Let’s Commit to Retrofit

In our last post, we discussed habits you could change to help reduce your environmental footprint. However-if you have the financial capacity, you could implement the methods below to lessen your environmental impact even further as well as save your money!

  1. Consider adding ultra low flow or high efficiency toilets in your home to reduce your total water use! Ultra low flow toilets (ULFTs) utilize gravity or pressure assisted methods. Gravity toilets rey on gravity to clear the waste when the flapper is moved and water is released. Pressure-assisted toilets compress an air pocket to propel the released water to remove the waste. Meanwhile, high efficiency toilets (HETs) feature dual flush that reserves 1.6 gallons/6 liters of water for solid waste and 0.8 gallons/3 liters of water for liquid waste per flush. (1)

  2. Install energy-efficient light bulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Photocells, timers, dimmers, and motion sensors can further reduce electricity use.

  3. Use a smart thermostat such as a NEST thermostat which can more efficiently control the heating and cooling of your house, by adapting to your presence in your house (i.e. what time of the day you leave and come home), seasonal variations + fluctuations,  to not only positively impact the environment- but also to save you money!

  4. Install solar panels that integrate into your household! The average Albertan household requires 20-24 solar panels to be an electrically net-zero household (4). Once installed by an electrician, these panels can integrate seamlessly into your breaker panel, so that you can start using. The solar option typically won’t save you money immediately as the cost of installation will offset the electricity savings for the first few years, but in the long term the savings will definitely pay off- not to mention, the environmental impact starts as soon as you start using them yourself (4). For residents in Alberta, you can actually be eligible for a solar rebate of around 30% of the cost of installing the solar electrical system in your home!  

  5. There are several “green” or environmentally friendly forms of insulation that we can use, namely sheep’s wool, cotton, Aerogel, and rigid polystyrene (5)! Not only does proper insulation save the environment, it can also be a large money saver. Here are areas in the home to insulate.

  6. Heat gain and heat loss through windows are responsible for 25%–30% of residential heating and cooling energy use. Upgrading your home windows can increase air-tightness, reduce energy loss, and reduce road noise. These are some ways you can improve your windows (6):

    1. Cover any air leaks. Here is how to detect air leaks.

    2. Add storm windows or panels

    3. Add solar control film

    4. Add exterior shading (awnings, exterior blinds, or overhangs)

  7. Overall, if you can afford to build an entire house concept, take a look at net zero energy (nZEB) buildings: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148118304440 a net zero energy building. They produce as much energy as it uses over the course of a year, meaning the building has an energy utility bill of $0 over the course of a year.

This is the last of our environmental-themed post for the year.  We hope you’ve learned some handy tips over the last few months on some habits you can change to better help the environment!


Written by Kanesha Calo and Kasun Medagedara


References:

  1. Low Flow Toilets https://home.howstuffworks.com/low-flow-toilet.htm

  2. Lighting https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money

  3. Low Flow Showerheads https://www.brothersplumbing.com/plumbing/benefits-of-using-a-low-flow-shower-head/

  4. https://kubyenergy.ca/blog/the-complete-guide-to-installing-solar-panels-in-alberta

  5. https://www.usiinc.com/blog/insulation/which-is-the-best-insulation-for-the-environment/

  6. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/design/windows-doors-and-skylights/update-or-replace-windows

Watt to Cut

The average energy consumption in Alberta sits at 7,200 kWh per person which exceeds the national average of 4,500 kWh. This large discrepancy can be attributed to the colder climate (thanks 1 whole month of -30℃) and higher minimum wage (1). As an Edmontonian, you should expect to spend about $1,200 annually on electricity bills, which can be even higher if you live with a large family (1). While being mindful about your energy usage can help you spending less on bills, conserving electrical energy helps reduce your carbon footprint as well. A large percentage of electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which means that by using electricity, we are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (2). With a greater need than ever to reduce our carbon footprint, here are some small household changes that you can make in order to limit your energy usage.

  1. Turn off the light when you leave the room! It’s only a flip of a switch, but it can limit hours of wasted energy usage. If you want to keep up with times and technology advancements, install a smart home system to control your lights.  

  2. Want a brighter environmental future? Consider changing your lightbulbs from inefficient 60-watt traditional bulbs to 12-watt LEDs which us up to 85% less energy (3)

  3. Eliminate vampire power: unplug unused appliances like your chargers and toasters. If you want to be really efficient, install a “power strip” which allows master control of a number of electronics so you can easily shut them all off at once when not in use. This works quite well for TV and entertainment systems.

  4. Stop spending so much time browsing for food in your fridge; you already know it’s empty. A slight disturbing fact: we spend about 10 hours a year looking into a fridge or freezer (4).

  5. Machine-set to wash your clothes in cold water. Not only do you prevent the risk of shrinkage, they will also come out less-wrinkly, so you won’t have to further use more energy to iron, compared to using hot water (5).

  6. Hang your laundry to dry, rather than using a dryer. Embrace that luddite, analog lifestyle!

  7. Do full loads of laundry. Or if you’re in dire need to wash a few pieces of clothing, hand wash them instead.

  8. Take cold showers! You’ll be in and out in less than 5 minutes, which means less water usage and less energy needed to heat up your showers. Fun fact: cold showers are good for your health and overall immunity; a study in England showed that taking regular cold showers increase the amount of disease-fighting white blood cells compared to taking warm to hot showers (6).

  9. Take shorter showers, especially if you’re still going to be taking hot showers. Skip the karaoke sessions and replays of conversations that went poorly, you can do that when you’re not in a position to waste water.

  10. Program your thermostat. Constantly warming and cooling your house takes huge amounts of unnecessary energy, so use a smart thermostat to help you figure out your preferences and set a standard temperature.

Try practicing some of these easy steps in your daily life. Leave post-it-notes or little reminders all over your house, or make a checklist, if you have to, little changes make big differences.

Written by Ira Amiruddin & Natalie Czuczman

Appendices

  1. https://www.fluenthome.com/blog/much-canadian-households-spend-energy/  

  2. https://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/why-is-it-important-conserve-electricity

  3. https://www.energysage.com/energy-efficiency/101/ways-to-save-energy/

  4. https://www.ase.org/blog/10-biggest-energy-wasting-habits-home

  5. https://www.geappliances.com/ge/lifestyles/6-reasons-to-cold-water-wash.htm

  6. https://www.menprovement.com/benefits-of-cold-showers/

The Toll of Coal

When we think of coal-fired energy, images of dusty train conductors shoveling heaps of black rock into a raging hot furnace might come up. These coals are used as fuel to heat up water for an engine that uses the steam to move 400,000 lbs of pure steel. Our main usage of coal is to generate electricity. This technological marvel was the catalyst of the Industrial Revolution ushering in a new era of productivity and technology. However while awesome coal might have been in the past, it’s not without its harm. It’s extremely dirty when burned, producing a multitude of pollutants that negatively impact public health and environmental wellbeing such as: mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter (1). Good thing that’s all in the past right? The sad truth is that global coal consumption and production holds the same share of energy production as it had 20 years ago (2); in 2018 it made up 28.1% of the world’s energy supply (3). Even with comparing two years side-by-side, 2017 from 2016 has seen global coal productions increase by 51 million tonnes (4).

Why is it that over all this time and through advances in renewable energy sources we are still choosing to consume coal? Demand. With rising energy demands and loose government regulations, there’s no onus on energy corporations to curb the production of fossil fuels. Canada is the third largest exporter of metallurgical coal in the world, with most of the production concentrated in British Columbia and Alberta; Canada also has thermal applications for their coal. Metallurgical coal refers to coal that is low ash, sulfur, and phosphorus that is burned in the absence of air so it can yield high-grade coke (not the drink!) (4). This coke is essential for steelmaking. These major exports garnered 6.8 billion in revenue in 2017 alone for Canada, and they are often shipped off to Japan, South Korea, China, and the United States (4). The demand and revenue for this product make it difficult for countries and companies to find more sustainable energy resources.

The government of Canada has made new regulations for coal and natural-gas-fired electricity in 2018  to phase out the coal-fired electricity by 2030 while keeping up the manufacturing of the metallurgical process (5). This plan is part of our major goal to have 90% of electricity from non-emitting sources by 2030. By doing this, Canada will be cutting our carbon pollution down by 12.8 million tonnes (5).

But we aren’t big corporations or the government of Canada; we are people that live in a natural gas-powered environment, so we have our own role in how we combat major usage of the harmful types of energy in our own lives. One way is through vehicle idling; idling is when a car is left running when the car is not in motion. The car emits gases while it’s running, the most important of those gases is carbon dioxide which is the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. A contribution we can make to our environment is reducing the amount of idling we do. A statistic from Natural Resources Canada stated that if each Canadian reduced their idling by three minutes every day, our national carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 1.4 million in a year (6). That is the reduction of 630 million liters of fuel; this is a win-win situation, helping our environment and saving on gas (6).

Besides driving, there are other ways to get around the city. The City of Edmonton has been working on developing infrastructure for both improving public transportation and increasing bike accessibility. More recently in spring 2017, there was an overhaul in the Edmonton Transit system that will aim to reflect what Edmontonians want (7). More information can be found here in the Edmonton’ Transit Strategy. Furthermore, a map of the new City Bus Network Redesign can be found here which highlights Local, Community, Crosstown, Rapid, and Frequent Bus routes. The improved bike lanes provide another opportunity for us to get around with no environmental impact. The City has released countless resources for Downtown, Southside, and West Central bike routes that are open all year round (8). The first year of bike lane operations in the City has brought amazing results, including increased bike trips downtown, increased female cyclist ridership, and an increase in public perception. Next time you’re out and about downtown, instead of “paying” for private parking, consider taking transit!

There’s no doubt that our generation is going to be facing the brunt of this global energy crisis. It is going to take a lot of change by governments and corporations in the coming years to tackle this issue. We may feel helpless at times, but there are still actions to be done to mitigate our impact on the environment in our daily lives. Along with being conscious of our transportation decisions, the following weeks will cover our household habits including green living practice and way to retrofit your home for energy efficiency.

Written by Allen Gao & Lydia Mutoni

Appendices

1. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/coal-air-pollution  

2. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125694190

3. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/15/17467164/energy-chart-renewables-    coal-climate-change

4. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/facts/coal/20071

5. https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/news/2018/12/canadas-plan-to-reduce-emissions-from-the-electricity-sector.html

6. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/cars-light-trucks/idling/4415

7. https://www.edmonton.ca/documents/RoadsTraffic/Transit_Strategy_June-29-2017.pdf

8. https://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/cycling.aspx

9. https://www.edmonton.ca/transportation/The_Downtown_Bike_Network_Interim_Report.pdf