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May 27th, 2013
By Alexandre

When people think about environmentally respectful houses, they usually tend to picture very high-tech buildings whose components are way too expensive. Although it is true that green houses can cost a little more to build than regular houses, they also tend to sell for more: last year in California, for instance, their cost was 9% higher than regular homes. Yet, if your current home is not intrinsically green, there are easy ways to make it more environmentally friendly without spending an astronomical amount of money.

1. Program your house’s temperature

Space heating can represent up to about 45% of an American household’s utility bills. This is a huge proportion! But that is actually good news: if space heating makes up such a big fraction of your energy bills, it is likely that you can save a lot mot money if you come to grips with this issue and seek to reduce the amount of energy you use to heat (and cool) your living space!

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to cut down on the amount of energy that is necessary to make your home comfortable is to opt for programmable thermostats. This type of heating control system allows you to adjust your home temperature according to parameters, which you set yourself in order to have them meet your specific needs. You could, for instance, make sure that your home temperature is at 21 degrees when you get up in the morning, have it automatically go down to 17 when you leave for work and have it go back up to 21 when you come back at night. This could help you save significant amounts of energy.

2. Look for water leaks and wastes

Fresh water abounds in North America. Canada alone is home to about 20% of the world’s total fresh water resources – underground aquifers and glaciers included. This is no surprise, then, that Americans and Canadians respectively are the first and second greatest water consumers on earth. Yet, abundance of water on a given territory is no justification for careless consumption. One of the easiest ways to cut down on pointless water consumption is to look for leaks.

In the United States, it is estimated that about 10% of homes have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons of water every day! These wastes generally come from dripping faucets or leaking toilet flappers, for example. If all domestic leaks were fixed, about one trillion gallons of water could be saved yearly in the United States: this is equivalent to the yearly water consumption of Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami combined, according to the EPA! Reducing your water consumption by changing your toilet or by replacing your showerhead, for instance, is also easy and not too costly.

3. Plant trees around your house

Trees are not only soothing and beautiful: they represent an effective, yet unsuspected insulation device! In fact, having mature trees all around the house can help reduce your energy consumption: when strategically located, trees act as a barrier against the cold winds of the winter as well as against the warm sun rays of the summer. Tall trees planted on the east side of your house will keep the inside air cooler in the summer between about 7 and 11 a.m., while those located on the west side will have a similar effect in the afternoon. Their presence will therefore reduce your needs for air conditioning.

4. Progressively replace your appliances

We all know it: modern appliances tend to last a more limited number of years than they used to. Whether it is due to programmed obsolescence or to the public’s desire for constant change, this limited lifespan of home appliances is an environmental curse. Yet, the next time you absolutely must replace your refrigerator or your washing machine, think about opting for an energy-efficient one. The Energy Star certification is definitely one thing you ought to be looking for: if the upfront cost of buying a certified appliance may be a little higher than normal, the long-term savings will probably make up for it sooner than you think.

5. Use eco-friendly products

The kinds of dishwashing liquid, soap, clothes detergent or window cleaning products that you use can have an immediate impact on the environment. Think about it: you take a shower every day, you clean your dishes at least once a day too and you do the laundry a few times per week… Simply put, you end up rejecting considerable amounts of cleaning agents through your water consumption every day! Making a little effort to buy green cleaning products – which can easily be identified thanks to eco-labels – for just a few extra dollars every month can contribute to making all of the activities that are carried out in your house a lot more environmentally respectful.

About the author:
Alexandre is a blogger for Standard Life, a company that offers Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA).

October 15th, 2012
By Vivian Martin
 

Sure, we’re called the “water planet,” but remarkably little of the blue stuff — less than 1 percent — is available to us as potential drinking water. The rest is tied up in saltwater, ice caps and other less-accessible sources. That scarcity isn’t obvious to most of us in the industrialized world, where water is cheap and easy to find, but there are a billion others who aren’t as lucky. And our time of easy water may be waning too, with the U.S. Government Accountability Office predicting water shortages in 36 states by 2013.

Being water wise can cut your utility bills, reduce the need for costly investments in water treatment and delivery systems, and contribute to a more sustainable water future. The bathroom is the place to start since it’s the water hog in your home, accounting for more than half of the indoor water you use. Check out these water-wise plumbing fixtures that don’t compromise style or function. 

September 7th, 2012
By Vivian Martin

If you heat with wood now or are considering the use of wood fuel for home heating, this book is for you. Wood as a home energy source differs in important ways from all the other options. Heating with wood can be challenging because of the physical demands involved. Special knowledge and skills are needed to successfully use this hands-on home heating option. In this book you will find much of the information needed to make sure your wood heat system is safe. You will also find helpful tips on how to operate and maintain it effectively.

Just as with all energy sources, heating with wood has both advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages are that wood is a renewable energy resource that does not need much processing. Many users like the fact that heating with wood makes their households self-sufficient for heating and secure during an electrical power failure since firewood burning appliances can operate without electricity. Burning wood from local sources means a double economic benefit in the form of savings to the household budget, and energy payments that circulate locally instead of going to distant energy companies. Some people enjoy cutting, splitting and stacking firewood and treat it as part of their physical fitness routine. Most people find the beauty of the natural wood fire hard to resist and many couldn’t imagine living a winter in Canada without it.

There are disadvantages too. The most serious problem is air pollution caused by older stoves, fireplaces and furnaces that can’t burn the wood completely, and by users who don’t know how to burn wood properly. Even the most advanced wood heating technologies produce more air emissions in the form of small particles than the conventional heating fuels like oil and gas. Heating with wood means that household members must be involved in managing the fire, the fuel supply and doing regular maintenance jobs like ash removal. All these tasks take time and therefore have a cost.

Wood fuel is bulky so a winter’s supply takes up a lot of space. There are practical limits to the number of households in Canada that could be heated with wood because of the damage that could be caused to the forest resource and to the air quality in large cities.

Although wood was Canada’s traditional fuel and was the main energy source until about 150 years ago, there have been major advances in wood burning over the past 25 years. These have made wood burning safer, more efficient and convenient than ever before. Some of these advances include:

- New firebox designs are capable of burning the wood more completely, cleanly and at higher efficiencies. 

- A new type of door glass can withstand the heat, and a technology keeps the glass clear for days at a time, allowing efficient heating to be combined with viewing of the fire.

- Pellet stoves that use compressed wood and other biomass wastes are capable of providing at least 24 hours of unattended heating.

- Reliable installation safety standards provide clear guidelines for safe installation.

- Training and professional certification programs for installers and inspectors mean that you can get dependable advice and service.

As recently as 1980, most serious wood burning was done with basement wood furnaces or simple, black, wood stoves. Now, all that has changed. The majority of new wood heating installations are attractive, advanced-technology stoves and fireplaces located in main living areas. Properly installed and located wood heaters are able to provide most or all of the heat for a home, while at the same time offering the beauty of a visible fire. 

Canadian houses have also become more energy efficient, with more insulation, more effective air barriers and sealed doors and windows. These changes have made houses easier to heat, but have also meant that wood-burning systems must be more carefully designed so they will function properly within the tightly sealed house environment.

The keys to safe and successful wood burning are good planning, careful installation and proper operation. This book is intended to help you plan a successful installation and to use your wood-burning system in the most safe and effective way.

… The above excerpt is from the CMHC publication “A Guide to Residential Wood Heating“. The full book is an excellent read and downloadable at http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/odpub/pdf/66067.pdf?fr=1347037607343 

 

 

August 6th, 2012
By Vivian Martin

Net Zero is a term that’s been tossed around for a few years. As with all green building concepts in this economy, it is being shelved until the industry picks back up. I think it’s worth studying and implementing once that happens. 

 

The US Department of Energy defines Net Zero as a house that is 60-70% more energy efficient than a model home, and the remaining 30-40% of energy is created with renewables, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, to bring the energy use to zero.

A net zero home can be on-grid (net metered) or off-grid. Earthships are net zero homes. They create all their own power as well as harvest their own water and deal with their own waste products. This is truly net zero, but probably not suitable for the average homeowner.

For more information about building a net zero home, read the full article here…

June 29th, 2012
By Marie-France Roger

Nowhere else in the home does design and functionality need to be more harmonious than in the kitchen. This is the most-used room of the house, one where we spend most of our leisure time, one that gets the most attention from potential buyers and where we invest most of our dollars in renovation budgets.

A kitchen renovation costs an average of $ 20,000 with a potential 73% return on this expenditure at the time of resale. A more major renovation costs an average of $58,000 and provides a recovery potential of approximately 68% of the expense, according to a study conducted in 2010-2011 in the United States.

When you spend so much money on a renovation, you want to choose the improvements that achieve multiple objectives including efficiency, functionality and beauty. Some types of upgrades are more expensive, while others are easy and relatively inexpensive.

These five kitchen renovation elements will greatly improve functionality and beauty, while allowing you to recover your maximum investment upon the resale of your home:

1. Counters

In every kitchen, the counter is an important design element and must provide foolproof functionality. Counters act as work and storage areas, and surfaces on which to present food and beverages while playing a crucial role on the overall look of the kitchen. Replacing old laminate countertops with more upscale options such as granite can improve the appearance and usability of your work surface. Even if you opt to replace the old laminate with the same product, you will improve the overall look of your kitchen.

2. Lighting and ventilation

Effective lighting and ventilation in a kitchen will not only allow you to appreciate more the beauty of the room, they will provide a safer and more comfortable work environment. Under-cabinet lighting, internal cabinet lighting, task lighting and the addition of lights over the lunch counter will improve usability and beauty of your kitchen. Skylights, if operable, can assist in the removal of heat, moisture and odours while providing additional natural light. Accessories like decorative blinds with remote control, allow you to adjust the amount of light that enters your kitchen, while dressing your decor.

3. Cabinets

Upgrading your cabinets can be an expensive prospect, but well worth the investment because they serve as not only a major design element in the kitchen, but are essential to the effectiveness of cooking and convenience of all occupants. There are several options to renovate your cabinets, from total replacement with custom cabinets to simply repainting or resurfacing existing cabinets.

4. Equipment and accessories

The cabinet hardware and faucets are the jewels of your kitchen. Replacement of worn or dated materials – including knobs, handles and hinges – is a fast, easy and cost-effective way change the look of the entire room. In addition, you can improve the functionality by choosing larger pulls that are easier to use and replace the old hinges with modern varieties that close quietly and smoothly, or are completely concealed behind the cabinet door . Replacing the kitchen faucet is an easy way to freshen up the kitchen at low cost.

5. Appliances

Your car could not function without an engine and tires… Likewise a kitchen cannot accomplish its mission without proper appliances. If your appliances are more than 10 years old, chances are they getting tired and outdated. There is also a good chance they are less efficient than newer models. Kitchen appliances represent nearly 20% of the energy consumed by the average home, according Energystar.gov.

June 19th, 2012
By Vivian Martin

If you can’t save your historic windows, then it’s time to find energy-efficient replacements. And selecting new windows involves industry knowledge. It’s important to have a grasp of the alphabet soup: U-factor, SHGC, air leakage, VT and LSG. Then, after you understand all the different rating systems, you can choose windows based on your climate and the requirements for your house.

But who rates these things anyway? Can you depend on the manufacturer to be truthful? Just like food labels are monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, window labels are certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council. And all Energy Star windows should have an NFRC label. (Note, though, that Energy Star bases its ratings only on U-factor and SHGC, which are explained below.) Windows that don’t have the Energy Star label may or may not be rated; then it’s time to check with the manufacturer.

Read on to learn what all the acronyms mean!

(Note: This article is in reference to American standards. While the fundamentals remain the same, Canadian readers are advised to utilize the information as provided on the Fenestration Canada (formerly CWDMA) website.

March 19th, 2012
By Vivian Martin

There is a good chance that you still have a few 60 watt incandescent light bulbs in your home. Even in the flurry to replace bulbs with CFL’s, they are most likely lurking in your table and floor lamps – the last bastion of familiar comfort lighting. The good news is that there are light bulb options that last longer, consume less energy, and provide up to 95% of the light output.

With the plans to phase out 60 watt incandescent light bulbs in the near future, it is a good idea to know what your alternatives are, not just for your lamps but for all of your household lighting needs…

Replacing That 60-Watt Light Bulb: A Cheat Sheet created by Pegasus Lighting.

When you’re considering cost, take into account the expected lifetime! Paying $25.70 every 23 years for one LED A19 is less expensive than paying $3.25 each year for a Halogen A19. The total for that Halogen A19 light bulb (and all its replacements) adds up to roughly $74.75 over 23 years.

March 7th, 2012
By Vivian Martin

With Daylight Savings time approaching on March 11, it is a good time to reflect on light in the home. Realtors will attest to the value of a bright and welcoming home. Do you have any idea why the extra hour of daylight lifts our moods?

Solatube has provided 11 facts about daylighting that can help everyone appreciate an extra hour of daylight:

  1. Daylighting provides energy usage reduction during the most important time of day, peak hours, when energy rates are the highest and daylight availability is the greatest.
  2. Integrating daylight into home designs can slash interior lighting costs by up to 80%.
  3. Daylight is a great source of vital Vitamin D; just 20 minutes of daylight has the same Vitamin D as 200 glasses of milk.
  4. Tubular Daylighting Devices can bring daylight into dark spaces into homes and businesses, and can be easily installed in about two hours without the hassle and expense of reframing.
  5. A 2003 study of office worker productivity found that exposure to daylight was consistently linked with higher levels of concentration and better short-term memory.
  6. According to the Wisconsin-based Daylighting Collaborative, about 86% of electricity in traditional buildings is used for light, fans and cooling. A daylighting project can cut these costs by more than 50% by reducing electric lighting, because daylight produces less heat per unit of illumination than most light sources.
  7. Daylight provides the truest and most vivid color rendition of all available light sources.
  8. The Solatube 160 DS, a 10-inch tubular daylighting device designed for the home, can provide the equivalent of three, 100-watt incandescent light bulbs during the peak hours of the day without adding heat or glare to the room.
  9. Studies in Canada and Sweden noted improved student behavior and health, including fewer days of absences per year, in daylit classrooms.
  10. The new NAHB Green Home Building guidelines specifically recommend that Tubular Daylighting Devices be installed in rooms without windows.
  11. Skylights are cited as the number one option in “dream bathroom” designs.

Daylighting systems (i.e. windows, skylights, Tubular Daylight Devices, etc.)  are not only eco-friendly, but they provide exceptional lighting and have even been proven to boost morale and productivity (among many other benefits). By using a renewable resource, daylighting systems are able to harness the sun’s rays and help build a sustainable future.  

Remember to set your clocks forward on March 11 and enjoy the extra hour of daylight!

December 8th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

In our energy efficiency series of articles featured each Thursday, we provide strategies or information on how to make your new home energy efficient and comfortable. 

A heat pump is an electrical device that extracts heat from one place and transfers it to another. The heat pump is not a new technology; it has been used in Canada and around the world for decades. Refrigerators and air conditioners are both common examples of this technology.

Heat pumps transfer heat by circulating a substance called a refrigerant through a cycle of evaporation and condensation (see graphic above). A compressor pumps the refrigerant between two heat exchanger coils. In one coil, the refrigerant is evaporated at low pressure and absorbs heat from its surroundings. The refrigerant is then compressed en route to the other coil, where it condenses at high pressure. At this point, it releases the heat it absorbed earlier in the cycle.

Refrigerators and air conditioners are both examples of heat pumps operating only in the cooling mode. A refrigerator is essentially an insulated box with a heat pump system connected to it. The evaporator coil is located inside the box, usually in the freezer compartment. Heat is absorbed from this location and transferred outside, usually behind or underneath the unit where the condenser coil is located. Similarly, an air conditioner transfers heat from inside a house to the outdoors.

The heat pump cycle is fully reversible, and heat pumps can provide year-round climate control for your home – heating in winter and cooling and dehumidifying in summer. Since the ground and air outside always contain some heat, a heat pump can supply heat to a house even on cold winter days. In fact, air at –18°C contains about 85 percent of the heat it contained at 21°C.

Now that we have you saying “huh?” like I did, you probably want to learn more.

If you are exploring the heating and cooling options for a new house or looking for ways to reduce your energy bills, you may be considering a heat pump. A heat pump can provide year-round climate control for your home by supplying heat to it in the winter and cooling it in the summer. Some types can also heat water.

In general, using a heat pump alone to meet all your heating needs may not be economical. However, used in conjunction with a supplementary form of heating, such as an oil, gas or electric furnace, a heat pump can provide reliable and economic heating in winter and cooling in summer. If you already have an oil or electric heating system, installing a heat pump may be an effective way to reduce your energy costs.

Nevertheless, it is important to consider all the benefits and costs before purchasing a heat pump. While heat pumps may have lower fuel costs than conventional heating and cooling systems, they are more expensive to buy. It is important to carefully weigh your anticipated fuel savings against the initial cost. It is also important to realize that heat pumps will be most economical when used year-round. Investing in a heat pump will make more sense if you are interested in both summer cooling and winter heating.

In addition to looking at cost, you should consider other factors. How much space will the equipment require? Will your supply of energy be interrupted on occasion? If so, how often? Will you need changes or improvements to your ducting system? How much servicing will the system need, and what will it cost?

Becoming fully informed about all aspects of home heating and cooling before making your final decision is the key to making the right choice. The Natural Resources Canada Office of Energy Efficiency website offers additional information on what heat pumps are and other variables to consider. Follow this link for additional information.

Do you homework and your shopping and you should find a system that best suits your needs. Also, remember to see if you are eligible for any grants or incentives on a federal, provincial or local level.

Each Thursday, we will feature a blog entry about energy efficient new homes, covering a range of topics from building innovations to ratings systems to “score” your home’s efficiency. Subscribe to theDrummondHousePlans blog to make sure you get the latest news on how to make your new or renovated home energy efficient.

November 22nd, 2011
By Vivian Martin

People who inhabit and visit the houses and homes we live in come in all shapes and sizes. They range in age from infancy to old age with a variety of ever-changing abilities and skills. Housing needs change for all of us as we grow-up, grow old and welcome new people to our homes. A home that is designed and built to reflect the principles of universal design is safer and more accommodating to everyone who inhabits or visits it, no matter what their age or physical ability.

The philosophy of universal design is that your home should be comfortable, pleasant, safe and usable by everyone in your family, be it your children, you or your spouse, aging parents or a relative with a disability. The use of technology and automation can help create living spaces that are convenient and energy efficient, minimize the potential for accidents and result in a house that is able to adapt to life’s changes — whether caused by changing family composition or the changing abilities of family members.


Points of Home Automation

Using Technology in the Home

Devices originally designed for people with disabilities are found in every home. The remote control was originally developed to help people with limited mobility control their environment. Today remote controls are used by everyone.

Home automation now being developed for the general consumer market provides even greater benefits to people with physical, sensory and mental disabilities, allowing them to live more independently.

What is Home Automation?

Home automation systems, or smart home technologies, are systems and devices that can control elements of your home environment — lighting, appliances, telephones, as well as home security, mechanical, entry and safety systems. They can be used to improve safety, expand usability and make life easier for people of all abilities.

Home automation systems can be operated by electricity or a computer chip using a range of different types of switches. A simple device, such as a light, can be activated by a signal from a motion sensor, or can be lit as part of a computerized home automation system.

What Can Home Automation Do?

Home automation can:

  • Increase your independence and give you greater control of your home environment
  • Make it easier to communicate with your family
  • Save you time and effort
  • Improve your personal safety
  • Reduce your heating and cooling costs
  • Increase your home’s energy efficiency
  • Alert you audibly and visually to emergency situations
  • Allow you to monitor your home while you are away. For more information on Home Automation and related topics, read full CMHC article…
 



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