Sunday 22 January 2012

We own a House

During the period I was sequestered to my ‘desk job’, I still regularly dreamed of building a different kind of home for myself and my wife.  I had magazine clippings, dating all the way back to 1987, of products that were ‘energy efficient’, or related to capturing the sun, wind, & biomass energy. I was usually in attendance at each year’s home shows looking for the ‘What’s New’ in modern and efficient products.
However, in the back of my mind I always worried that this was going to be just a dream and I suspected reality would never fulfil my dreams.
In 1998, my wife and I bought our first house and it was at this time that the cost of heating came to the forefront for me.  I was used to paying very little for me heat.  My $117 per month Strata fees included unlimited hot water for domestic and space heating.  Now it was a different story, we had purchased a 1954 bungalow with no insulation (unless you count foil backed cardboard installed at the inboard side of the wall assemblies), aluminium frame single glazed windows, and enough air leakage to compete with a 747 jet engine!  On the coldest winter days the boiler never shut off (something I now understand means it was designed with the right sized boiler).  My average heating bills (gas) for the first year worked out at $60/month but as I bought in the fall; my first bills were approaching $200.  We had stretched to buy our first house and I worried how we were going to afford higher energy costs like this.
The house was very draughty, a problem I generally solved by accident.  Shortly after purchase, I re-painted the exterior of the house.  The house had lapped cedar siding and I decided to take a case of caulking tubes and seal off every seam and penetration with caulking before painting.  I really was not thinking specifically about air leakage at the time, as far as I remember, and just liked the look of the sealed joints, but boy – what a difference to how the home felt inside with significantly less drafts.
The success of air sealing led me to start looking at other ways to actively reduce energy costs and improve comfort.  I switched much of our lighting to CFL’s as soon as they became dependable and affordable (see my blog on a CMHC article discussing energy savings with CFL’s to gauge if this was a wise decision).  When an old fridge started to show its age and threatened to quit, we bought a new energy star model.  We perceived a drop in our electrical bills but did not accurately track the savings at that time.
I also bought a programmable thermostat to allow for day time (while at work) and night time setbacks. There is no sense heating an empty house or the whole house if I am just in my office – right?  I will test this theory in the near future and post actual results.  The balance between the savings of a setback always has to be balanced with the additional energy needed to bring surfaces back to comfort levels.  Large night time setbacks were brought about by noise concerns more than energy saving desires.  Due to a poor design of our hot water heating system, (we have metal pipes rubbing up against the wood as the system heats up after a long cool down period) having the heat on during the night resulted in too many sleep interruptions.  So the system was turned down so that it generally did not come on at night and a small electric oil radiator was located in the bedroom to maintain a comfortable temperature in that room for most of the heating season, at least for me, my wife is cold any time the temperature is below 75°F :-).  This resulted in a sounder sleep and I hoped a more energy efficient system.
I then turned my attention to turning of devices like computers, printers and monitors when not in use (writing this sentence made me realize, I did not need that second computer monitor on while typing this article – so off it went). I also tried to make sure all charges are unplugged when not actively charging.  In upcoming blogs, I will try to document any savings that may have resulted from these efforts. We have received the odd rebate from BC Hydro for meeting our reduction targets set out in Power Smart so we must be doing something right.
During the last three years, I have also expanded my personal carbon foot print reduction efforts by looking at my retail habits.  I started to make life changes that were small but could have a large impact if adopted by many. After watching a documentary in 2007 about the plastic floating around the Pacific Gyre (this YouTube video by the captain featured in the documentary summarizes the findings of the much longer documentary quite well), I made a commitment to never throw out a piece of plastic again.  I started using reusable cloth grocery bags and also found a recycling program that accepts all hard and soft plastic (for plastics that cannot go in the local Municipal Blue Bin program).  Pacific Mobile is one such company that takes in these plastics.  Yes it costs a little money to drop off these plastics, but I now know they will be put to good use instead of landing up in a landfill or worse, into the ocean!  I also started to look for packaging that used fewer materials.  I switched toilet paper brands to one that did not over package the rolls into plastic wrapped sub-packs before assembling into the final pack size.  I looked for cleaning products that had refillable options and reduced packaging (Method is a product that fits this bill and actually works unlike so many of the ‘eco’ cleaners on the market today). My latest effort involves reusing the wonderful plastic containers that Cactus Club serves its take out in for future Cactus Club orders.
Bit by bit, I am starting to make a difference and it feels good.
Temperature Setback Follow up Note: I am now better educated on temperature setbacks and realize they are only reasonable if the heating system is capable of a fast recovery.  These type of systems tends to be inefficient and often over-sized for the dwelling being served.  You would not want to do any form of setback if using a highly efficient ground source or air source heat pump, as doing so will usually result in the activation of the secondary electric element heating system which has a lower efficiency factor and a much higher operational cost which will generally more than offset the savings that were originally desired from the setback.  I will discuss this further on a future blog entry but trust me; they are not the best way to operate on these systems.

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