Blankets for your windows

February 14, 2017

Blinds and drapes really make a difference!

Sitting in my home office on a cold evening last week, I happened to look over at my window and the blind that was pulled down over it.  Out of curiousity, I reached over to check the temperature of the air behind the blind – and noticed right away how cold it was, even though my office was toasty warm.

It was proof of the difference curtains and even simple roll-up blinds can make in reducing the amount of heat that is lost through a window.

So – if you have drapes or blinds, be sure to pull them closed at night; they’re blankets for your windows, and they’ll help you save on your heating bill!

(You may want to keep blinds on the shady side of your home closed during the day too, especially if everyone’s away anyway.  On the southern, southeastern and southwestern sides of your home?  It’s probably best to leave blinds open on sunny days as you’ll likely gain a bit of heat from the sun.)

Post your own sign to help remind people not to idle

On the tree of emission reduction possibilities, perhaps there is no lower hanging fruit than reducing unnecessary idling.

Natural Resources Canada estimates that if every Canadian driver reduced their idling by just three minutes a day, we would reduce emissions by 1.4 million tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off the road.  We would save 630 million litres of gas a year – over half a billion dollars worth.  Just by reducing idling, a simple habit change!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Idle less: limit idling to 30 seconds for the first start of the day and 10 seconds for subsequent starts, with a little commonsense leeway in cold weather
  • Skip drive-thrus: sadly, coffee shops and fast food joints have become idling ‘centres of inexcellence’
  • Post a sign: you can find simple, non-confrontational sign designs on the internet to post at your workplace, school or business! We did at our home, and it works – visitors and customers for our free-range eggs {shameless plug} no longer idle!  Just email me if you’d like a copy of our sign..



Dress up those ‘holes in your walls’ with drapes or blinds

Windows are essential features of homes, but when it comes to heat loss, they’re almost like holes in your walls. Consider this: a well insulated wall has a rating of R-40 (where R means resistance to heat loss), but even quality double-paned windows have ratings of only R-3 to R-4.

That’s why drapes and blinds can be a good investment: pulled closed at night, they act as blankets over windows, reducing heat loss. In particular, well installed drapes made of tightly woven fabric can reduce a room’s heat loss by 10% or more. Blinds aren’t as effective as drapes, but they still make a positive difference.

So why not look into drapes or blinds for your home, or if you have them already, use them to reduce your heating costs. Learn more here.

Keep those fall leaves for your gardening

Just this week, I’ve started seeing traces of fall colours in the trees in our yard; can raking be far behind? But wait – instead of bagging those leaves and placing them at the curb, why not save them for next year’s gardening (and avoid the emissions of trucking them away)? Here are three options:

  • To make true compost, mix leaves with a ‘green’ material like grass clippings. For faster composting, shred the leaves beforehand.
  • But if you prefer a ‘minimal effort’ option, you can just collect all your leaves into a pile and leave them – at least for the winter, and perhaps longer. Eventually, they’ll turn into a material called leaf mold, which can be used as mulch around shrubs.
  • Finally, if you’d prefer the ‘least-effort option’, you can just get rid of your leaves by spreading them onto a nearby forest floor. The nutrients they release over time will enrich the soil there.

Enjoy fall – and remember, those leaves are too valuable to place at the curb! Read more about composting and leaf mold here.

Ask your insurance company for a ‘black box’ for your car

Several weeks ago, my insurance company made an irresistible offer: if I agreed to install a tiny gadget in my car, they would reduce my car insurance premiums.

I agreed, and they sent me a little data monitoring ‘black box’. It took under a minute to install, and it sends info about my driving habits to my insurance company (specifically hard braking, sudden accelerations and total distance driven). In return, my premiums have dropped by 5%, and depending on how I drive, they may drop by as much as 25%. I get a weekly report card by email, which serves as a regular incentive to do better.

But I’m saving on gas too, because the driving habits the insurance company likes best – gentle starts and stops – also give me the best mileage. It’s well known that gentle driving can improve mileage by as much as 20%.

So – if you’d like to save on gas and insurance, contact your provider and ask for a ‘black box’ for your car. (Read a column with more detail on this here.)

Take advantage of cool weather to burn out those last incandescent light bulbs

If you still have some incandescent light bulbs hanging around and are unsure what to do with them, here’s a suggestion: use them only during the heating season.

In these days of efficient bulbs, that sounds counterintuitive, but here’s the story. Of all the energy used by incandescent light bulbs, only about 10% actually produces light; the rest is lost as heat. In warmer months of the year, that heat is unneeded and therefore wasted. And in hot months, it’s even worse: that waste heat from light bulbs makes air conditioners work much harder.

But during cooler months, when heating systems are operating, the waste heat from incandescent light bulbs is actually useful: it allows heaters to run less.

So if you have some leftover old incandescent light bulbs, consider installing them just during the cool months, when their waste heat is not wasted.

An important clarification: there’s no question that efficient light bulbs are the way to go – compact fluorescents or, even better, LEDs. This is only a strategy to work through any remaining incandescent bulbs. If you happen to be in New Brunswick, take advantage of this great promotion on efficient light bulbs.

(Quick insider note: my Mom has some old long-life incandescent light bulbs that, true to their name, refuse to burn out. So installing her ‘winter bulbs’ has been part of our Thanksgiving routine for several years now, and removing them is part of the Easter routine…)

An efficiency Dream Team: block heaters and programmable timers

The depth of winter is upon us, and Baby it’s cold outside!  If your vehicle doesn’t have a block heater, perhaps it’s worth considering.  Block heaters:

  1. Improve fuel economy because your engine is semi-warm when you start it, and therefore runs more efficiently
  2. Reduce emissions because a semi-warm engine will burn fuel more cleanly and produce less toxic emissions like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides
  3. Extend engine life because semi-warmed oil circulates better and lubricates an engine’s moving parts sooner than thick, cold oil
  4. Enable an engine to warm up quickly – meaning speedier defrosting and a warmer interior

Block heaters are standard equipment on some vehicles, or can usually be installed for a cost of $100-150.

Block heaters do use electricity – typically 400-450 watts, or as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs.  If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that will cost $17-19 per month.  But since two hours are long enough for a block heater to warm most engines, one of the best investments you can make is an outdoor programmable timer that will turn your block heater on automatically while you’re still sleeping.  Investment?  About $25.  Savings? Over 80%.  Payback?  About 2 months.

Insulate those pipes

April 16, 2013

Save money by putting foam insulation over your hot water pipes

Often our hot water taps are a long way from our hot water tanks, so we need to run the water for a while until hot water arrives.  But all that cold water ahead of the hot was once hot; it was left stranded in the pipe when the hot water tap was last turned off.  Parked in uninsulated pipes, hot water becomes cold very quickly, representing a loss of energy and a waste of money.  (Hot water heating represents about 20% of the average home’s energy bill.)

You can conserve energy and save money by installing foam pipe insulation over the pipes that carry hot water from your hot water tank to all the places it will be used.  It’s very cheap – $1 or less a meter.  And it’s very simple to install – here’s a 2 minute instructional video.

So – insulate those hot water pipes and save!

A second life for potato bags, sugar bags and more!

I love potatoes, but unfortunately the paper bags they come in are not recyclable: they’re made of a special kind of paper because regular paper is just not strong enough.  The same goes for the packaging of other products like sugar: paper, but not recyclable.  So how to keep them out of the trash stream?

If you have a wood stove, here’s an option to consider: rip the mesh window out of your potato bag (because it’s not made of paper and definitely shouldn’t be burned) and use the bag as a fire starter.  The same can be done for sugar bags.  And if you’re ‘hardcore’ about reducing the amount of trash you generate, you can also separate out other types of paper that are not recyclable but are good for burning (for example, the waxy paper under pizzas or around sub sandwiches; most cash register tapes), stuff them into your potato bag and voila: an easy way to get your wood stove started.  If you don’t have a wood stove, maybe you know someone who does.

Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Please use paper only for starting fires, not as a replacement for well-dried firewood.
  • Keep stove emissions low by proper burning practices; Natural Resources Canada’s Guide to Residential Wood Heating is a good resource
  • If you’re in the market for a stove, choose a model that is EPA-certified for cleaner burning
  • If you’re unsure about the recyclability of any type of paper, you can do a quick check on the internet or with local authorities.  (Or send me a note and I’ll do my best to help.)

It’s true that burning non-recyclable paper is not a perfect solution, but by most accounts it’s better than burying it in a landfill.  And – it’s a bit of free heat as the heating season nears.

Cut out unnecessary idling to save money, energy and the environment 

The disease: It’s the Idling Disease, still commonly seen in driveways, parking lots and drive-throughs.

The prognosis: According to Natural Resources Canada, Canadians burn over 2 million litres of gas every day idling in winter and over a million litres every day in summer.

The potential: If every Canadian idled just 3 minutes less per day, we would save 640 million litres of gas a year.

The cure:  1) The best way to warm up your vehicle in winter is to drive it, not to let it idle;  2)  Even on the coldest day, 2-3 minutes of idling is enough time for an engine’s oil to circulate; then you’re good to go.  (Personal note: I still go by the old rule of 30 seconds and have never had a hint of car trouble.);  3.  When an engine is warm, idling for over 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 than restarting your engine.

A SURE cure:  One business owner I know has developed an interesting way to demonstrate he’s serious about his company’s zero-idling policy: he just takes the keys out of any company vehicle found idling.  No words needed when the wrongdoer sheepishly visits his office to retrieve them…

Spread the cure:  Start a campaign in your workplace, school or community, or even the local coffee shop.  NRCan’s Idle Free Zone website offers awesome resources (including FAQs, videos, signage and more) for individuals, businesses and communities.