CALGARY, Alta. June 16, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Most concerns about Canadian energy use focus on industrial activities such as oilsands development. But we can be more sustainable on an individual basis, starting in our homes.
A friend recently asked what could be done to make his new house more sustainable. It’s a good question because there’s a lot to learn about household sustainability.
Canada’s most significant residential energy uses are transportation, followed by space heating, then electricity and hot water. But there are three critical ways to combat energy use: conservation, replacement with renewables and efficiency.
To increase household energy sustainability, here are your smartest moves, in order of effectiveness:
Curb vehicle use. If you can live with just one household vehicle, that’s terrific. Having more efficient vehicles is important, but curbing vehicle use overall is the priority. Reducing transportation energy use also reduces other environmental pollutants. And any alternative transportation, even transit, involves more exercise, so this also increases health. And reducing vehicle pollutants improves air quality, contributing to everyone’s well-being.
Living in a walkable inner-city neighbourhood close to services is a good strategy. Many houses in these areas are infills – redevelopments – that have a smaller impact on the environment than homes in new areas. Creating new neighbourhoods causes significant disturbances to the land and environment, through stripping, grading and loss of habitat and agricultural capacity.
Try to buy local, and fewer, goods. This reduces transportation energy and pollution from shipping, as well as the environmental costs of manufacturing the things we didn’t buy. It also reduces waste products. Focus your buying power on things you need rather than want, and focus your energy on great things to do rather than things to have.
Don’t buy a house with space you’ll never need but is costly to heat. And draft-proof your home. Ensure you have sufficient insulation. Wear a sweater and slippers. If possible, use radiant heating rather than forced-air heating. Ideally, this radiant heating would be in-floor heating, using solar hot water panels (solar thermal panels) or geothermal. If a furnace is the only option, then higher-efficiency is definitely better.
Solar hot water panels can also be used to heat water. These panels are more efficient and a lot more cost-effective than solar electric panels (also called solar PV panels).
Refrigerators are a critical variable. The largest household draw on electricity comes from the refrigerator because it cycles on so frequently. The fridge should be just big enough to hold the food you want. If you’re going to have only one high-efficiency appliance, this is the one.
One of the next biggest energy users is the dryer, but air-drying is an alternative for some people (and it makes your clothes last longer).
Power bars also reduce energy, as do efficient lightbulbs. And electricity use can be replaced or offset by solar PV panels, or by buying wind power. Services such as [popup url=”http://www.troymedia.com/2013/07/17/bullfrog-power/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]Bullfrog Power [/popup]let you pay a little extra for electricity to ensure your use is covered by wind power in the provincial grid.
Reduce hot water use. Wash clothes in cold water, have energy-and-water-efficient laundry and dish washers, and have low-flow faucets and showers. If possible, heat water with the sun through hot water panels or have on-demand hot water heaters. In general, we need to cut back on water consumption, not just our hot water use.
On the residential energy front alone, there is much you do.
But getting it done on a large scale requires legal and regulatory changes – for example, new rules aimed at minimizing the conversion of agricultural land to new suburbs and at producing a far greater supply of compact and centrally-located housing.
As always, there are political dimensions to the quest for sustainability and a low-carbon future. We can look after sustainability in our homes and make our voices heard in the community.
Coral Bliss Taylor is secretary of the Green Party of Alberta and in 2015 was the party’s candidate in Chestermere-Rockyview.
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