instances, the small changes we can make daily are the ones that can collectively have the largest impact on the planet; such as the ways we commute to work, or being in Canada, the ways we heat and cool our homes.

Looking at the national data closer, we can see how the small aspects of our everyday lives are what collectively add up to large national emissions levels. On a national scale, our carbon footprint is rapidly increasing. Since 1990 there has been a 20% increase in total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, with the largest sectoral emitters being the oil and gas sector (26% of the total) and the transportation sector (23% of the total). The other main emissions sources are from buildings, agriculture, emissions & trade-exposed industries, and waste sectors.

Opposed to thinking that the main contributors to our very large climate emissions comes from big industry only, it becomes clear that it is the cumulative impact that small actions have: how we get around, what we consume, and how and where we live. The impacts of these individual actions become especially apparent when combined at the municipal and provincial levels.

Waterloo Region’s collective action on climate change

Canadian municipalities have begun tackling emissions at the grassroots level, including Waterloo Region through the ClimateActionWR plan, which collectively measures the emissions reductions at the individual, regional and provincial levels.

Small daily changes mean collective results

Through the ClimateActionWR plan, I can see how my individual actions help to contribute to regional goals, which in turn scale up at the national level by millions of Canadians contributing in whatever way they can. A decrease in my carbon footprint is possible due to a series of small decisions that add up to something bigger.

I intentionally restricted where I would move to be nearer the core (closer to cycle paths and transit in winter), and take the bus or train whenever I go into Toronto or Montreal (16 car trips to Toronto = 1 tonne Co2!). As fairly transient person in my late 20s, this is how I can mitigate my own footprint, which differs from person to person, family to family and must be feasible, practical, and beneficial.

Building emissions: an easy target for homeowners

As the third largest source of emissions in the country after the oil and gas and transportation sectors, heating and cooling our buildings is the next largest emitter – making it an easy target for where emissions can be cut.

For Canadians homeowners, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint is through making home efficiency upgrades (even on heritage homes). Take a look at our new dashboard to see the impact when individual actions are considered as the collective results of a community working together.

We’ll examine how this works in more detail in a subsequent blog post about how individual home improvements bring big changes to our national emissions outputs.

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