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Top 10 Energy Efficiency Tips for the Home

Smart Home Series: Part 5

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Here at Green Energy Futures, we love nothing better than to explore the latest high-tech, net-zero homes that are springing up throughout our province.

But, most of us live in ordinary, older homes. We’ve looked at some of the radical steps you can take to transform a typical home—taking it to net zero, for example, or installing large solar-power arrays. In this story, we look at both of the modest and extensive ways you can improve your home’s efficiency—small and big steps that can add up to big savings, and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

To assemble our list of top ten actions you can take, we accompanied EnerGuide for homes auditor Jeff Paton as he conducted an EnerGuide assessment of Brian and Laura Finley’s 1956 home in Edmonton, Alberta. Then we pushed beyond the EnerGuide assessment and put together this list of the top 10 ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Top 10 Energy Efficiency tips for your home

 

1. Conduct a home energy assessment


To save energy in your home, it helps to understand how you’re currently consuming—and possibly wasting—heat and electricity. A professional home energy assessment will provide comprehensive data on your home energy use, and help provide a road map for improvements. The investment—$500-750, depending on the size of your home—will pay off in the long run. Some municipalities (like Edmonton) offer rebates to help cover the cost. You can also self-audit your home as well, like Rob Kube did in our story The Energy Detective. The trick is to understand real data, so your improvements actually make a difference.

2. Insulate!

In a cold climate like Alberta’s, home heating accounts for about 63 per cent of your total energy costs. So, if you’re losing heat, you’re effectively burning money. Cold walls, uneven heat, and high indoor temperatures in the summer are all signs of a poorly insulated home. In older homes, attics and unfinished basements are an easy place to start—simply add insulation. Then, move on to tackle the other areas. Depending on the scale of your insulating job, you may qualify for up to $3,500 in current Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates. Insulation is the secret of the new net-zero homes.

3. Seal the envelope

If your house is leaking air, it’s also leaking energy. A home energy assessment can measure and identify the key problem areas, but basic improvements can begin with a caulking gun, to seal gaps and cracks, and weatherstripping, to prevent drafts around doors and windows. If you get an EnerGuide assessment, they will depressurize your home and use an infrared camera to literally see where cold air is seeping into your home. This can be significant in older homes. A 50 year old home has close to 10 air changes per hour; a new home built to code will have about 2.5 air changes per hour. Net-zero homes typically have less than one air change per hour, plus air exchangers that recover 65 per cent of the heat from exhaust air.

4. Upgrade your windows

Windows represent a big investment, and a long-term payback, but they’re a key element in any energy-efficient home. As a bonus, better windows will also reduce noise from outdoors. Look for triple-glazed windows with ENERGY STAR® High Efficiency rating and be sure to check for rebates in your area.

5. Install a high-efficiency furnace

Until fairly recently, furnaces were inefficient. A 20-year-old home, for example, may have a 77 per cent efficient furnace in it. Many newer furnaces operate at 97 per cent efficiency—saving you more than 20 per cent in heating costs over the life of the furnace. As usual, pay attention to Energuide ratings and ENERGY STAR®.  Super-efficient solar-powered net-zero homes use electric heat-pump furnaces, which are 250 per cent efficient.

6. Use a smart thermostat

You can spend less on heating simply by heating less. With a smart thermostat, you can reduce the temperature in your home at preset times—for example, dropping the setting to 15 degrees C at night, or during weekdays when the house is empty. Smart thermostats are very easy to set up—automatically learning how you use your home, and reducing heat when it’s appropriate. Most smart thermostats are also Wi-Fi-connected, allowing you to control them even when you’re away from home. They’re simpler to use, but (not surprisingly) cost more. Rebates are offered in some jurisdictions.

7. Tame your appliances

Your clothes dryer, even if it’s new, is likely your home’s biggest electricity hog. Consider partially drying your clothes and then hanging them to dry the rest of the way (similarly, let your dishes air-dry instead of running your dishwasher’s drying cycle). Other home appliances have improved dramatically over the years. For example, a fridge from the 1970s may chew through 1,750 kWh/year, whereas a modern fridge with an icemaker uses 500 kWh/year or less. Energy Efficiency Alberta currently offers rebates up to $100 on refrigerators and washers. Induction stoves and cooktops are another energy-saver we really like—superior appliances that consume roughly half the electricity of conventional stoves while heating many foods much more quickly.

8. Water heating

Check out the three most energy efficient water heaters in our story Hot Water Heaters 101. The energy used to heat water can account for a whopping one-fifth of your total home energy costs. Old water heaters are about 60 per cent efficient, whereas high-efficiency tank-based water heaters can now reach 90 per cent efficiency. Tankless water heaters are 97-98 per cent efficient, and have made great strides in user satisfaction. Even better, tankless heaters currently qualify for Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates of up to $944. Hybrid heat-pump water heaters run on electricity (great for net-zero homes) and are 330 per cent efficient.Upgrading from a conventional to a tankless 97 per cent efficient model will save up to 37 per cent on water heating.

9. Light smarter

This is your simplest fix, and will pay for itself in practically no time. Many homes still use incandescent bulbs, despite the technical advances and increased affordability of LEDs. An LED bulb uses roughly 25 per cent the electricity of an incandescent bulb, and generally has a drastically greater lifespan—paying for itself multiple times. In places where you use multiple bulbs (decorative fixtures, pot lighting) the savings add up that much more quickly. Efficiency Alberta regularly offers instant rebates on LED bulbs, but they’re a brilliant investment even at regular price. In our Energy Detective story Ron Kube replaced 80 bulbs in his home and reduced electricity use for lighting five-fold!

10. Be a ghostbuster

Countless electronic devices—TVs, PVRs, computers, printers, phone chargers, etc.—draw power even when they’re not being used—energy efficiency experts call this “phantom power.” Exorcise these demons by unplugging chargers when they’re not being used, or using power bars with single on-off switches. Newer “smart” power bars will actually shut off a circuit if it senses that a device is not in active use. In our Energy Detective story we found seven per cent of Ron Kube’s home electricity use was by phantom power.

Thanks to Jeff Paton for helping us put this list together after a tour of the Finley home in Edmonton. Some older homes may require more expensive upgrades to fix big problems, but many homes have many opportunities for energy saving. Take your inventory and then begin investing in the best bets for big returns. We have seen homes that have cut their heating bill in half simply by improving their furnaces and adding smart thermostats, and we have seen other homes where changing lights to LEDs, uplugging an old beer fridge and slaying your phantom power vampires likewise reduced electricity use by half.

This is Part 5 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

 

The Energy Detective

Smart Home Series: Part 4

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

What if we told you, with a few simple changes, you could cut your household electricity consumption by half? It’s possible, and Ron Kube is living proof

Kube recently installed a solar-power system on his St. Albert home. But before going solar, he checked to see how much electricity his home was using. Ron was shocked—no pun intended—to discover his family was using 70 per cent more than the Alberta average of 7,200 kilowatt hours per year–they were energy hogs.

“We were actually using over 12,000 kilowatt hours a year,” Kube ruefully admits. “So, then, the question was, okay, where are all those electrons going?” Ron is a university professor, so his curiosity quickly transmogrified into a full-blown research project. “I got a little obsessed and I started to measure everything

The investigation begins

Ron Kube loves data, so he installed an e-gauge electricity monitoring system. At a glance he can see how much electricity his solar system is producing and where his electricity is being used. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Instead of simply switching his lightbulbs to LEDs and then hoping for the best, Kube first became an energy efficiency detective. He started with a plug-in power meter. “You can buy one of these things and you can plug them in,” he explains. “And then you plug your appliance in, and it tells you how much power it is using.” Ron checked the coffee pot, fridge, freezer, cookers, entertainment devices, computers, literally everything with a plug.

The power meter was a great start, but Kube soon felt the urge to dig much deeper. Instead of simply measuring one appliance at a time, he wanted to keep tabs on his entire house. He installed an eGauge energy monitoring system—a device that measures the individual load for each circuit on his electrical panel and generates data in real time.

Once the eGauge was up and running, Ron could go online anytime to see his current electricity consumption, along with totals for the day, week, month or year. He also installed a display right in the kitchen, so he and his wife would be confronted by the evidence every time they passed by.

Speaking of Ron’s wife, a spouse would have to be pretty indulgent to go along with such an obsessive scheme, right? “Nothing surprises me anymore,” laughs Kube’s wife, Carole. “Ron gets really excited about things. And, right now, it’s solar, and lowering our carbon footprint. And, so, I’m just was along for the ride.”

Slaying the monsters

Once the numbers started flowing in, Ron was able to analyze the data—and make a few unexpected discoveries.

Lighting – saved 82%

“Lighting was, surprisingly, the biggest monster in the house,” Kube observes. He points to his dining room as a typical culprit. In one fixture, the couple had eight 100-watt incandescent bulbs, for a staggering total of 800 watts. By switching those eight bulbs to LEDs, Ron was able to slash the total to 112 watts without sacrificing a single lumen.

By the time Kube switched the rest of the bulbs, his home’s “biggest monster” had become a veritable pussycat. “In fact, we went from 340 kilowatt hours per month down to 70,” he says. “Lighting is no longer our biggest consumer.”

The good old beer fridge – saved 62%

With the big monster tamed, Ron was astonished to discover he had yet another energy-gobbling beast lurking in his basement. “We had an old beer fridge in the basement, and I found out it was taking between seven and 10 per cent of our monthly power—for a couple of bottles of beer and some wine.” Needless to say, he unplugged the fridge and relocated the beverages. The old beer fridge was using more electricity than his modern fridge and freezer combined.

Phantom power – saved 62%

During his detective work, Ron also learned about the concept of “phantom power.” Sometimes, even after you switch your devices off, they continue to draw significant amounts of electricity. In Ron’s house, the biggest culprit here was his entertainment system, which surprisingly was using seven per cent of the home’s electricity.

“Everything is supposedly turned off, but it was actually consuming about seven per cent of our monthly power.” Ron took all of the plugs and rerouted them through a simple power bar—with an on/off switch. “Now, off is off and everything is great.”

The slow cooking energy black hole – saved 50%

Here’s where Ron goes above and beyond. He also ran some cooking experiments. For example you want tea, but you fill up a kettle or pot with water. Heating all that water wastes a lot of energy–Ron starting filling the pot with the amount of water he needed for tea and he stuck a lid on the pot. This all saves energy. Ron even ran a cooking experiment where he pitted a slow cooker against a pressure cooker and a Thermos cooker.  The slow cooker is an energy disaster using 2.5 times more energy than a pressure cooker and 4.3 times more energy than a very cool Thermos cooker.

All gain, no pain – saving 50% the easy way

With simple, inexpensive measures, Ron and Carole slashed their monthly electricity consumption by more than half—with virtually no impact on their lifestyle. “At the end of the day, we were able to reduce our power from the 12,000 kilowatt hours a year to 5,300 kilowatt hours a year.”

What is amazing about this is the Kubes slashed their electricity bill at a very low cost. Ron replaced 80 light bulbs with LEDs, unplugged the beer fridge, changed some cooking habits and put a smart power bar on his entertainment system.

Next – a solar powered electric car

Ron and Carole Kube have saved so much energy they now have enough extra solar electricity to power a Nissan Leaf for 20,000 km per year. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

The Kube’s installed a nine kilowatt solar system when they were still using about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year for electricity.

Thanks to those simple energy efficiency measures the Kubes now have 4,000 kilowatt hours of surplus solar electricity from their solar system. Ron calculates that he could fuel a Nissan Leaf (electric car) for about 20,000 km a year with the surplus solar electricity.

If he uses this surplus solar electricity to power a car, Ron estimates the value of the electricity to him soars to 88 cents a kilowatt hour, since he would no longer need to buy gas for his car.

Ron has even created his own guide to his solar and energy efficiency project and a do-it-yourself electricity audit guide that you can use to learn from their experience.

With the help of his trusty meters, Ron the energy efficiency detective solved the case and is sharing what he learned with us.

This is Part 4 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

Habitat for Humanity celebrates completion of six new affordable homes in Bowness

NEWS RELEASE – Habitat for Humanity recently celebrated the completion of six new homes in Bowness that will provide affordable home ownership opportunities to six Calgary families.

“At Habitat, we know how difficult it is for families to break into the housing market,” said Gerrad Oishi, Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta President and CEO. “That’s why we’re committed to working with our community to provide affordable home ownership opportunities for families. We’re so thankful for every sponsor, donor, community partner and volunteer who has stepped up to make affordable home ownership opportunities possible for these six families in Bowness.”

Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Seniors and Housing, was in attendance to bring greetings on behalf of the Government of Alberta, which has been a significant supporter of these homes in Bowness. Deborah Drever, MLA Calgary-Bow was also in attendance.

“That’s the cool thing about Habitat, is that it’s about community – everybody working together to create game-changing opportunities for these families,” said Sigurdson. “Our government is so proud to partner with Habitat for Humanity; we have a shared goal of creating more affordable housing in our province. I’m very proud to work with you and appreciate everything Habitat is doing.”

Every Habitat home is the result of community support. This project has been aided by financial contributions from numerous sponsors, donors and community partners, including the Government of Alberta, the CREB® Charitable Foundation, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) and Hockey Helps the Homeless.

“It is humbling for the foundation to have been a part of this incredible build,” says Aneve MacKay-Lyons, CREB® Charitable Foundation manager. “Our Realtor members are at the forefront of everything we do and it is great to see their hands-on volunteer hours and our donation make a measurable difference to our community and working families.

The CREB® Charitable Foundation donated $50,000 toward these Bowness builds and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) provided a $50,000 matching grant. This is the second collaborative build these three organizations have worked on together.

“We are proud to join forces with the CREB® Charitable Foundation on such a worthwhile project and support the wonderful work of Habitat for Humanity,” said Charlie Ponde, AREF chair. “Congratulations to the families on your new home and all of the memories that it will soon house.”

In addition to financial support, many tradespeople, contractors and suppliers stepped forward to offer donations of building materials and expert labour, along with more than 13,000 volunteer hours.

Susan, mother to Judah and Hope, is a future Habitat homeowner in Bowness. For her family, home ownership brings hope to their lives, knowing that anything is possible.

“My children can have stability in their lives and will have a strong start on their journey towards successful living,” Susan said. “I am excited to dream new dreams with my children – to develop new skills, meet new people and to help and serve others in the same way.”

Each Habitat homeowner has contributed 500 volunteer hours as part of their partnership, and will purchase their homes at Fair Market Value through Habitat’s affordable mortgage, which means no down payment and no interest. Mortgage payments will be geared toward each family’s’ income and will never exceed 30 per cent of their total household income. This gives parents financial flexibility and the ability to build long-term stability for their children.

These six homes in Bowness are one of five Habitat developments in this community. Future developments include a four-plex, scheduled for completion in January 2018, and three five-plexes, scheduled for completion by January 2019.

Using GIS for Conservation Project Planning

By Legacy Land Trust Society

With the support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Legacy Land Trust Society underwent its Water Quality & You project this year. This project focused on improving or maintaining the quality of the Red Deer River by engaging with landowners along the Red Deer River in Mountain View County to promote conservation and stewardship options. When Legacy started this project, they were faced with three critical questions. Who should they target? Where do they live? And how many are there?

“Without a visual representation of the landscape it is difficult to know how to devote resources to where they will do the most good.” said Tammy Mather the Executive Director of the land trust.

That is why Legacy worked to implement a Geographical Information System (GIS); an advanced software program that handles and visualizes spatial information like GPS data. Visualizing and layering data on a map can reveal relationships and patterns that may otherwise be missed from the ground. GIS is a powerful tool that can simulate and model real world events and scenarios, an invaluable resource for project planning.

 

Red Deer River

Legacy was specifically interested in targeting the riparian area of the Red Deer River; an area along the river that provides an abundance of vegetation and wildlife habitat to the region. With a GIS and data sources in place, Legacy successfully modelled the riparian area of the river and identified land parcels within this boundary as parcels of interest to conservation. To further prioritize the efforts of the project the land parcels were ranked depending on the number of conservation features present. Finally, the results were migrated to an online map for additional members of the organization to access for preparation of outreach materials.

Using a GIS was a successful endeavor that dramatically informed Legacy’s planning process and helped prioritized their efforts. After completing the modelling of the riparian area and land parcel selection Legacy identified a potential 235 land owners to receive outreach materials along these 40 kilometers of the Red Deer River.

Interested in using GIS in your organization? Legacy received an ArcGIS license from ESRI Canada through their Non-Profit Organization Program. They offer grants of their software to non-profits whose focus is on environmental and humanitarian initiatives; qualified participants receive a full copy of ArcMap and community and self help support. Find out more here: ESRI Non-Profit Organization Program.

Legacy Land Trust would like to thank the Alberta Real Estate Foundation for supporting the Water Quality & You Project and ESRI Canada for providing the GIS platform. To learn more about Legacy Land Trust Society’s Water Quality and You project you can visit their page here: Water Quality & You

 

University of Calgary researcher launches Evict Radon campaign

Study encourages all Albertans to test homes for cancer-causing radon gas

By Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine

Cumming School of Medicine researchers are launching a provincewide campaign to encourage all Albertans to have their homes tested for radon gas, for their own safety and to help map household radon throughout the province. Radon is a known carcinogen. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking.

“We are launching the Evict Radon awareness campaign to educate people about the effects of radon gas and encourage as many Albertans as possible to test their homes while also gathering data for medical research,” says Aaron Goodarzi, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Oncology and a member of the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. “We’ve proven radon is prevalent throughout southern Alberta and in Calgary area homes. Now we want to expand our research to include all areas of the province.”

Goodarzi and team tested radon levels in more than 2,300 Calgary and area homes. One in eight homes exceeded Health Canada’s acceptable radon levels. The study was published March 29, 2017, in CMAJ Open.

“Radon is a significant issue in Alberta, and while there is an effective solution, the subject is embedded with scientific technical language.” says Brent Alexander, chair of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation that is providing funding for the campaign. “The Evict Radon awareness campaign will clearly communicate the value of testing for radon and mitigation to all Albertans which will result in healthier homes across our province.”

Goodarzi says now is the best time to test for radon. “The winter months, now to April, are the ideal time to test your home for radon. That’s when we spend more time inside, and due to the cold our homes are sealed up tight – the perfect conditions for radon exposure,” he says.

Learn more about the Evict Radon campaign and sign up for your radon kit at www.evictradon.ca. The radon kits used in the study cost $60.

Insights from “The Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Which way? Right way?” workshop

By: Alberta WaterPortal Society

With the support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, this summer the Alberta WaterPortal held a workshop entitled “The Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Which way? Right way?”. The Water-Energy-Food Nexus is about recognizing and working cooperatively across multiple essential water uses. These uses include water for producing food, water for producing energy, and water for basic human necessities. When water resources are limited there are tradeoffs between these uses. “The Nexus” has become the defining term for understanding the interconnections between water, energy, and food.

It is critical to engage a broad range of stakeholders when discussing the Nexus because at its core the Nexus is about cooperation and sharing across different sectors. The workshop brought together stakeholders from academia, water management, food, energy and other sectors for a discussion on how to educate and inform Albertans about the Nexus. The workshop gathered valuable feedback and inspiring ideas for the WaterPortal team to change the existing online simulator tool and educational materials. It also identified what is needed to complete the ‘picture’ and how to make the online material more engaging.

The workshop was structured around three collaborative activity sessions and participants were asked to mix themselves up among the tables between each activity. This was to ensure participants all heard a variety of each other’s perspectives throughout the day. The activities asked the table groups to create an example of how to represent the Nexus visually, to identify all the information and data that would be helpful to include about the Nexus, and to explore the online simulator tool that has been created and provide feedback.

  

Figure 1: Results from participants’ creativity in first activity       Figure 2: Results from participants’ creativity in second activity

The following key points emerged as the workshop identified the stakeholders’ concerns and opportunities to improve the representation of the Nexus:

  • Communities should be represented at the centre of the Nexus
  • The Nexus is complex and the balance between water uses will always be changing
  • There are multiple scales of understanding and decisions to convey (individual, community, provincial level Nexus)
  • Understanding the Nexus demands more Alberta-centred data
  • The online simulator tool needs to be made more engaging

The feedback and suggestions are now being used to direct the WaterPortal team in the next steps of the year-long Nexus project.

The Alberta WaterPortal would like to thank the Alberta Real Estate Foundation and Alberta Innovates for supporting the Alberta Nexus project, and the University of Calgary – Haskayne School of Business for providing a venue for the workshop. Finally, we would like to thank the participants for the fruitful discussion and pleasant atmosphere during the workshop.

October 2017 Community Investment

The Board of Governors of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation approved $180,000 in community investment projects at their recent meeting.

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) supports and originates initiatives that enhance the real estate industry and benefit the communities of Alberta. AREF was established in 1991 under the Alberta Real Estate Act. Since then, it has awarded over 18 million dollars in community and industry grants to nearly 550 projects across Alberta.

Projects approved at the October meeting include:

BC Non-Profit Housing Association – The Canadian Rental Housing Index – 2018 Update

The Canadian Rental Housing Index is an interactive web-map that allows users to access detailed rental housing statistics for over 1,200 jurisdictions across Canada. The intent of this project is to update the Index with 2016 census data, as well as develop new data analysis, comparison, reporting, and sharing tools. The update to the Index will allow stakeholders in Alberta and beyond to understand and act on affordable housing issues in their communities.

Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley – Sustainable Action Canmore Client Package

The project is to update, improve, post and then reprint, the highly popular Sustainable Action Canmore booklet and online supporting materials which AREF helped produce in the fall of 2013. The booklets were developed with the help of local Real Estate Professionals who wanted easily accessible local information on water, energy, transportation, garbage and recycling for their clients new to Canmore. The booklets are creatively wrapped and packaged together as newcomer packages with the AREF TNS Sustainability at Home Toolkit, the Town of Canmore Recycling brochure and the local public transit brochure. Packages are given out to clients by Real Estate Professionals, property managers, the Town of Canmore and other organizations and businesses.

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) of Southern Alberta  – Achieving Sustainable Outdoor Recreation: Phase Two Policy, People and Practice

The province’s spectacular natural areas play a large part in quality of life in Alberta, however, we can literally love our parks and wilderness areas to death if we don’t have a plan for sustainable use for the future. By working with other ENGOs, recreation groups, local communities and the Alberta public CPAWS Southern Alberta can help create a meaningful recreation policy and active stewards for our parks and public lands.

Calgary Arts Development  – SpaceFinder Alberta

Expand SpaceFinder Alberta beyond Calgary and Edmonton, in partnership with Arts Habitat Edmonton, giving all Albertans access to this innovative online marketplace linking organizations with space to rent with those who need space.

 Inside Education  – Youth Water and Climate Change Summits

Two separate two-day youth summits programs: S3 – a regional program in Wood Buffalo related to sustainable living in the North targeting and junior high and high school students in Fort McMurray and surrounding areas. Navigate Youth Water Summit – a province-wide water and climate education and action summit aimed at student leaders from 20 Alberta high schools. An important focus for both programs be household/home/school water and energy efficiency – this will include tours of ‘NetZero’ housing, discussions of energy efficiency best practices. For the Wood Buffalo (S3) program we will also feature energy efficiency home (re)building post-2016 fires.

Land Stewardship Centre of Alberta  – Septic Sense: Solutions for Rural Living

The Septic Sense program is a multi-agency initiative being undertaken in order to implement and evaluate a coordinated and collaborative septic system operation and maintenance workshop program for rural residential landowners and realtors in Alberta. Septic Sense fills an important gap in education and will raise awareness about proper septic system maintenance to Albertans. Through education and awareness, this workshop series will enhance and protect water quality of source water in Alberta as well as homeowner property values.

Oldman Watershed Council  – Watershed Legacy Program

OWC’s niche and ultimate goal of Connecting Urban and Rural Communities in the Oldman Watershed Legacy Program is to foster strong community ties between rural producers and urban consumers. Through rural community discussion sessions, OWC has gained a clear sense that the agricultural community feels misunderstood by their urban counterparts and wants to show the consumer that they can feel good about the food they eat, and the water they drink because of the best practices of agriculture. By bridging the gap and fostering strong community ties OWC can expand our capacity to help the agricultural community communicate their positive stories to the urban consumer, thus improving the producers social license, as well as the consumers understanding of food production and how the land and water is used.

Solar 101: Everything you need to know to go solar

Smart Home Series: Part 3 – Solar

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

St. Albert’s Ron Kube had never known anyone with a solar-powered home. Then, in 2014, he read a story in the paper about a household that installed a solar array. He was surprised to learn they were his former neighbours.

“In fact, the guy was Craig Dickie—he used to live across the street from us,” Kube recalls. “And I was so excited that I called up Craig and I said, ‘Can I come over to the house and see the solar system?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, come on over.’”

The moment Kube saw the system, he was hooked.

Solar power’s not the future—it’s the present

Like many Albertans, Ron was waking up to a new and exciting realization. Solar power isn’t the future—it’s the present. It’s already a practical option for producing our own clean energy. Not only does it drastically reduce your carbon footprint—in the long run, it can save you money.

 

Before going solar Great Canadian solar assessed Ron and Carole Kube’s electricity bills, the roof and electrical panel.

Ron did his homework, researching potential contractors at solaralberta.ca before calling up Clifton Lofthaug, owner of Edmonton’s Great Canadian Solar.

Lofthaug began by reviewing Ron and Carole’s utility bills, to see what they were consuming. Then, he calculated the size of the system needed to make their home net-zero for electricity.

Next, Lofthaug went onto the roof to evaluate the house’s solar potential. “There’s great gadgets out there that will actually tell you, automatically, how much sun you’ll get on the roof at that particular point throughout the year,” he says. Although Ron and Carole only have a small piece of south-facing roof on his garage, so he was imagining a small solar system.

“And so when they looked at our power bills and said ‘Well you’re using about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year in 2015. Are you interested in going full net-zero which means putting solar panels on the east side of the house.’ And I said ‘Yeah but let’s do that that’s a great idea.’”

Kube says they lose about 15 per cent production potential for the east-facing solar. But it also means their solar produces electricity earlier in the day.

Great Canadian Solar installed 34 solar modules on Ron and Carole’s home and garage—a nine-kilowatt system, enough to provide all of their electricity. The power runs through an inverter, which converts it to regular AC household current. The power is used in the home and if the home doesn’t need the electricity it flows out to the grid through a newly installed power meter—one with a difference.

Energy in, energy out—no batteries required

Ron Kube installed an e-gauge electricity monitoring system so he can see how much electricity his solar system is producing and where his electricity is being used.

It’s a bi-directional power meter. It measures the electricity that Ron and Carole Kube export to the grid on sunny days and the electricity they import from the grid when the sun is not shining.

The utility company pays the Kubes the same rate for electricity whether they are selling or buying. However it pays to use your solar electricity yourself, since you have to pay admin and transmission fees when you buy it back.

Tackling the myths of solar energy

Solar systems in Edmonton, Alberta lose very little production to snow according to NAIT research and it turns out solar modules work better in the cold weather.

Where do you install the batteries? Lofthaug is asked this all the time. “You don’t need a battery,” he says. In effect, the grid serves as a kind of battery to balance out the Kube family’s electricity requirements.

Speaking of myths, how does solar work during a dark, snowy Alberta winter? “We produce over 90 per cent of our total annual electricity generation between the months of March and October,” Kube explains. “So, for that additional 10 per cent, I’m not going to go onto my roof and shovel my solar panels. Plus, normally what happens is the snow sloughs off eventually.”

Besides, according to studies at NAIT, Edmontonians lose only about five per cent to snow cover. And Alberta gets a lot of sun. Solar modules here produce an average of 50 per cent more electricity than modules in Hamburg, Germany.

Big upfront investment, but pays off in the long term

Converting your home to solar does require a significant up-front capital investment. Currently, the installed cost of solar runs about $3 per watt. A typical home in Calgary might require a 5.5-kilowatt system, with a price tag of about $16,500. In Edmonton, you’d likely require a bit more—about 6.3 kilowatts for roughly $18,900. Factor in the current provincial rebates of about 25 per cent, or $0.75/watt and solar starts to look very appealing.

According to Lofthaug, some people are willing to invest that much for the environmental benefit alone. But a solar system pays off economically as well. Your system will save you money by the end of its 25-year guaranteed lifespan—and, chances are, it will continue to chug along for decades beyond that.

You will spend the money on electricity anyway, Lofthaug figures, so why not have a solar system to show for it? “It’s just a matter of whether you’re going to pay for it [electricity] on your monthly utility bill. Or whether you invest in your own system, and then eventually have it paid off, and then get your electricity for free.”

Energy efficiency and solar are kissing cousins

When Ron caught the solar bug, he checked his own electricity bills.  He was shocked to find their home was consuming 12,172 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That’s well above the 7,200 average for Alberta homes.

Before buying their solar system Ron became an energy detective. He found it was very easy to reduce their electricity demand by changing lights, unplugging a beer fridge and making a few inexpensive changes around the home.

They reduced their energy demand to 9,000 kilowatt hours per year by the time they bought their solar system. Since then, they have further slashed energy use to an astonishing 5,300 kilowatt hours per year.

This means the Kubes now produce more solar electricity than they consume in a year.

Rather than sell that electricity back to the grid at a few cents per kilowatt hour, as he does currently, Ron hopes to consume more of his output himself by purchasing an electric vehicle. This will increase the return on his surplus power. By his own calculation, the value of charging an electric car would be 88 cents per kilowatt hour, considerably more than he’d earn exporting it to the grid.

Despite the other benefits of their new solar-power system, Ron and Carole insist that the real clincher for them was the environment—especially here in Alberta, where we have only just begun to wean our province from coal-powered electricity.

“So, for us, the biggest benefit is lowering our carbon footprint,” says Ron. “We were concerned about climate change and wanted to be able to do something.”

When you can help save the planet, become energy self-sufficient, and save a little over the long term—what’s not to love about solar power?

This is Part 3 in the Green Energy Futures Smart Homes Series. To learn more visit Green Energy Futures website!

Brokers How-To

Brokers did you know that the interest earned on deposits is paid to the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) and is then reinvested into the community of Alberta? This is mandated in The Real Estate Act and it is important that you ensure your compliance and understand where the money goes.

The Real Estate Act states that all licensed brokers are required to maintain a general trust account to hold deposits on behalf of their client(s). Section 25(1)(b) requires general trust accounts to be interest bearing and section 69(2) directs any interest earned on these trust accounts to be paid to the Alberta Real Estate Foundation . For the complete Real Estate Act visit Service Alberta’s Website.

All the projects AREF distributes grants to benefit the real estate in some way and are encompassed by five main areas of interest: Education and research, housing, land stewardship and environment, and industry leadership. AREF does not fund personal real estate licensing or capital builds. In over 25 years, AREF has granted over $17.5 million to 550 projects. For a list of all our grant recipients visit our Projects Page, and for useful resources visit our Resource Library.

To be compliant you must follow three easy steps to direct interest earned on deposits to the AREF: First, download the broker form from our website. Second, get the form signed by your bank. Third and finally, send the form to AREF (make sure your bank has a copy and that you have a copy). For more detailed information about when to remit funds and how to remit to AREF visit our Broker Page.

 

 

Are you living in your future net-zero home?

Smart Homes Series: Part 2 – Deep energy retrofits

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Figure 1 – Peter Darlington renovated his 1980s home by adding insulation, windows, electric heating and hot water and a solar system. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Have you ever dreamed of living in a net-zero home? According to Peter Darlington, that dream may be closer than you think. In fact, you might already be living in your future net-zero home.

Darlington runs Solar Homes Inc., a Calgary company specializing in renovating existing homes to net-zero–a home that produces as much energy as it consumes. Net-zero might seem like a remote, ambitious target, but Darlington insists it’s more attainable than you might think. In fact, his first green reno project was on his own 1980-s era home.

“It’s really quite simple to do,” says Darlington. “You can just add some insulation some solar panels and you can have a home that doesn’t require fossil fuels anymore. It’s much more comfortable. Cost you less to operate. And it’s really a pretty good return on investment.”

Cut your emissions, reduce energy use and save money

Darlington has worked as exterior contractor for more than twenty years. Then, he realized he could be doing so much more. “I believe that climate change will be the greatest risk or challenge that my children will face in their lifetime. And, I don’t want to look back and have my children ask me, why didn’t you do anything about it when you knew how to?”

“ I started with an online course through Heatspring offered by a gentleman named Mark Rosenbaum. It was a 40-hour online course, it talked all about energy modeling heat pumps, different mechanical systems and air tightness,” says Darlington.

Then long before Darlington started Solar Homes Inc. he did a net-zero energy retrofit on his own home as proof of concept.

Four steps to taking your home to net-zero

To get your home closer to net zero, Peter outlines four key steps. And, he stresses that you don’t need to do it all at once.

  1. Get an energy model done for your home

First, get an energy model done for your home to prioritize the stages of your project. This is critical because it tells you how much insulation you need, how much of a difference windows make, what size of heating system you require and what size of solar system is needed to power your home.

  1. Add insulation, air sealing, siding and efficient windows

Then you will probably start with an exterior renovation, adding insulation and triple-paned windows, and then improving your overall air tightness. This will cost about $30,000 for the insulation, improving air tightness and siding and about $15-20,000 for windows.

  1. Upgrade your mechanical systems

As your furnace and water heater wear out, replace them with electric heat pump models (furnace and water heater) and add a heat recovery ventilator to provide pre-warmed fresh air in your tightly sealed home. Mechanical upgrades will run about $15,000.

  1. Add a solar system

Then add a solar array that is sized big enough to provide all of your electricity needs, which now includes your heating and hot water systems. If you require a larger solar system, about 10 kilowatts, it will run about $30,000.

“All these things can be done individually, so that you don’t have to bite off this massive capital cost right up front.”

“We put 10-kilowatt solar on the garage and that generates about 90 per cent of our annual requirements.”

This is Part 2 in the Green Energy Smart Homes series. to read more about Peter’s net-zero renovations and how to renovate your existing home into a net-zero home that produces as much energy as it consumes continue reading on the Green Energy Futures website!