Sunday, August 14, 2011

Complaining about energy prices

I continue to be amazed at how we complain about higher energy prices yet the vast majority of us do nothing about the huge amount of energy we waste.

Just this last week the province told B.C. Hydro to roll back the price increases for the electricity we depend on. While this is an astute move on the part of a premier who may soon be calling an election, it will cost us all more in the long-run --to say nothing about the planet.

How? Evidence has proven that the number-one motivator for reducing energy usage is the price we pay for it. By not increasing the cost for energy, we continue our wasteful ways, resulting in more demand for power and other sources of energy. The more we demand the more the planet gets carved up, polluted and used to satisfy our thirst. The longer-term costs of this new, far more expensive, energy, plus the extremely high costs that come to roost from a depleted planet, make our short-time savings pale by comparison. In the end, it is the poorer people who will pay the most for these higher costs, contrary to the intentions of well-meaning governments and most of us.

Today nearly half the money spent on electricity goes to the approximately 15% of the power generation added in the last decade. More demand means adding more of this pricey stuff.

What needs to be done? Smart people will be upgrading their homes and businesses now, while interest rates are low and the raw materials are cheap. Governments need to greatly increase energy prices -and with that extra money pay for energy upgrades to buildings used by those unable to afford those prices, create cycling and walking paths, boost public transit, and make our communities more livable.

Now THIS is an intelligent plan.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Next step to reducing energy consumption and improving comfort

In my last post I wrote about how I had managed to get $75 from B.C. Hydro's PowerSmart program due to the fact I had reduce my home's energy consumption by more than 10%.  Of course the $75 is peanuts compared to what I am saving in energy costs, but it was nice to get money back for a change.

Last week I made another change to my home, and I'm aiming to get another $75 from Hydro!  Even more importantly I (and my clients) are going to be way more comfortable this winter. How did I do it?

Like so many in North America I failed to understand that most heat does not necessarily go "up."  Most heat movement is through radiant heat (usually 2/3's of the total, or more). Why? Because radiant heat goes in every direction, always seeking to warm up cold surfaces.

Thus when I built this office and failed to insulate the floor from the concrete slab, I invited most of the heat in the room to move downward!  Even after putting super insulating (see-through) blinds over the windows and installed double insulated walls (at least R-20), I was still cold, especially at my feet and legs. All that thermal mass at my feet, quietly losing its heat to mother earth!

Ideally I would have removed all the concrete, laid insulation and then a thin layer of concrete (and preferably hot water lines for radiant heating), and then re-floored. I didn't have the time nor money for that, so I used aluminum (an excellent radiant reflector) and some rigid foam insulation, finishing with a floating floor. I can tell the difference already, and it's still summer-time!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Powersmart helps

Today I received a nice little cheque from BC Hydro's PowerSmart. Why? Because I managed to reduce the amount of power my house used in the last year by over 10% (15% in actuality).

It's a nice reward, a recognition, of the efforts I've made to reduce my power consumption. But that's nothing in comparison to the savings I'm realising every year in reduced electricity charges (about $140 in the last year alone!).

Multiply that $140 per year over the next 10 years, adding the expected 10% increase in the price of electricity each year (do remember to compound these increases!) and I will be saving at least $330 per year in 10 year's time. Total savings in those next 10 years? $2231.50. Nice.

Makes the $75 look rather paltry, sure. But if it's enough to motivate people to go on to make their homes more comfortable, energy-secure (stays comfortable longer when the power goes out), be more "green", improve the value of their home, and more, then why not?

Of course I will continue to work at lowering my energy costs. I'm going to next insulate the floor in my office (that currently sits on a very cold slab), and add a hot water heat recovery system. These will save me an estimated 15% more, paying for the upgrades in just a few years, while also making my office far more comfortable.

What has this program cost BC Hydro? In my case it cost them about five cents a KWhour, less than half the cost of bringing new power sources on-line. Truly a win-win for everyone, including the planet.

Other BC Hydro residents can sign up for this program and receive lots of great tips in PowerSmart's monthly newsletters. Just go to PowerSmart and click on the Team Power Smart button.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Taking advantage of the HST

While it is true that the HST increased all of my company's prices by 7% overnight, I believe it would be worthwhile if the province rearranged things so as to actually reduce costs for those who wished it. Below is what I sent the HST review and several provincial ministers (their e-addresses are below).

While I believe the HST has real potential it is too ham-strung to be as helpful as it could be to B.C. Both the federal and provincial governments need to be more flexible if they wish to promote our continued involvement with the HST.

Here is the best way to make it work for most British Columbian's:

Shift the Carbon Tax by ending the PST exemption on carbon fuels AND end the current "carbon tax", moving the carbon tax on to fossil fuels through the ending of the 7% subsidy/exemption. Then move that now-available 7% exemption in the HST program to cover all energy-saving products and services, as the PST was once exempted. This will double the benefits of the new carbon tax by taxing carbon emissions AND promoting products and services that actually reduce carbon emissions, plus improve energy efficiency, plus improve health (cycling, for example), and far more. Done correctly health care costs will stop escalating as quickly, saving the government more money to do other things.

Results? It is likely that there will be more revenues generated from the revised carbon tax. Dedicate some of these revenues in ways to reduce costs to citizens. In last evening's call several people raised the issue of rising food prices, blaming these on the HST (HST has very little impact on food, in fact). Many people are very sensitive to price increases due to the fact that many staples are rising, from food to fuel. The government could greatly alleviate this problem.

What are the most expensive items for the average family? Transportation, housing, and food, in that order.
1. Transportation: By having the vision to move people out of their private automobile and into public transit, car pooling, car sharing (like having family cars in neighbourhoods), walking and cycling (which means adding many more trails), costs could drop for transportation (for those who elect to). Make commuter rail more accessible, including here on Vancouver Island. This will also reduce highway construction costs for the province, reduce the number of accidents and air pollution (read: lowered health care costs), and help us to feel safer and have a greater sense of belonging. Win-win for all.
2. Housing: reduce energy wastage (see below).
3. Food: encourage more local growing of food through assisting farmers, farmers markets, food-oriented non-profits, and community garden plots. Perhaps offer tax incentives to those who grow food on their land.

By taking this step of lowering costs then the HST can be made far more palatable, and then the province can continue to benefit from it.

If the government wants to further reduce carbon emissions end the 7% rebate on home heating oil, natural gas and electricity, and then offer even more generous subsidies through the LiveSmart program to improve the efficiencies of furnaces, install heat pumps (in the coastal areas), improve insulation levels, windows, etc. Then, add more to the BC Hydro PowerSmart program and Fortis Power for low income earners to include such items as mini-split heat pumps, updated furnaces, and replacement of single-pane windows, and make the program available to those who heat with fossil fuels (not only those who heat with electricity). Make Fortis gas and the heating oil companies participate by subsidizing the program for all homeowners. The extra 7% cost to homeowners and renters on fossil fuels could easily be made up through improved energy efficiencies or switching to cleaner electricity -for those who elect to do so. Despite adding the HST these people could see their energy costs drop by 20 - 40%! Would this make the HST easier to swallow? Absolutely!

I am tired of listening to people whine, as though they were only 5 years old. By taking charge of our lives (being responsible for ourselves) we could be much happier. By assisting those who wish to take action and save ourselves money the province could show true vision and leadership, just as the Socreds did with by building hydroelectric dams.

Conclusion: by shifting the way taxes are levied and subsidies are offered the province can get at the real root to the resistance to accept the HST: higher costs. By doing it in the above ways the province can actually lower costs, reduce carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, reduce health care costs, and we can benefit from the HST.

If you wish to add your voice to these ideas, do sent them to: ; ; ; ;

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nanaimo Carshare co-op now up

After sharing Vancouver's car share co-op vehicles over the last decade Nanaimo's own co-op is now ready to go!

What is a car share co-op? It's like a family car, but (ideally) two are located in every neighbourhood, greatly reducing the cost of that second car, or even the principal car!

This blog quickly describes what it's about: Nanaimo Blog
Those who use carshare vehicles typically save thousands of dollars each year by depending more on public transit, cycling, walking, car pooling, having things (like groceries) delivered to their home, and by planning trips more carefully.

The results are more than simply saving money. Carsharing folk tend to have higher quality lives, get to know their neighbours, feel more in charge of their lives, and experience other benefits.

To help celebrate its inauguration you might want to join them at Serious Coffee's downtown location, 60 Commercial Street, on Wednesday, April 20 between 2.30 pm and 5:00 pm.

For more info, check out their website:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eliminating disease agents

In my last blog I wrote about how clean air and surfaces (especially beds and upholstery) is better for our health. This is even more true for children due to their emerging immune system and small lungs.

This last week I have been introduced to the amazing world of essential oils. Of course, like many people, I've heard about them. What grabbed my attention, leading me to purchasing one in particular, is the ancient wisdom linking health with these essential oils.

The product I purchased is a blend of several essential oils. This manufacturer calls this combination "thieves oil", named after some thieves in Spain who were able to remain healthy even though they were raiding the graves of people who had died from the black plague.

Because many of our homes have some degree of mould (we do, after all, live in a rain forest climate) sealing up our homes and offices for the sake of energy efficiency, mould and other biological contaminants can -and do- negatively affect our health. Colds, flu's, asthma, allergies, lethargy, itchy throats and eyes, and more can be symptoms of these naturally-occurring beasties. Clean air is the most important measure. Heat recovery ventilators (HRV's), especially when coupled with electronic air filters (NOT ozone filters) are wonderful. Getting outside for fresh air is cheaper! And so is using natural, high quality, essential oils. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

When it comes to living life meaningfully and healthily the air we breathe is essential. Maybe this is why they call these natural oils "essential."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Energy and indoor air quality

Until the last three decades most houses and other buildings leaked so much that air quality was not a concern. As we have attempted to save energy by sealing them up we have begun to create other problems associated with poor indoor air quality. Indoor air quality is very important, since we now spend nearly 90% of our lives indoors!

What most of us fail to understand is that indoor air quality is almost always worse indoors than it is out. Health Canada calculates that our indoor air can be 6 to ten times worse than it is outside.

Likely due to the fact we (including children) spend most of our time indoors, we are seeing huge increases in asthma. Asthma prevalence from birth to 19 years in Canada has increased 4-fold in the last 2-3 decades. It continues to rise, particularly in kids ages 8-11 years. It’s estimated that 1 out of 6 children in Canada suffers from asthma.

What is so ailing us? The list of pollutants in our homes is lengthy.
1) Man-made: Over 80 various chemicals are found in most of our homes. These chemicals are not only from cigarettes (that list alone is impressive with its toxicity). Chemicals are being released from most carpets, upholstery, beds, flooring, finishes, paints, most cleansers, and a host of other sources.
2) Natural: while we on Vancouver Island don't have to worry much about radon gas, mould, dust (1.1 billion particles breathed in each day) and especially dust-mite feces are toxic.

The solutions are several. Get rid of toxic cleansers (see these suggestions). We can waste energy and feel uncomfortable by opening windows and doors or run bathroom fans all the time, adding fresh air intakes to our furnaces and heat pumps, adding a heat recovery ventilator, or invest in equipment that truly cleans the air and surfaces.

Opening doors and windows certainly helps, but isn't very practical in the winter. Running fans is rather wasteful of energy. Fresh-air ducts work, but only when the furnace is running. Only the last two are truly effective, especially if a high-quality vacuum cleaner is used, one that captures all of the dust. (Most vacuum cleaners spew over 90% of the dust right back into the air.)

The most important surfaces that require cleaning are where dust and the associated dust-mite feces live: our beds, upholstery, and carpets. High-quality air filters are also vital.

It is no surprise that we usually feel better when we go for a walk in nature. This is our body's way of telling us that we need time for reflection and exercise. It may very well also be its way to tell us that we need more fresh air.