Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ways to Improve the Efficiency of your Home

I currently rent a basement suite in an older home from the 50's, and as a result it had several inefficiencies.  I have been doing some renovations to the the suite in order to end wasteful energy usage, and save some money.  I would like to relay some of my findings and research.  These of course are not the only options, and obviously everyone cannot do all of them.  However that being said, there are several improvements that can be made right away for free, improvements that will save you money and have a positive effect on the environment.


  • Swap out those incandescent light bulbs for CFL bulbs (Compact Fluorescent Lamp).  Incandescent light bulbs consume at least 4 times more energy than CFL's, and the majority of this energy isn't producing the intended light but rather wasteful heat.  CFL's may cost more initially at $10 for 4 bulbs as opposed to $4 for four incandescent bulbs (a 2.5 increase).  However CFL's also have an 8-10 times longer lifespan than incandescents (6000 vs 750 hours), this means you would have to buy 8 incandescent bulbs for every CFL and spend $32 vs $10 in order to match the same lifespan.  It is true that CFL's contain poisonous mercury, however if you properly recycle the bulbs you reduce the chance of environmental mercury poisoning.  For those that say that CFL's don't have the "warmth", the fact is that CFL's are offered in a variety of colours and shapes, so there is no excuse.
  • Use fewer light bulbs. Most often your bathroom will have a lighting system in place involving 6-8 bulbs.  You only need one bulb, so take out the rest.  If your lamps have room for more than one bulb, you only need to install one.
  • Configure your computer and monitor to enter into sleep mode at 3-5 minute intervals.  I have explained this more in depth here Increasing Computer Efficiency.  The article also explains about Granola which is a free program that saves you money by doing nothing after you install it.  Shut down your computer, and modem at night time to save even more electricity.
  • Unplug your TV when it is not in use.

  • Purchase a front-load clothes washer, as opposed to a top-load model.  A front-loading washer costs 26% more, but offers 40% or $200 savings off of your utility bills .  Top load washers basically fill the entire machine with water in order to suspend the clothes, and require an agitator to mix the clothes.  A front load washer is able to use fins to tumble and mix clothes in a smaller amount of water, using less energy and water.  Front load washers are also able to squeeze more water out of the clothes, making the drying process easier and quicker.
  • Use cold water when you do your laundry.  When you use hot water, you have to heat that water which can account for 90% of the costs of doing your laundry.  You clothes will still get clean if you use cold water, and you can see up to a $100 in savings a year.
  • Buy a clothes drying rack, or clothes line.  Using a drying machine is completely redundant, and requires massive amounts of energy about 12% of your total electricity usage.A drying rack only costs $25, or you could even get creative by using clothes hooks in a closet.  You will save the cost of a drying rack in one month of not using your dryer, which can cost $190 per year to use.  You also save money by not buying the dryer itself, which can run for hundreds of dollars.
  • Open the fridge door only when you need to.  Every time the door is open, you are heating the inside of the fridge, wasting the energy it used to get it cool.  When you have left overs, let them cool on the counter before you place it in the fridge.  The fridge will use more energy to keep its contents cool when they are above room temperature.  If you need to thaw something from the freezer place it in the fridge, the colder food will cool the fridge allowing it to use less energy.  When you need to make ice, fill the ice cube tray with the coldest water possible.  It is a myth that hot water will form ice quicker (it can happen, but you need perfect lab conditions), you will only be wasting more energy a) heating the water, and b) cooling higher temperature water.
  • Raise the temperature of the fridge.  The recommended temperature is 3°C.
  • Eat less meat and dairy.  Become a weekend-vore, and save money.  Livestock are very energy, environmentally and chemically intensive, as I have discussed here The Impact of Livestock.  Eating meat only on the weekend, makes it easier to manage your meat intake, and with your savings you can buy higher quality meat that grew up on an actual farm and wasn't pumped full of antibiotics.  You can raise the temperature to the highest setting when you don't have meat products, meat products tend to spoil the quickest and require cooler temperatures to slow spoilage.
  • Cook your meals in larger batches.  Cooking is very energy intensive, so the more food that you cook in one go, the more energy you save since you do not have to reheat the elements as much. 
  • Use a toaster oven.  Toaster ovens can run for as little as $20, and double as a toaster and an oven.  Whenever you use a large oven, you are heating a large space just to heat your food.  A toaster oven applies the heat more directly to the food, and does not heat up as large an area.
  • Use a dish washer.  Dish washers use less water than a sink full of water according to  To maximize the efficiency of your dishwasher, do not run the cycle until a full load.  Do not use the heat dry mode, instead allow your dishes to air-dry. 
  • Do not use a garbarator.  Garbarators are highly redundant,  and you are only adding costs for your city.  The less you put down your drain, the less money your city has to spend cleaning the water which translates into smaller bills for you.
  • Compost your food.  A composter runs for $60 for 400L.  The organic waste you place into your garbage most often ends up into a landfill.  Landfills do not allow the organic material to break down as quickly, and vital nutrients are not returned to the environment.
  • Grow your own food. The food from your grocery store often travels thousands of kilometers in order to make it onto your plate.  You can find more information here The Importance of Preserving our Farmland.

  • Only take 5 minute showers.  Your city invests large amounts of energy and money cleaning water so that it is safe to drink, the city then also has to clean the water from your shower. We are using large quantities of safe/clean drinking water every time we have a 15/20 (180L/240L) minute shower.  Most people take hot showers, so the longer your shower the more energy and money you use heating the water.  You can install a low flow shower head which start around $20, and use 40% less water.  Take a shower instead of a bath, a typical bath uses 150 L of water.
  • Install a low flow toilet.  Again we are using clean drinking water, but this time we are using it to flush our bodily wastes down the toilet.  A low flow toilet can cost as little as $80 and only uses 4 L per flush as opposed to 20 L for a high flow toilet.  If you have the money can save even more water by installing a waterless urinal, which run for $550.  You can also practice "If its Yellow let it Mellow, if its Brown Flush it Down."   Do not flush down anything other than toilet paper and your wastes, otherwise you pollute your water system and increase city costs and your bills.
  • Install a Grey Water System.  You can install grey water tanks and pumps from or  A grey water system will take water from your shower or sink and use it for your toilet water.  These systems are great in that they divert basically clear shower water from the sewage system , and reuse it for bodily wastes.  These systems will not only save water, but they will save you money as well.
  • Buy recycled toilet paper and avoid multiple ply.  You can purchase toilet paper that is manufactured from 100% recycled paper products and no this does not mean recycled toilet paper.  Soft toilet paper or 2,3-ply comes at the expense of freshly chopped trees.  The "softness" comes from fresh pulp, which requires large amounts of  chemicals, energy and heating.

  • Use a room heater.  The central heating systems that most houses come equipped with are grossly inefficient for a number of reasons.  These systems generally use a gas-burning furnace to heat the air and then use fans to distribute the hot air throughout your house.  This means that you are heating the entire house just so that you can be comfortable in one room.  You are heating 90% of the house that you are not in.  A electric room heater can run as low as $25, and come with built in thermostats.  This way the room heater will only to a desired room temperature, and directs the heat directly at you.  This way you stay warm and you don't have to heat your whole house.  You could easily reduce the temperature of your furnace down to 16.5°C using a room heater.
  • Buy a digital thermostat if you do not already have one.  Digital thermostats run as low as $27, with the basic models allowing for 5 and 2 day programming.  There are more expensive digital thermostats that run for $100 plus, these have features that give you more programming variety, and can display your heating data real time.  With a digital thermostat you can lower the temperature while you are at work during the day and sleeping at night.  It is recommended to set the temperature at 16°C while you are out/sleeping, and 19.5°C while you are home, which can see up to 15% savings.  Do not worry about your pets, they will be more than comfortable at 16°C.  It is also shown that you sleep better in cooler climates.
  • Insulate your house.  If you live in a older house, you are probably losing the majority of the heat your furnace pumps out.  The better you insulate your house, the more likely you are to retain your heat and save money.  You can apply weather stripping on your doors and windows, at $10 for 10 meters.  You can purchase door sweeps for as little as $5, and plastic film to cover your windows at $14 for 10 m2. You can purchase outer wall electrical outlets seal packages at $4 for 8 outlet seals.  You can buy foam piping insulation for your hot water pipes at $2 for 2 meters.  Your furnace is most often in an area of the house that you do not occupy often, this means you are heating a room that you are never in.  You can buy insulation bubble wrap for your heating ducts at $40 for 4 m2.   You can add insulation in your attic, it is recommended to install an insulation rating of R-49, and will run you for $50 per 4.5m2.
  • Close the door.  Don't leave the door open for extended periods of time.  Cover your windows with heavy drapes at night time.
  • Turn your water boiler temperature down.  Water boilers maintain the set water temperature, regardless of whether you are using the hot water or not.  Your water temperature only needs to be set at 50°C or 120°F.  The water is still hot, yet if you run straight hot water it will not scald you.  It is recommended to not set the temperature below 50°C since legionnaires disease can form.  Install a check valve directly outside the water heater so that the water does not mix when it is not flowing.  You will save money and still have enough hot water.  If you have the capital available you can invest in a tankless water heater at $1000 per unit.  Tankless water heaters only heat water when you need it, and can see savings up to 30% off your heating bill.
  • Turn your fan onto the lowest setting.  If you own a ceiling fan turn it on the lowest speed in the clockwise direction that forces air upwards.  This air then follows the ceiling to the walls and then down to the floor again.  There is greater heat transfer between your skin and moving air.  So by turning your fan on, you are circulating air slowly and you feel warmer.  You can see heating savings up to 10%.  Fans use little power at low speeds as little as 24 watts.  So turn the fan on when you are home, and off when you are at work or sleeping.
  • Water

  • Install a rain barrel.  A rain barrel runs for $80 for 190 L, and connects to rain spout leading off of your roof.  This is water that would have normally soaked the ground where it fell, however due to the municipal infrastructure this water instead goes down a drain into the storm water system where it pumped into the local river.  Instead of relying on water that was cleaned, and pumped to your household, you can utilize free water for your gardens.
  • Don't use fertilizers or pesticides.  These chemicals are detrimental to human health, the environment, and wildlife.  Pesticides allow super bugs and species to develop which are resistant to the chemicals.  These chemicals are washed away into the local water supply anytime it rains, polluting our waters.
  • Plant cloverleaf lawns.  Cloverleaf lawns do not require fertilizer and add vital nutrients such as nitrogen to the soil.  Cloverleaf also aerates the soil.
  • Use a push mower.  A push mower runs for about $100, and does not require any fuel. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn as a natural mulch, giving the lawn back vital nutrients.  Cities encourage its residents to do this as it costs money to make the unneccesary haul to the landfill.

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