My Home Energy Project: Step 3 – Lighting

 

A year ago I started a project to reduce the energy consumption in my condo. I’ve gone through two keys steps already (Measuring the energy I currently use, and taking steps to reduce the energy used for Heating (HVAC)). My next main area of focus, was on Lighting. Lighting accounts for approximately 20% of energy use, both in residential and commercial infrastructure. In order to reduce the energy used by lighting, I implemented two key upgrades:

  • Replaced all of my lighting with LED bulbs. LED’s use 85% less energy than incandescent light bulbs, last over 20 years, and do not contain harmful mercury (like CFL bulbs do). LED’s are the best choice for the environment, your wallet in the long term, and waste reduction. Additionally the price of LED bulbs are dropping – I purchased most of my bulbs at IKEA for under $5 (IKEA has promised to source only LED blubs by 2016).
  • Installed lighting controls. The lighting controls I purchased (Lutron) included both vacancy sensors as well as daylight sensors. The lighting must be switched on, but is programmed to automatically switch off if the sunlight is bright enough or if no one is in the room. Lighting sensors are under $20, available at most hardware stores, and programmable to your preferences.

So what exactly did the initiatives achieve last year? The total energy use for 2014 was 5179 kWh – while in 2013 it was 6484 kWh – well below the average household electricity consumption of 12,000 kWh.

I achieved an energy reduction of 20% in 2014!

Let’s take a more in-depth look at monthly energy use, starting with 2013 and moving into 2014. As you can see, below, the most notable difference was in the winter months (January, February, November, December). This makes sense, as last year I focused on improving Heating.

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My Home Energy Use for 2013
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My Home Energy Use for 2014

Additionally, during 2014, I welcome wonderful guests from AirBnB over the summer, as well as a roommate in the fall. Sharing a space is a great way to further reduce your personal footprint, as a good portion of the energy used is shared (heating, cooling, ventilation, refrigeration, hot water etc).

I would love to hear what your household is doing to reduce energy and/or report your yearly energy use for 2014, below! Make this your New Year’s resolution and create fun and engaging ways to get your household involved!

Step 4: Plug Loads…


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My Home Energy Project: Step 2 – Heating

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Today it really felt like winter: cold crisp morning, snow filled streets, and pitch black ride home.

You know what that means?

Now is the perfect time to optimize your heating. Regardless of what region you live in, heating and cooling are likely your largest energy loads. The U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that it accounts for a whopping 48% of our household use.

It’s a big job to take on, but try not to get overwhelmed – this process might take a month or multiple years. Do your research. Stay within your budget. Remember that even the smallest step forward is better than nothing at all. Look for the low hanging fruit first – the no/low cost, easy pay backs – working up to the more expensive initiatives (when/if you are able).

Lets take a look at Heating.

Before purchasing my condo, I knew there were features that would work in my favor to reduce my heating bill: having south facing windows, neighbors on four sides generously sharing their heat with me, not to mention all those under me (I live on the 5th floor, and we all know heat rises). Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages to living in a condo as well, which impact my energy initiatives. The shell of my building (insulation, windows etc) are controlled by the condo – and so little to no savings can be found here for me.

When purchasing a house, be sure to consider the shape, orientation, building envelope, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). These items are key to the potential energy efficiency of your home.

Beyond the ‘bones’ of the building, there are still many other initiatives we can control and improve:

  • Conservation – This is always the least costly way to reduce energy for any category. No fancy tech needed, zero cost.
  • Social Benchmarking – Get a little support and encouragement to continue your personal efforts to reduce energy consumption. Using social benchmarking helps you to understand how your energy consumption compares to others and creates community around common energy reduction goals.
  • Programmable Thermostats – There are an abundance of innovative programmable and ‘intelligent’ systems out there such as the Nest, unfortunately many do not work for baseboard heat. They are certainly flashy, great for engagement – particularly with the tech savvy – but if your budget is tight or you’d prefer low tech there are other more basic and cost effective products which will do the trick just as well, if not better. I purchased Honeywells RLV4300, which is a 5-2 day programmable thermostat for baseboard heaters. You can pick them up at local buildings stores for ~$30 each. For spaces I anticipate I’ll regularly use I programmed them at 21 Celsius (~70 Fahrenheit) and 19 Celsius (~66 Fahrenheit) for rooms I rarely use. I lowered this to 16 Celsius (~60 Fahrenheit) for periods when I wont be home, or am asleep.
  • Insulate Hot water tank – You can purchase insulation for hot water tanks and pipes at local building stores for ~$25.
  • Blackout curtains –  These are made with thermal-backed material which provide insulation. In the winter close the curtains after dark (to keep the cold out), and open during the day (to gain some solar heat). You can also use these during the summer, by reversing the time when you open and close. They can be purchased at general department stores as curtains for ~$20, or you can pick up fabric and make them yourself (as curtains or adhere them to existing blinds)
  • Weatherproofing – Air leaks account for the largest energy loss from your home. Seal everything that you can, such as exterior doors, windows, light fixtures, electrical outlets, even ceiling fans.
  • Behavioral – This is where energy conservation gets awfully fun, and potentially downright stylish. Rock an ugly Christmas sweater all season long. Snuggle with your dog (or partner). Learn to love socks. Use it as a perfect excuse to splurge on a handmade rug from Etsy. Use your imagination!

Additional initiatives for those who own homes:

  • Energy Audit – provides insight into the initiatives that would have the most impact in your home
  • Insulation– remember to compare the R-value when purchasing (higher is better)
  • Windows – consider triple or double glazed windows
  • HVAC System – how efficient is your furnace or air conditioning system?

I think its important to remember that energy reduction should start at home. If you are passionate about sustainability, green house gases, carbon emissions, climate change, air pollution, water contamination or the destruction of natural habitats – take this into your own hands. Many people agree these are important issues, but few are willing or informed enough to make changes in their personal lives. Saving energy is not just about reducing your energy bill, it’s about investing in our future and living out our beliefs.

Join me in becoming part of the solution.

Challenge: Commit to implement one positive energy reducing initiative in your home. Post what you will implement below & update us when you do.

 

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My Home Energy Project: Step 1 – Measure the energy you currently use.

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The past year has been an exciting journey for me – after buying my first place (A older {1985} brick, 850 sqft condo, in a walkable part of Ottawa) I went to work renovating it to both my aesthetic tastes as well as sustainable passions. I finally feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do – create a home that has its own story, which has been so uniquely woven into mine.

I was surprised when my Grandfather, after being over for a family dinner, sent me an IKEA gift card in the mail as well as an offer to explore the store together this Saturday. It was such a sweet and kind gesture, and I was thrilled at the thought of getting some time just me and him.  I immediately knew what I would get, I had heard co-workers mention that IKEA now stalked LED lighting, and I had been drooling over the idea of doing a complete lighting swap for quite some time – but hadn’t had the budget. Now I finally could.

I plan to take on a new project: tackle my energy use. I’ll take it slowly, manageably. I want to focus on one small step at a time.  I’ve heard it said that you can’t manage what you don’t measure – so here we go…

STEP ONE: Measure what energy you currently use

Last year seemed like the most reasonable benchmark for this exercise. My energy use for 2012 is as follows: 6327.74 kWh (Shocker!). I’ll embarrassingly share my monthly usage, and cringe while I admit this is the first time I have looked at this in great detail:

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I have compared this to 2013 year-to-date, and have had energy use higher than last year for 5 of the 8 past months. YIKES!! My energy use for 2013 is as follows:

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Taking an average of the overlapping months, I have come up with the following energy use baseline:

January – 1,100 KWh
February – 870 KWh
March – 590 KWh
April – 430 KWh
May – 300 KWh
June – 300 KWh
July – 390 KWh
August – 300 KWh
September – 240 KWh
October – 340 KWh
November – 500 KWh
December – 1080 KWh

Overall, my place comes in just over half the average household energy consumption (which is ~12,000 KWh, depending on location). There are a few things that are working in my favor already:

  • Size  – less space to heat/cool
  • Connection – four faces of my unit are linked to other conditioned spaces (rather than exposed to exterior conditions)
  • Updated windows – lucky me, the condo recently replaced my balcony windows with double glazing.
  • No AC – The eye-sore window unit was removed immediately when I moved in!

Baseline measured – check.

Dare: Take a look at your energy usage, determine monthly baseline, and confess your usage data in the comments below.

Step 2 – Heating (HVAC)… 


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