Rising Energy Costs – home improvement and energy saving ideas – environmental

Many Canadians may not yet have felt the effects of raising energy costs, but due to declining natural gas and oil supplies, the cost of heating and powering our homes is set to skyrocket in the years to come. What if you could dramatically decrease that cost, or, if you’re really serious, eliminate the cost altogether?

If money isn’t a problem for you, environmental concerns may be enough reason to save energy. Each one of us is responsible for releasing about five tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, much of it produced from our everyday electricity use. Fortunately, there are many things that can be done around the house to save cash and the environment.

– Doing simple things, like turning off computers, monitors, lights, and appliances when they are not in use can create real savings over the course of a year. Despite popular belief, these things do, in fact, consume more energy if they are left running than if they are turned on and off.

– Insulating your water heater, choosing energy-efficient products when replacing windows, doors, or appliances, or purchasing window warmers to put over your windows during the winter, are all easy steps to save energy and money.

– If you are looking to save money over the long haul while drastically reducing your impact on the environment, it is even possible to produce your own, clean energy right at home. With the help of increasingly affordable solar panels or windmills, it is getting easier and easier to become less reliant on our overburdened power grid.

Explore this section to find many more home improvement and energy saving ideas – minor, medium and major – that can ease the burden on your bank account and our environment.

There are many minor, medium and major things that can be done to save energy, and believe it or not, even slightly modifying your daily routine can make a huge difference. You will certainly notice the difference on your electricity bill if you follow these tips from organizations that include Natural Resources Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Energy, and the Canadian Energy Efficiency Centre.

Minor steps

• Turn the thermostat on the hot water tank down to 49°C (120°F).

• Insulate the hot water tank and the pipes to reduce heat loss.

• If you have an automatic dishwasher, manufacturers usually recommend temperatures of 60°C (140°F). Let the dishes air dry to save even more energy.

• Wash laundry with cold water. This does just as good of a job and saves a considerable amount of energy.

• Install a low-flow showerhead. It can decrease your home’s hot water use by up to 15 per cent. Installing aerators on your sink faucets can also reduce the water used for hand washing by about 40 per cent.

• If you have control over your heat, set the temperature to these temperatures recommended by the Canadian Energy Efficiency Centre:

Sitting, reading, watching TV: 21ºC / 70ºF
Working around the house: 20ºC / 68ºF
Sleeping: 18ºC / 64ºF
Away from home: 16ºC / 61ºF

If you live in an apartment and there are no water pipes in exterior walls that could freeze, the temperature can be set as low as 10ºC / 50ºF when you are away. Don’t want to be bothered with all those adjustments? Consider installing an inexpensive, programmable thermostat with a built-in timer to lower and raise temperatures during certain hours.

• Keep blinds, shades and drapes closed during the hottest part of the day in the summer and open south-facing blinds on sunny winter days.

• Use area rugs on cold floors – if your feet are cold, your body will feel cold too.

• If you feel cool, put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat.

• Clean or replace the air filter on your furnace every month to improve efficiency.

• To save more on air conditioning costs, cool your home to only 24 or 25 ºC. Each degree below 26 ºC will noticeably increase your electricity use.

• To keep cool, leave windows closed in the heat of the day and open them in the cool of the night.

• Turn off all equipment when not in use. Turning off computers, monitors, lights, and appliances when they are not in use can create real savings. Despite popular belief, these things do, in fact, consume more energy if they are left running than if they are turned on and off. Turning off many of these things, such as computers and lights, can also save on cooling costs, since they produce significant amounts of heat.

• Reduce wattage on bulbs to the minimum required to do the job.

• Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. They use 70 to 80 per cent less energy than regular bulbs and may last as long as 10 years each. As a side note, some studies suggest that artificial lighting inhibits vitamin D production, which may cause depression in some people during winter months. For this reason, consider choosing full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs.

• Control the intensity of your incandescent or fluorescent bulbs with dimmer switches. A bulb dimmed by 25 per cent uses 10 per cent less energy.

• Instead of lighting up a whole room, shine the light on only your work area.

Carry out simple draft-proofing measures, such as caulking around windows and doors. This can reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent.

• Consider purchasing window warmers for winter months. These are blinds made with layers of aluminum, fibreglass, cloth or vinyl that can be found at department stores. For added energy efficiency, construct a valance and “flaps” to seal the edges.

• Choose energy-efficient products when replacing windows, doors, or appliances. Look for products with EnerGuide labels showing low kWh, and products that have the Energy Star label.

• When replacing your oven, keep in mind that convection ovens consume up to one-third less energy than standard ovens. Heated air is continuously circulated by the oven’s fan, for more even heat and reduced cooking times.

• Use smaller appliances such as a slow cooker, electric kettle or toaster oven instead of the large oven whenever possible. Microwaves also use less energy, but studies show they destroy and deform food molecules with their radiation, depleting nutrients, enzymes and antioxidants and significantly decreasing their nutritional value (not to mention the fact that microwaves do escape the ovens, and little is known about their long-term effect on humans).

• When buying a new computer, look for energy efficient systems and monitors. The most energy efficient monitors are liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, which use 80 to 90 per cent less energy than regular, cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. Again, look for Energy Star monitors, which will use up to 75 per cent of the energy used by regular monitors. Laptops also require less energy to run than regular computers and most of them can plug into regular monitors, keyboards and mice if desired.

Medium steps

If you’re willing to put a little more effort and/or money into saving energy, all of these steps will save money immediately, or in the long run:

• Don’t wait until those old appliances stop working – why not replace them right away? The sooner the better. Older appliances are huge energy hogs compared to more modern appliances – especially those designed with energy conservation in mind, such as Energy Star appliances.

• If you don’t already have them, install ceiling fans to supplement or even as an alternative to air conditioning. Make sure your fan is blowing air downwards in the summer. Also, remember to turn fans off when you leave the room – they cool you, but have no effect on air temperature.

• Plant leafy (deciduous) trees on the sunny side of your house. During the summer they provide shade, and in the winter they shed their leaves to let the sun through. Pine or fir trees on the north side provide an energy-saving windbreak. A study done by South Dakota State University found that trees planted as windbreakers on the north, west and east sides of homes cut fuel consumption (and costs) by 40 per cent on average. The study found that even homes with wind-breaking trees on just one side still saved nearly 25 per cent in fuel costs.

• Lawn mowers and other lawn care machinery is extremely energy inefficient and polluting. Consider replacing lawn mowers with old push blade mowers, which do just as good of a job. If this isn’t your style, consider an electric push or riding lawn mower.

Major steps

Even these tips, though requiring more of an initial investment of time and/or money, are worth it in the long run:

• Increase insulation levels where appropriate (such as in the attic or walls) to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

• Install a solar domestic hot water system. Depending on how the system is used, a typical system will provide 50 to 75 per cent of a family’s hot water needs.

• If you are more serious about saving energy, and about saving money in the long run, it is even possible to produce your own, clean energy right at home. With the help of increasingly affordable solar panels or windmills, it is getting easier and easier to become less reliant on our overburdened power grid. The federal and some provincial governments even offer tax rebates and other incentives to install solar or wind energy systems, as well as incentives for various other things. The Government of Ontario, for example, currently offers rebates of the Provincial Sales Tax on the purchase of residential solar energy systems (until May 25, 2007). For more information on what is available in your area, check out http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/corporate/incentives.cfm.

• A lot can be learned about saving energy by looking at the design of homes such as the Earthship, which is listed in the The Guinness book of World Records as the most energy efficient home in the world. Even in temperatures of -30 ºC the buildings, made largely of inexpensive materials such as on-site dirt, can maintain a temperature of 15 ºC with no electricity or fuel source, while still maintaining a modern, yet natural appearance and costing no more to build than a regular house. Performing renovations on your home to bring it more in line with this design might include the following steps:

– Install large, sloped windows on the south side of your home, enabling sunlight to shine into your home more easily in the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, while reducing the amount of sunlight entering your home in the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky.
– Reduce the number of windows on the north side of your home as much as possible.
– Increase the thickness of your walls with solid materials in order to better maintain inside temperatures. Stacks of old tires packed solid with dirt and covered in a smooth layer of concrete create an excellent barrier from the elements. Tires can be acquired for free and some auto shops will pay you to take them away or may even deliver them.
– Berm your home (backfill with earth as high as you are able to on the north side), if possible. If you live near a hill, or have a lot of extra earth that could be used to partially cover your home, this is a great way to moderate the inside temperature, especially in conjunction with thicker walls and many south facing windows.

• If you’re building a new home in the near or distant future, consider looking at Earthship designs, which you can check out at http://earthship.com. If this isn’t your style, there are many other types of energy efficient homes available – but keep in mind that your home can easily be entirely self-heating and self-cooling.

These are just some of the many things you can do to save energy in your home. But don’t stop here – get creative! Look at what other people are doing and examine other energy efficient designs to see what you can incorporate into your home. Become a part of the solution instead of part of the problem, and in a few years when energy prices are soaring sky high you won’t be left out in the dark.

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