Keep cool with less AC

June 21, 2016

How to stay cool and reduce your air conditioning bill

Finally, summer – most people’s favourite season – is here.  But how quickly our weather transitions from pleasant to hot, and we find ourselves turning on the air conditioning!

In many places, more electricity is used on hot summer days than in the cold of winter.  Much of that peak power comes from fossil fuels, and much of it is used for air conditioning.  (Yes, there is a certain irony about that fact.)  So reducing our use of air conditioning is a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are four ways to do just that:

  • Install blinds, shades or curtains, and keep them closed when sunlight is most intense. Retractable awnings work well too, and still allow light in.
  • Open windows in the evening to take advantage of overnight coolness; close them before you leave in the morning to keep things cool as long as possible.
  • When air conditioning becomes necessary, nudge the thermostat up a few degrees and invite everyone to dress lightly. (Already this summer, I’ve been chilly in over-conditioned buildings.) Even then, use the AC as sparingly as possible.
  • Longer term: plant trees strategically to provide shade plus free natural cooling; some good advice here. (‘Aha’ fact: exposed dark asphalt gets very hot and heats the surrounding air, so consider planting trees to shade paved areas too.)

Don’t overheat this summer – but by using less air conditioning, you’ll help prevent the planet from overheating.

The emissions of electricity

November 24, 2015

How much CO2 is produced per kilowatt-hour of power I use?

It’s easy to not think of greenhouse gas emissions when we turn on lights, televisions or heaters. But power generation produces 25% of global emissions, more than any other sector.

So just how much CO2 is produced for each kilowatt-hour (KWH) we consume?

The answer is: it depends on where you live, because power is generated differently in each province. In Canada, the ‘greenest’ power is in Quebec – just three grams CO2 per KWH – because that province is so rich in hydroelectric resources. (Hence Quebec’s big push toward electric vehicles.) Manitoba is close behind, with just four g/KWH. Then come BC (17 g) and NL (21 g).

At the other end of the spectrum are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, with 820, 770 and 740 g/KWH respectively. All three are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, particularly coal, for their power. Next highest are NWT & Nunavut (340 g) and NB (300 g). You can view the full list here. (Sorry, I haven’t found a simple table comparing US states, but you can find any state’s number by clicking on the state from this page and then opening Table 7. The US average is 1175 lb CO2/megawatt hour.)

The bottom line: most of us don’t think of emissions when we use power. But knowing the emissions that arise from our use of electricity can help raise our consciousness, and that’s a first step toward reducing our consumption. As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!

How to spend less on your clothes dryer

Nothing in a home uses more power than a clothes dryer when it’s running. Most dryers use over 3000 watts when operating; some use over 5000 watts. (For comparison, an energy-efficient CFL or LED light uses about 13 watts.) A load a day will add $100 to your power bill over a year. But there are plenty of ways to reduce that:

  • Clean the lint screen after every load (scrub it every now and then if you use dryer sheets; they leave a film on the screen) and use your vacuum cleaner to clean underneath the screen periodically, to keep air moving easily through the dryer
  • Periodically clean the vent pipe that leads from the back of your dryer to the outdoors, and inspect the outlet for lint or other obstructions
  • Don’t overdry clothes: if your dryer has an automatic moisture sensor, use it. And use a cool down cycle to allow residual heat to finish drying clothes; some dryers do that automatically on certain cycles (IE permanent press)
  • Do loads consecutively to take advantage of remaining heat from an earlier load
  • Dry full – but not overfull – loads
  • Use dryer balls (or even tennis balls) to allow air to move more freely between clothes as they tumble, allowing them to dry faster
  • Dry lighter materials separately from heavier materials; they’ll be dry much sooner that way
  • Don’t add wet clothes to loads that are already partially dried
  • Remove clothes from the dryer while they are still slightly damp to save energy and reduce the need for ironing

And for 100% savings, use a drying rack or a clothesline! (A bonus: clothes tend to last longer that way too!)

Efficiency, a small investment with a big return

If you were buying a new fridge, which would you choose?

  • Fridge A, which costs $1,000 to buy but consumes $40 a year in electricity; or
  • Fridge B, which costs $750 to buy but consumes $100 a year in electricity?

Here’s the quick math on the above choice: after five years, Fridge A would cost a total of $1,200; Fridge B would cost $1,250.  After 17 years (the average life of a fridge), Fridge A would cost a total of $1,680; Fridge B would cost $2,450.  You can see what’s happening: the efficient choice may cost more up front, but it’s cheaper in the long term.  The fridge that appears cheaper is actually more expensive.

When making a purchase, we often look exclusively at the first price tag – the purchase price – and overlook the second price tag – the operating cost.  But efficiency, particularly in home appliances, is a small investment that pays.  If you’re in the market for an appliance, efficiency is the wise choice.

Click to learn more about EnerGuide or ENERGY STAR efficiency ratings.  (Reminder: NBers can save and take advantage of special rebates on energy efficient appliances during the month of November.

Green power within your reach, TODAY!

What do the above companies, plus Royal Bank, BMO, Shaw Communications, Kraft Foods, Nissan, Home Depot and Google have in common?  They run part or all of their operations on green power – sustainable electricity produced from renewable sources.

No, they don’t have power plants in their back yards.  They simply buy certified green power from a green energy provider, and have it delivered through the existing power grid.

And you can too, for your home or business.  Just Google “green energy provider” to find a company that offers service in your area, and then sign up.  There are no wires or switches, and no worries about reliability.  However, there is a small premium price for green power, typically a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour.  If you’re keen on green power, hopefully you’ll agree it’s a small price to pay for being carbon-free.  And – by buying green power, you are creating an incentive for the development of more green power, and helping transform the market.  A really good thing!

Here’s a quick overview of how green power works, and here’s a link to a leading Canadian provider (in which I have no personal stake, financial or otherwise).

Is a solar hot water system in your future? 

I love sunny days – and this picture shows another reason why:

That’s the temperature gauge on our home’s solar hot water tank yesterday (April 17).  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the solar system – which pre-heats water going into our electric hot water heater – was working so well it actually made the water hotter than my electric tank normally heats it!  In other words, free hot water from the sun.  The system works every month of the year, but works best in the spring, summer and fall.

My hot water is not entirely free, of course, because the solar system wasn’t free.  But many energy efficiency programs offer incentives to help bring the investment down.  And because sunlight is free, solar hot water offers protection against rising power rates.

Here’s a link to Thermo-Dynamics, the Atlantic Canadian company that manufactures systems like mine.

A new holiday?

February 7, 2012

Take part in National Sweater Day (February 9) 

One of the biggest slices of Canada’s carbon footprint comes from heating homes and workplaces – because most Canadian heating systems run on fossil fuels or fossil fuel-based electricity.  And one of the easiest ways to reduce that footprint is really simple: just turning a thermostat down 2°C can reduce heating bills by 5%.  Turning it down by 4°C saves 10%.  Savings just don’t come easier than that!

What about comfort?  Perhaps it’s time to fall in love again with that sweater your Grammy gave you.  In support of that notion, tomorrow is National Sweater Day – designed to encourage Canadians to wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat.  An initiative of the World Wildlife Fund, it has a fun side too – you can call ‘the Granny Call Centre’ to learn more about why you should wear that sweater.  More info and a fun video at

So please spread the word among your colleagues: wear a sweater and turn down the heat on the planet!

(PS: When it comes to climate change policies, I find myself frequently disappointed by our current federal government – but I KNOW our Prime Minister has what it takes to participate in this campaign…)

One guiding thought for 2012

December 27, 2011

A couple of years ago, I completed an on-line quiz about my footprint on the planet.  It asked questions about how I live – house, vehicle, driving, food, waste and more – and then calculated how much land it takes to sustain my lifestyle.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone on the planet lived like me, we’d need four planets.  I’ve worked really hard since then to reduce my footprint – but more recently I discovered that that ratio applies to all Canadians: if everyone on the planet lived like us, we’d need four planets.

Of course, there is only one: this fragile, beautiful, precious and irreplaceable planet.

So perhaps the best New Years resolution any of us can make is this: to strive to use less of everything, in whatever way we can.

A portable power meter can save you energy and money

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” goes the expression.  It applies to electricity too, where our only indication of consumption is the monthly bill we get.  But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.  As well, power bills tell us nothing about what’s running up our bill – so we have no way to distinguish the power hogs in our homes and workplaces from the power misers.

Portable power meters to the rescue!  They’re simple devices that provide a real-time readout of the power consumption of anything that plugs into an outlet.  Once you know how much power is consumed by the different things in your home or workplace, you can zero in on actions that will make the biggest difference in your power usage – and bill.

Portable meters like this one, this one or this one (a bit more expensive, but very good and easy to use) are available for loan at many public libraries, or at many hardware stores.

Four ways to lower the environmental impact of that morning shower

Consider this: every 10-minute shower you take under a conventional showerhead adds about 65 cents* to your monthly power bill.  That’s about $20 per month if you shower daily.

Each shower also results in emissions from generating that power: in New Brunswick, over three kilograms of carbon dioxide; in Nova Scotia (where most power comes from coal), over five kilograms.  Ouch!  (You can check out carbon dioxide emissions per KWH of electricity in your province here or in your state here {fourth page}).

Here are four quick ways you can reduce those costs and emissions:

1. install a low flow shower head, a simple installation that will pay for itself in about a month

2. consider taking shorter showers

3. consider lowering the temperature of your shower a little

4. consider showering every second day instead of daily

*6.6 KWH @ 10 cents/KWH