There are many voices out there that claim to help you reduce your carbon footprint. Project Neutral is one of the only practical tools that tells you your personal carbon footprint based on local data AND offers you actions you can take to reduce it. Our personal carbon footprint comes primarily from transportation, homes, and food. Decarbonizing our lifestyle is actually quite simple!
For transportation, shrinking your carbon footprint is a two step process. The first stage involves reconsidering your travel needs. Some trips may be possible by active transportation such as biking. Public transit may work for trips within your city. Have you tried carpooling or car-sharing for some journeys?
You’re out of office meetings can be offset by using teleconferencing tools. If a personal vehicle is still necessary, choosing the smallest electric vehicle that meets your requirements can help you achieve zero emissions for transportation. Here in Ontario, our electricity comes largely from a clean electricity grid which does not produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. As a consequence, emissions associated with driving an electric vehicle are negligible, especially if it is recharged during off-peak hours.
The major source of carbon emissions for homes is from heating the home and water. Start by improving the energy efficiency of the home through draft-proofing; adding insulation; upgrading lighting and appliances. Heat pumps with electric resistance heating backup can provide all our heating and cooling needs, even in our colder climate.
Not all food is created equal. A plant-based diet has a smaller carbon footprint than an omnivore diet. One also can’t generally go wrong by choosing seasonal, local produce. Choose to eat less meat and choose plant-based proteins more often. Reducing food waste and using green bins or compost can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions set off when food is placed in landfills. We are lucky here in Southern Ontario to have access to tasty local food all year-round!
Bonus: Put your money and your voice where your values are
It may be surprising but your financial investments may in fact contribute significantly to your carbon footprint. Divesting from fossil fuels can provide a double whammy by reducing your personal climate impact while simultaneously defunding the fossil fuel industry. Money re-invested in renewable energy projects can provide competitive returns while leading to further decarbonisation.
Simple, isn’t it? Reduce your demand for energy in transportation and home heating, and switch as much as you can to electric. Eat a plant-based diet with local, seasonal produce. Divest from fossil fuels. That is all it takes to lead a near zero carbon lifestyle. Achievable? Absolutely. Easy? Maybe not without some government policy changes and incentives. So here is the last ingredient: let your political leaders know that climate change is a concern and that you would like to see more climate action. We CAN do it!
By: Heather McDiarmid
Photo Credit: Evie Shaffer, Unsplash
It all started when my husband borrowed a portable induction cooker to try out in our kitchen. I admit, the explanation of how it works seemed more like voodoo magic to me than science, and I was skeptical about its ability to make much of a dent in our energy usage. But only a few months later, we had replaced our coil cooktop with an induction cooktop and I am never going back. Which leads me to my list of the reasons why induction is better than anything else out there:
- Induction uses significantly less energy to heat your food.
Induction cookers use an electromagnet to induce a small current and magnetic flux in the pot causing it to heat up1,2. The pot then transfers the heat to the food. With coil cooktops, the coil acts a resistor, heating up as electricity passes through it. The coil then heats the pot, which heats the food. With ceramic cooktops, the coil sits below a ceramic surface. The coil radiates heat through the ceramic and into the pot, which heats the food. Induction is more direct and therefore less energy is wasted. My son, as part of a science fair experiment, made some energy measurements that suggest that induction is 20-30% more energy efficient than coil or ceramic cooktops.
- Induction heats things faster.
Much faster. In his experiment, my son also tested the time it took to boil IL of water at the highest power settings on several cooktops. The ceramic cooktop came in at 9 minutes, the coil cooktop at 6.5 minutes and the induction cooktop at an astonishing 3 minutes. I am all for faster cooking times!
- The pot heats up or cools down immediately.
It is very similar to the effect of turning up or down the gas on a gas stove. However, induction does not produce the carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other indoor air pollutants that are produced from gas stoves. Nor are there open flames to worry about.
- You will never need a double broiler again.
You can melt your chocolate directly in a pot without worrying about it scorching or going grainy. The ultra-low settings are also useful for keeping food warm.
- Induction cooktops are very easy to clean, with a smooth glassy surface similar to those of ceramic cooktops.
Furthermore, they never get as hot as the ceramic cooktops so you can wipe the surface right after your pasta has boiled over. And your pasta will probably boil over because induction heats things faster than you expect (see #2 above)!
By now you are probably wondering: Why everyone isn’t using induction cooktops? The big drawback is the price. Induction cooktops are more expensive than other options, although the price is coming down. Also not all cookware works with induction. Only pots and pans with iron or stainless steel bases will work – if your fridge magnet sticks to the base of your pot, it is good to go. But with homes and restaurants in Asia and Europe jumping on the bandwagon, isn’t it time we thought about it too?
By: Heather McDiarmid
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induction_cooking accessed Dec 8, 2017.
- http://www.green-energy-efficient-homes.com/energy-saving-induction-cooking.html accessed Dec 8, 2017.
- Ian Praetzel, personal communications.
- Nicole W. 2014. Cooking up indoor air pollution: emissions from natural gas stoves. Environ Health Perspect 122:A27; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.122-A27
30 Aug 2017
By Fiona Wirz-Endrys, Communications Assistant
Climate change can be an overwhelming topic to discuss, and can be an even harder topic to find how you can make a difference. One great place to start with is your home because as shared in ClimateActionWR’s progress report, 18% of our local green house gases are being emitted from our homes.
Here are some steps you can take that will not only decrease your carbon footprint, but can cut a significant amount off from your monthly energy bill.
- Neighbourhood talk – We all have those neighbours who love to chat as soon as you open the door to take out the trash. Why not take the opportunity to ask them about their input on the topic of affordable, energy-saving appliances. Who knows what new trend you could find out about, and how much your neighbour could save you on your next energy bill. Or share with your neighbours what you are doing and why!
- Not too hot, not too cold – “Turn off the air conditioning, we’re all cold in here!” How often have you thought this in a shopping mall, coffee shop, or even in someone else’s home on a summer afternoon? Don’t be that person who overdoes their AC just because they want to fight the heat wave outside with everything they’ve got. Try keeping the cooling limit of your home at 24o C in the summer, and your heating no higher than 21o C in the winter. Not only will this prevent your body from getting bigger shocks when you enter/ exit your home, causing higher risks of catching a cold—it will also decrease your carbon footprint, and your monthly expenses.
- Get a home energy evaluation – This may seem like a lot of work, but in reality you just have to make a call and a Registered Energy Advisor will be sent to your home and perform an Energuide Home Energy Evaluation. There is a small cost, but you can get a full rebate if you complete renovation work in two of the eligible categories from the Home Reno Rebate Program. Not to mention ongoing savings in energy costs.
- Find savings – Let’s talk about utilities. Did you know that if you still have an old deep freezer, it may be costing you more than it would to buy a new one? Programs such as Energy Star will be able to give more information on appliances that could increase the efficiency of your home. Try calling, or getting an evaluation done. You may be pleasantly surprised how much it could benefit your home.
- Insulate – How much are your current energy efforts worth, if your walls are leaking a large portion of the heat or cold? The majority of homes lose most efficiency through poor foundation and wall insulation. Is your home one of them? If so, there are many options around—whether you want a conventional insulation option, something innovative such as straw insulation—the choices are endless! Insulation is one of the best ways to lower your home’s carbon footprint and so there are many rebates for it as part of the Home Reno Rebate program.
- Downsizing – Finally, we come to the latest trend: downsizing. The housing market is booming for smaller homes lately, so if you have been considering getting yourself a new, smaller home, you i= will fit right in. While some people are investing in smaller homes because of the growing demand, and others do it for convenience, you will also find that it will shrink a large portion of your carbon footprint.
See our grants, credits and rebates page for a complete list of incentives to help you reduce your energy usage.
27 Feb 2017
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.
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:
- Room Air Conditioner
- Answering Machines
- Clock Radios
- Clothes Washer
- Cordless Phones
- Desktop / Laptop Computer
- Fax Machine
- Microwave Oven
- Computer Speakers
- 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
The 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.
An 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.
This Sustainable House is a monthly series of events that showcases the technology and displays at the REEP House for Sustainable Living and uses them as a jumping off point to explore other ideas and options to make your home more sustainable.
THIS SUSTAINABLE HOUSE
ELECTRICAL CONSERVATION FEATURES
A look at how you can reduce your electricity use at home by taking a closer look at the green features and displays at the REEP House for Sustainable Living such as our remote vacancy sensors and dimmer, whole home off switch, our cutting edge refrigerator, energy efficient lighting and appliances, ceiling fans and how our ground source heat pump cools air in the summer.
Your sustainable home guide is Brendan Schaefer.
REEP House for Sustainable Living, 20 Mill St., Kitchener
Doors Open 1:00 p.m.
Presentation / Tour: 1:30 p.m.
Open House 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Advance registration below is appreciated.
Brendan Schaefer is the Facilities Manager at the REEP House for Sustainable Living, where he regularly leads tours and workshops on topics ranging from energy efficiency to water conservation, storm water management, and sustainable living. He has conducted nurmerous Home Assistance Program audits to advise homeowners on how to reduce their electrical use.
28 Mar 2016
There are three main resources we use whose consumption is fairly regular: electricity, natural gas, and water.
By changing the way we do things, we can take an active role in caring for our planet while also saving money. That means thinking about how we can live sustainably in our day to day life. Changing our habits can make a significant impact on how efficiently energy is used in our homes.
The best part is that developing new habits helps you save energy without spending a cent!
But there are also some relatively inexpensive devices that can change our habits. For example, the sleep setting on your computer automatically helps reduce its energy use without actively doing anything before you step away from it for a short while.
Here are some tips on how you can take an active role in reducing your energy use that we haven’t covered in other lessons.
What you can do to save electricity
- Turn lights off when you aren’t in the room. Or you could partially replace this habit by installing a motion sensor controlling certain lights but not all of them. If you use lights on the exterior of the home, consider using a timer or reducing the wattage of the lights.
- Exploit the simple elegance of free wind and sunshine. Hang your clothes to dry on a line outside instead of using your dryer.
- Use smart power bars to control electronics to avoid phantom loads caused by electronics that use electricity even when they are turned off.
- Use your oven less and use your microwave or plug-in kettle. A microwave is more effective at getting the energy into food, with less warming up of the air around it, and a plug-in kettle likewise.
An extra step you can take for bonus points is filling your cup with water first before putting it into the kettle to heat up just the amount of water you are going to use.
- Avoid the need for air conditioning by cooking outside in the summer.
- Avoid leaving doors or windows open in the summer when the air conditioner is on.
- Take up meditation and don’t do anything for a month. I’m joking. There are a lot of lifestyle suggestions we could make, but we’ve picked those we think won’t impact the way you enjoy life.
How to save natural gas
- Don’t leave your door open in the wintertime. Unless you have small children, it should only take a couple of seconds to open the door, get in or out, and close the door again.
- If you feel the house is stuffy and needs to be ‘aired out’, run a bathroom exhaust fan instead of opening a window
- Assuming you have a natural gas water heater, take showers over baths, and use a timer to help you keep track of time in the shower.
- Program your thermostat to drop a degree or two at night-time.
- Some people wear sweaters and even toques inside to lower their thermostat and save energy.
How to save water
- Shower instead of taking a bath and put a timer in the shower to help you keep track of how long you’ve been in it.
- Consider showering only when you need to not just because you are used to doing so every day.
- Brush your teeth with the water off. Anything else is pure waste.
- When rinsing dishes, don’t let the rinse water flow down the drain, catch it and use it if you can–perhaps to rinse other dishes?
- Don’t water your lawn. Let it grow naturally. If it suffers, try over seeding with a drought-tolerant grass mix.
- Instead of using a hose, wash cars with a bucket of soapy water or help keep the grime from reaching fresh water by going to a carwash.
- Clean driveways with a broom, not a hose.
- Getting a 3L/flush toilet is effective at saving water.
Share ideas with your friends
These are some of the ways I can suggest to change your habits and conserve resources. You may think of other things you can do.
One of the most effective ways to learn how you can change your habits is by talking about what you’ve done with other people and asking if they have any habits or strategies that they use that you could imitate. By talking about it, you’ll discover a lot of like-minded people with creative ideas and enhance your knowledge on how to live sustainably.
In all our previous lessons, we looked at how to reduce your energy usage while trying to also make your home more comfortable. It makes sense to reduce your energy use before taking a look at how to generate the energy you still need. It helps to recognize, though, that even your best efforts at conservation will reach a point where it is more cost-effective to generate than it is to conserve.
Generate your own electricity
Wherever you live, you likely have access to some light. The rooftop of many residential buildings is an ideal place for capturing the sun’s energy.
Most residential homes will have no difficulties with the added weight of solar photovoltaic panels, also known as PV panels. You’ll want to have only one layer of shingles that have been fairly recently installed, as the lifespan of the PV panels is expected to be 40-50 years.
By generating electricity, it is possible to make your home into a home that generates as much energy as it consumes (assuming you have made energy efficient upgrades discussed in other lessons).
How cool would it be to come home every night and see how much electricity you’ve generated during the day? It could even motivate you to conserve electricity as you try to narrow the gap between what you’re using and what generating.
Installing solar panels
The process of installing panels will start with contacting a solar installer to get pricing and figure out your payback. Typically, companies such as Big Island Solar Power will size a system out based on satellite images and get more precise measurements on-site if there is sufficient interest.
Getting permits and applications filled out is the next step of planning and preparing for the actual install.
Racking is installed on the roof, and all penetrations flashed with metal to prevent water damage. Then the panels are installed on it. Electrical connections are made and the whole system is connected to an inverter to convert the direct current from the panels into alternating current like the rest of the system supplying your home.
Once it has been inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), it can be turned on and generate power.
If you’ve installed enough solar panels, you might now generate as much–or more–electricity than you use. This achievement is significant progress towards a net zero energy home, which balances all the energy it uses including to heat your home or with the energy it generates.
Solar energy at REEP House for Sustainable Living
Watch the videos to learn about how we generate solar energy at our model sustainable home. Use the links below to dive deeper into this alternative energy option.
Who can help you?
To help you get started, we provide a list of businesses, organizations and services that work with renewable energy. Rather than recommending any of them, we suggest you research them and get written quotes.
Our focus in this post is on how we use electricity to see and in our labour saving appliances.
As a kid I was often afraid of things in the dark that I couldn’t see. Now that I’m an adult, I’m afraid of the electrical bill instead.
Lighting efficiency: an easy upgrade
Well, I’m just joking, but it’s not that far from the truth. I have LED (light emitting diodes) lights and CFL bulbs (compact fluorescent lights) installed in my house. And I know that they use 1/10th to 1/5th the power of incandescent lights while having the same light output.
And while lights aren’t a huge piece of the energy pie at 4%, they are still a significant contributor and easy to do something about.
Replace light bulbs with LEDs
LEDs have been dropping in price year after year and are an investment that most people should be making. If you don’t want to change every bulb in your house immediately, that’s not a problem. Just buy a pack of LEDs and replace bulbs as they burn out with new energy efficient ones. This way you’ll naturally tend to get the bulbs that are used the most replaced with something that will get you the same amount of light, while costing ten times less for electricity.
Upgrade old appliances for Energy Star models
Upgrading appliances can be more challenging due to the money required to make a change.
It’s fairly safe to say that if it’s older than 20 years old, replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR appliance is a good choice. It’s tougher to make the call when it’s between 10 and 20 years old but still working just fine. There is no hard and fast rule there, though you can look up its energy consumption online and see how much money you’ll save each year if you bought a new one. Here’s a chart that helps you determine how much it costs for the electricity they use.
On the other hand, you might be thinking that each year you delay means you can get a more energy efficient appliance than what may have been available just a year before. But that is a false argument if we’re talking about a 20 year old fridge because the annual improvement is not enough to justify waiting. Replace that old fridge now! But, don’t put your stove to the curb over this since there is not much to gain in energy efficiency when it comes to heating food. This technology simply hasn’t changed much.
Consider a home energy monitor
Often times we are unaware of the power that is used to keep us comfortable. A whole-house energy monitor is an excellent device that you can install that will show you how much energy you are currently using. Place the monitor in a convenient location so that you can be aware of how much energy your house is using on your behalf. You’ll become knowledgeable enough to know when something is still on that doesn’t need to be.
We love our air conditioning too much
The electrical load from air conditioning is fairly low overall, but collectively our energy use from air conditioning is increasing. To save on air conditioning, going to a higher efficiency unit is probably not going to provide enough of a payback to justify that upgrade. But if you are going to replace your air conditioning unit anyhow, you definitely want to select a high efficiency model.
There are things you can do, behaviour-wise that can make a big impact on your use of air conditioning. First, don’t run it when you are not home– set your thermostat to a higher temperature if you aren’t there. Second, turn it off and open the upstairs windows when it’s cool at nighttime to pre-cool your home. Ideally you’ll have windows on opposite sides of the house open so you can benefit from cross-ventilation, or if you have multiple levels, opening a window one or two floors up can provide a very nice airflow boost thanks to the buoyancy of hot air. If you are looking for a new slow cooker then check out who makes the best slow cooker.
If you have a ceiling fan, you will feel cooler when it’s running. But since it just moves air around, and doesn’t actually cool the house, turn it off when you aren’t in the room.
Things you can do to feel more comfortable when it’s hot in your home
- Wear less clothing, and light, free flowing fabrics that wick moisture are lovely – take those socks off.
- Move air around – open windows (if you don’t have the A/C on), or run fans to blow air over your skin.
- Don’t use incandescent lights, and turn lights off when possible.
- Try to cook less by eating more cold meals. If you are going to use the stove, use the rear burners and have your range hood fan on to move that heat out right away. Use the microwave more than the oven if possible.
- Shower with colder water, and make sure that the bathroom exhaust fan is on so you don’t end up steaming up the rest of the house when you get out.
- Make sure your dryer exhaust pipe is well sealed and no hot and humid air is escaping into your home.
- Exterior blinds for windows should be lowered if you have them, or internal shades drawn – preferably before you already have heat inside the house.