Home Draft Audit

draft-cartoon-e1516643455610.jpgWelcome to the second article in the Home Audit series. How did your garbage audit go? Did you learn something about your habits that you can change? I have learned that I need to have a way to get compostable materials from my office (second floor) to my compost pail (main floor). So far, I’m collecting apple cores and tissues on my desk and then taking them down to the kitchen.

This month, we’ll look for drafts. When it’s cold outside our houses can feel cold inside, even if the thermostat says 20oC like it did in around Christmas time. That is partly because of the cool breezes blowing through small (or not so small) cracks around our windows, doors, and outlets.

This audit will work best on a very cold and/or windy day. Those days are draftier indoors.

You will need a draft detector, which you can make by taping a one-ply piece of toilet paper to a pencil. You can also buy a “draft detector” at some hardware stores.  These leave the house a bit smoky smelling, but the drafts show up pretty clearly.

Hold the draft detector in several locations around the edges of doors and windows to see where drafts are entering your home. The tissue or smoke will wave when touched by a draft. Check at the various joints in window and door frames. Also, look at plugins and light switches. Be careful not to be misled by drafts from nearby heating vents. You may want to turn down your thermostat and turn off your Heat Recovery Ventilator during the audit to reduce moving air from your heating vents. Record the location of drafts so that you can fix them.

You could draw a sketch or make a note to show yourself where the drafts are, whatever works best for you. Once you’ve found the drafts, it’s time to fix them.

Weather stripping seals around openings, like doors and windows. Take a picture or a broken piece of the weather stripping that is there and go to a hardware store to find something similar to replace it with.

Caulking seals non-moving parts around windows and door frames. Again, your hardware store will have a selection of caulking. You can choose clear, colored, or paintable.

If you have a very drafty window, you can get window film that will tape to the window frame and stretches across the whole window. We used this in our house the first couple winters we were here, and it kept us from freezing until we could replace the windows with more efficient ones.

For plugins and light switches, you can get weather stripping that fits under the cover plate.

Hopefully you can use this draft audit to find your problem areas, then seal them up. Here’s to a warmer, cozier winter.

If you learn something you want to share, or if you have questions, you can always contact me.  I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges.

Angie 220 photo

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)


Home Garbage Audit

In Saskatoon, early August, we had a torrential rain storm that flooded basements. Since then we’ve had almost no rain. As I write this, hurricanes are ripping through Central America and the southern United States. Meanwhile fires rage through British Columbia, Alberta, and the western United States. This summer, unfathomable heat was killing people and crops in India, only to be followed by strong cyclones across India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Someone needs to take action on climate change.

Regular readers of my column will know that the “someone” I’m referring to is “us.” It’s you and me. I think that we all want to do our part but sometimes we just don’t know what to do. That is the point of this column. It is about things you and I can do to reduce our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. For the next several issues each column will be about how you can audit the energy or water consumption in your home (or office, or church, or…) and make some changes. To audit means to check something out to see what is happening.

You don’t often hear me talking about waste in this column (it is ENERGY Conservation Corner, after all) but waste is also an energy issue. It takes energy and water to extract resources, then manufacture, market, and transport products. When we throw out a product, we are effectively throwing out all the energy and water embodied in that product. For every kilogram of regular household waste we put in the landfill, 1.3 kilograms CO2e of greenhouse gas emissions are created.

For the first audit in this series, I thought we should start with an audit that is straightforward, and highly visible: waste it is!

Take a bag and hang it from your belt for a day (or a few days).  Each time you produce
a piece of garbage, put it in the bag on your belt. At the end of the day, look at what is in your bag, and think about what could have happened instead: Does your bag contain a disposable coffee cup, unwanted clothing, paper towel, empty containers, or spoiled food?

There are lots of variations on this activity:

  •  You can use a disposable plastic bag; or a reusable cloth one (which you wash after).
  •  You likely want to exclude bathroom garbage and messy kitchen garbage.
  •  If you are pretty good at the waste minimization thing, maybe you want to include things you would have thrown in the recycling.

I was talking to my neighbor the other day and she said, “Now that we have city recycling and compost pickup, we hardly have any garbage.” That is certainly the experience at our house.  With three adults, we produce one or two grocery bags a week of garbage.  That doesn’t include what we produce at work.

Now that you know what you are putting in your garbage, make some changes: use a reusable mug, donate unwanted clothing, use a rag, recycle containers or buy in bulk, and do better grocery planning. Then hang a bag from your belt again to see what you need to tackle next.

Hopefully, this audit, and the rest in the series, will help you make changes. If you learn something and you want to share, or if you have questions, you can always contact me at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca.

I’d love to hear about your successes!

Angie 220 photo

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Worship and action resources for World Food Day, Oct 16

Throughout this week in October we are invited to take action for food justice. As the harvest is gathered and as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike respectfully hunt and fish in preparation for winter, we give thanks for the beauty and the bounty of God’s Creation. Please set aside time in worship to give thanks, and to pray and take action for the millions around the world and in Canada who are hungry in the midst of plenty, or who are hungry because they are fleeing disasters and violence.

See the United Church’s national page for resources. The United Church and many of our own farmers are also partners with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which also offers a special 2017 worship resource.   Continue reading

Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation faces drastic cuts

Saskatchewan Conference has long been a member of the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation. SCIC helps Saskatchewan people act on their desire to make the world a better place by educating us about global issues like poverty, health, and human rights, and encouraging individuals to take meaningful action. All of these are in keeping with the United Church’s understanding of the social gospel.  Our faith commitments to social justice don’t stop at our borders; they include all God’s people and all creation.

But now we need to take action for SCIC.

The June 1 provincial budget hit many Saskatchewan programs hard, including education and people living in poverty.  Buried in the details of the budget was an almost $500,000 cut which effectively removed the government’s support for SCIC.  Projects funded through government matching dollars “range from maternal health and food security, to co-operative business development, teacher training, children’s rights, emergency response, and more.”

What can we do?

  • Contact your MLA and let them know you do not support these cuts to Saskatchewan’s international development program
  • Not in the province? Contact Premier Brad Wall
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper
  • Share the news release and your reaction to the cuts via social media and email
  • Share your thoughts on the impact of these cuts on SCIC members’ work. Send them to director@earthbeat.sk.ca

For more information, see SCIC’s press release:

Sharron Bodnaryk is the Conference connection to SCIC and Julie Graham is the staff connection.

Plugging in Vehicles

Plugging in your vehicle, it’s as much a Saskatchewan winter tradition as getting out your snow boots, or thinking about moving somewhere warm.  But it’s something that many of us over-do.

There are three good reasons to plug in your vehicle:

  1. To be sure the vehicle will start even when it’s extremely cold out.
  2. To reduce wear and tear on the engine.
  3. To be sure the vehicle runs cleanly and efficiently.

However, plugging in warms the engine with an electric heater, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but three quarters of Saskatchewan’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels.  Almost half by burning coal.  So we need to reduce our electricity use as much as we can.

So, how do we balance the benefits of plugging in our vehicles with the benefits of reducing electricity use?  I looked at a wide variety of sources for this.  Natural Resources Canada, CAA Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a co

uple of vehicle manufacturers, auto service centers and vehicle magazines.  Basically, they all tell the same story.

What does plugging in do?

When our vehicle gets really cold, the oil in the engine gets thick, and doesn’t do a good job of protecting the moving parts from each other.  A block heater warms the coolant in the engine, which then warms the engine and the oil.   When the engine is warm, it starts easily; the oil is liquid and properly lubricates the engine; the engine runs more efficiently and, as a bonus; the warmer engine warms the air blowing through the vents, so the vehicle’s interior warms up faster.

At what temperature should I plug in?

A well maintained vehicle should start at ‑30oC, but it’s hard on the vehicle, and the vehicle doesn’t run as efficiently.  Using a block heater when it’s ‑20oC improves the efficiency of your vehicle for a standard urban trip by 10%.  Using a block heater when it’s ‑25oC increases your efficiency for that trip by 25%[i]

All of the sources I saw suggested plugging in when the outside temperature is below ‑15oC or ‑20oC.

I looked at what the weather has been like this winter.  In Saskatoon, there are 25 days this winter that the temperature has gone below ‑15oC.  and only 10 days that it has gone below ‑20oC. (I’m writing January 11).

How long do I need to plug in for?

Most sources suggested plugging in for a maximum of 2 hours.  Only CAA and SaskPower suggested longer, and they said 4 hours.  Honda said 30-50 minutes![ii]

What will I save?

That of course depends on what you have been doing.  If you have been plugging in the vehicle when you get home from work, and leaving it plugged in until you leave for work the next day, from November through March, you could be spending $125/year on the electricity for your block heater.  If you change to plugging in for 2 hours, on the nights that the temperature goes below ‑15oC, you would spend only $8.  And the savings in greenhouse gas emissions would be 740kgCO2e.

At our house, we don’t use our vehicle every day, and we park it in an (unheated) garage, so we rarely plug it in.  When we do, we use a timer, that is set to come on one or two hours before departure, depending on the outdoor temperature.

[i] Natural Resources Canada.  Vehicle Warm-Up. Accessed on-line 11 Jan 2016. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/idling/4423

[ii] Honda West A New Direction in Driving.  Ask the Expert – How Long Should I Leave My Vehicle Plugged In?  Accessed on-line 11 Jan 2016.  http://www.hondawest.ca/ask-the-expert-how-long-should-i-leave-my-vehicle-plugged-in/

Angie 220 photo

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Our Solar Powered Home

Just over a year ago, I wrote a column telling you about the solar panels that were being installed at our home.  I told you that we hoped to produce as much electricity as we consume over a year, and I promised graphs.  Yes we did, and here is a graph.

Our system is a 4.16 kW grid-tied solar PV system.  PV means that it generates electricity, not heat; and grid-tied means that we use the grid as our battery.

In our first full year of production, we produced 3,872 kWh, and used 3,859 kWh.  So, we were net positive by 13 kWh, otherwise known as “the hair on our chinny chin chins”.  If we had run an electric heater for 10 hours, we would have used more electricity than we produced.

That is a very important point: Conservation is key when you are trying to generate your own electricity (and all the time).

The graph shows electricity production consumption bwproduced by our panels in light grey, and electricity we consumed in dark grey.  As you can see, we produced WAY more electricity in summer than in winter.  That is largely due to our short winter days, and partly due to the fact that we mounted the panels on our existing garage roof, which points east and west, not south.

We consume 50% more electricity in December than in July.  That is because of things like: longer lighting hours; furnace fan running; and we are home instead of being out canoeing somewhere.

So, what about maintenance?  We did remove snow regularly from the panels.  If it snowed overnight, Jim would usually scrape the snow off before leaving for work.  If it was promising to be sunny, he couldn’t bear to wait until the end of the day and possibly miss out on some production.  How big a job was this?  For me, basically zero – I only did it once.

We bought a roof rake, which is like a long handled shovel with the blade attached at a good angle for scraping the panels.  As you can see from the photo, it’s a bit awkward, but not too bad.  The snow slides off pretIMG_3097ty well when you pull it with the rake.  Once the snow is off the panels they don’t frost up at all, as long as it’s sunny.  The panels are dark, and warm up.   If you look at the graph, you’ll see that in the depths of winter, production is very low, so if we hadn’t scraped off the panels we wouldn’t have lost a lot of production – but we wouldn’t have been net positive.

Financially, the final cost of the panels, including a rebate from SaskPower came to $14,000.  What we saved on our power bill, plus what Saskatoon Light and Power has paid us adds up to $445, for a return on our investment in the first year of 3.2%.  In each province this number will be different, as utility rates and feed in tariffs etc vary by province.

Going forward, we’ll have to be careful not to let our electricity consumption increase.  It’s easy to say “oh, we’re producing clean electricity, it’s OK to use more”.  For now, it feels pretty good to have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity consumption.

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Angie manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church.  You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca 

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)