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Catastrophic Climate Change: Cutting Your GHG Emissions in February.


February: when January's impulsive resolutions to become perfect meet reality. Reality wins. Every time.
- Darryl McMahon

February 1st

Car shopping research. You don't need a car right now? Doesn't matter. You should be doing your research before going shopping anyway. You do need a car soon? Then no time like the present to get started on this. I picked February for this because this is the month that new car sales are the lowest in the year. Because people don't want to venture out in the dead of winter. So, around the end of this month, car sales people and car dealers might actually be prepared to offer a real deal. And our plan is to make them work for it. Mostly because what we will want is not what they are eager to sell us. Brace yourself, this is going to take more than an hour of your time.

Now, let's start that research on the most important aspect of the car sale: You! What are your needs in a car? How far do you drive in a typical day? How many people do you need to carry, most days? If you have a demanding vehicle mission you do once or twice a year, can you rent a vehicle for that, and buy something more suited to your usual needs? If only there was a checklist or something to help you figure this out, right? (find a checklist, or make one)

February 2nd

Happy Ground Hog Day! Regardless of the actual spotting of shadows, think about your local travel habits. Do you have a car? Do you need it? Could you use one that is powered by electricity, even part-time? How far do you travel in a day? Could you use a rental vehicle on occasion for those long trips, or when you need to move a big load or pull a trailer? Could a combination of transit and a car-sharing serice meet your needs? How much does it cost you to own a car? Would you believe $30 a day or more? Even when it's parked. The CAA says it costs over $9000 a year for typical car ownership. For most of us, that's paid in after-tax dollars. What do you really need from a private vehicle? Even allowing for an occasional rental, taxi, ride-hailing service or car-share service, would you spend $9000 a year? Just give it some thought.

February 3rd

Now, think about the climate change impacts of your personal vehicle. Over 4 tonnes per year of CO2 emissions alone - assuming typical annual driving distance. So what options do you have to fix that? Is your local transit system zero-emisisons or running on biofuel? Can you find E85 ethanol or biodiesel fuel locally? Can an electric vehicle meet your needs, remembering that cars with a range of 400 km are now coming on the market at reasonable prices, fast charging stations are appearing in greater numbers and many jurisdictions provide purchase incentives? And there are plug-in hybrids including minivans and SUVs which can go some distance on electricity only before operating the gasoline engine for additional range. Really, you should spend some time looking at what is available; the choices are now many, and the numbers are growing year over year.

February 4th

Need to move some snow? I did today (again). How about using electric power to do the job instead of a gas-powered snowblower or hiring a service that uses gas or diesel trucks or tractors for the job. Small corded electric snowblowers are remarkably effective. Or if you need a bit more oomph, get creative and use something like these electric tractors. These date from the 1970s and are still running strong.
IMG SRC="Snogo.png" alt="2 GE electric tractors with plow and snowthrower">

February 5th

Seal the envelope (13). Windows. Seal them up for the heating season. Replacement may be expensive, but applying the heat-shrink plastic film is not. Apply it around the outside of the window frame, or even onto the wall beside the window trim to capture as much of the potential draft area as possible.

February 6th

Seal the envelope (14). Windows (more). Windows are likely the worst-insulated part of your walls. Insulated window coverings are one way to reduce the heat loss associated with our windows. Here's a piece I have written elsewhere on insulated window coverings.

February 7th

Seal the envelope (15). Windows (more). Windows are about heat loss. At the time they might actually provide a heat gain benefit, we are getting the least amount of sunlight per day (winter). That's why it's cold outside and we're looking for the heat. Windows are terrible at keeping heat in. Further, unless your windows get a pretty unobstructed view to the sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, they're not going to provide much benefit. Ditto on the days when it is overcast, which has been frequent here so far this winter. If you really want the benefit of solar gain in the winter, you need to look to solar closets, not conventional windows. Here are a couple of links on the subject of windows.

Natural Resources Canada on Energy-Efficient Windows, Doors and Skylights
National Fenestration Rating Council on U-values

In short, while pretty windows may improve the aesthetics of your home, and may provide a great view of the outdoors, they are going to cost you money on your heating bill, and likely on your cooling bill as well, unless they are designed with energy efficiency in mind.

February 8th

Planning your garden. "What garden", you ask. It doesn't matter. Just decide you are going to plant something, anything, and nurture nature to bring forth life. A flower, something you can eat. It doesn't matter. It's the connection to the cycle of life and seasons you need to embrace. It can as simple as a small container (perhaps a tub from some food you bought), some earth, a seed, some water and some light. And a little time.

February 9th

Gardens can be set up indoors, and provide year-round produce for you. Never mind the '100-mile Diet', you can have some of your food come from within a few metres. "Container gardens" can be set up indoors in the winter and moved outdoors in the summer. Plant something - anything - and prepare to connect with nature.

February 10th

Seal the envelope (16). Windows (more). If you have 'storm' windows, use them. They will create another barrier to heat escaping from your house, and possibly another block against drafts. If you cool your house with an air conditioner in the summer, leave them up year-round (but consider shading them). They can act as a barrier to heat getting in as well as out.

February 11th

Seal the envelope (17). Windows (more). If you don't have 'storm' windows, there are a couple of other options you can use to get much the same benefit. You can buy clear plastic panels at a hardware store, and 'cut' them to size to fit your window frame. Drill holes along the edges and use large, dome-head screws to attach to the window frame. If you don't want to put holes in your window frame, you can invest in more sophisticated mounting arrangements (e.g., build a frame around the panel and clip it to the window frame). During the summer, make sure to store these panels in a dark place, as many of these types of plastic will yellow and age with exposure to UV light (as in sunlight). There are commercial products that come with magnetic strips and frames, so mounting each year is just a matter of snapping the panel into place and letting the magnets hold them.

If the window being covered doesn't have a view of value, you can also use a heavy gauge vapour barrier plastic as the covering. Simple wood framing applied around the sides of the window frame will help reduce drafts and hold the plastic securely in place. If removed and stored carefully, such plastic window covers can be used for several years before sun damage will do them in.

February 12th

Seal the envelope (19). Windows (more). I have been putting this topic off as long as I can - replacement windows. If you still have single-pane Pierson sliders (popular in the 1950s and 1960s), you probably should replace them just for the heating cost benefit (and the reduced energy use will reduce greenhouse gas emissions). However, if you have more modern windows with at least two layers of glass, the cost of replacement windows doesn't necessarily make it a slam-dunk decision.

If you are considering replacement windows, do some homework. Consider the following factors. Windows, no matter how wonderful the salesperson says they are, are heat losers. They cost more than walls for the area they cover. So, at least consider the possibility of going with smaller windows than the originals. Oversize framing on the outside and moulding/trim on the inside can make it look fine. On a large window, a bay treatment with a sitting ledge can be very attractive, and provide additional insulation space opportunities. A window box treatment, both inside and outside for sun-facing windows in particular can really dress up the exterior with flowers, and possibly fresh herbs and spices on the interior planter space.

February 13th

Seal the envelope (18). Windows (more). If you already have good quality double-glazed windows, consider a decorative treatment that will effectively make them triple-glazed. We did this on a bathroom window, which provided several benefits. First, it provided privacy from the view from neighbours' windows. Second, it eliminated the need for a curtain, which took up a couple of inches of space in a small room. Third, it provided a nice aesthetic touch to the exterior appearance of the window. Fourth, it provided an additional barrier to heat escaping from the room.

In our case, I built a custom piece of stained glass (the image matched a rose pattern on the shower curtain my wife made). The glass piece was finished with a narrow zinc frame, which fit into the existing window frame, flush with the glass. I took clear silicone seal to 'glue' the stained glass panel to the glass and frame edge.

If you don't have a friend that does stained glass work, there are other options. Faux stained glass based on plastic panels is a fairly easy technique to learn and relatively inexpensive.

If you don't need the aesthetic effects, you could just have a piece of plastic panel or glass cut to size, and install that. A solid piece of textured glass can provide privacy while still allowing sunlight to enter. If you are not framing the piece to be installed, make sure you find a way to space the new panel off the glass to get the desired insulating air pocket. Personally, I like to use thin strips (1 to 2 cm wide) of the same plastic or glass, but you can likely achieve the same benefit with a generous, but carefully applied, line of the clear silicone sealant, or 2-sided foam tape.

It is best to do this installation on a cool, dry day. This will reduce the amount of moisture that may be trapped inside the new pocket. Heating the area with a hair dryer just before finishing the seal (preferably at the top) may be helpful.

February 14th

Nothing today. You may have other commitments. Like picking up that new zero-emissions bike, car, truck or whatever you're giving your special other(s) to do your part for starting the change towards a survivable planet.

February 15th

Water your garden.

If you really don't have space for a garden, but would like to grow your own food, many cities have plots you can rent for a growing season. If you are in the Ottawa Canada area, check out Just Food. If you live elsewhere, look for a local community garden or garden plot offering near you.

February 16th

Seal the envelope (20). Windows (more). If you are considering replacement windows, definitely do your homework before deciding what to buy. In Canada, you almost certainly want low-emissivity (low-E) windows. Pretty much every manufacturer makes this claim for their products, so check for certification of the R value and U values of the units. The values vary widely depending on the materials used and the construction quality. For example, R-values can range from less than 1 for a single pane of glass to 4.35 for Soft Coat Low-E insulated glass with argon gas between the panes. Triple-glazed units can do even better. However, remember that even the worst wall (that meets building code) will be at least R-12, or at least 3 times as good. Which just re-emphasizes my point over the past couple of days - windows are heat losers.

February 17th

How can you organize your household to use less fossil fuels? Tomorrow is Family Day in many parts of Canada and President's Day in the U.S. How about using that opportunity to talk with your family or others you live with to talk about the impacts of climate change - present and future? Then, acknowledge the key change in GHG levels in the Earth's atmosphere in the past 100 years are about us burning fossil hydrocarbon fuels. The natural processes of the previous millions of years sequestering carbon dioxide are the reason the planet is habitable to us today. To quote Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, just right. Right now, as a species, we're turning up the heat pretty fast, and to continue the analogy, that porridge is going to burn us, unless we figure out how to cool it off, quickly.

February 18th

I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions. But late last year (2018), I decided for a range of reasons to try cutting my fossil hydrocarbon emissions further. We have four road vehicles in our household for 3 working adults. Public transit doesn't work well for any of us. Two of those cars are 100% battery electric; they are the regular commuter cars. Most of my work is done via telecommuting. I have one small gasser which is used primarily for going to client meetings, and one larger vehicle for pulling trailers, moving gear and up to 5 people at a time. On December 15th, 2018 I filled up the tanks on both vehicles. As of yesterday (February 17th), one shows a half-tank remaining and the other still shows the needle at full. This is primarily the result of reorganizing my schedule a bit so I can use one of the electrics for most of my errand running, starting with my Christmas shopping. Come this summer, I hope my knee will be sufficiently healed that I can get back to walking for many errands, including light grocery trips.

February 19th

A couple of days ago, my son and I did a minor repair on one of our small tractors. An electric tractor. A 45-year-old electric tractor made by General Electric. Yes, THAT General Electric. We live in a winter city - there can be snow on the ground here from November until April. (Our City officials don't understand this. They consistently underestimate how much it will cost to clear snow each year, and continue to issue building permits for high density housing with no space to store snow cleared off streets, driveways, private walkways and occasionally even sidewalks. Of course, when they do remove snowbanks, they use heavy equipment and dump trucks powered by fossil fuels, adding to our GHG and soot emisisons. And our tourism photos only show pictures of summer scenes - well other than the obligatory iconic image of skating on the Rideau Canal. ) So, having some potent snow moving gear is advantageous because we still have to drive to work and run errands. However, having cranky hard-to-start equipment which requires annual oil changes, testing spark plugs, cleaning carburetors and carrying around jugs of toxic, carcinogenic fuel that belches sooty GHG emissions and noise levels which should require hearing protection isn't the only option.

The tractors (one with a plow blade and the other with a snowthrower) do a very nice job on clearing our driveway, those of a neighbour (or two), and a bit over 50 metres of our street - including cutting back the snowbanks left by the infrequent visits by city plows.

February 20th

The electric tractors may seem a little over the top to a lot of people. Fair enough. However, there are other options to consider. Muscle power and good shovels (a scraper/pusher AND a lifter/thrower please) can be quite potent for people in moderate health. The small corded electric snow throwers are pretty amazing for their size, price and power consumption. More recently, larger snowblowers based on lithium ion batteries are becoming available, and unlike some of the offerings 3 or 4 years ago, seem like they are competent, robust and will be supported by their manufacturers. Anyway, if there's more snow in your weather forecast in the next 2-3 months, why not open your Internet browser for a few minutes and see what you can find. There might even be some end-of-season bargains to be had.

February 21st

One month until Spring. The amount of sunlight is increasing noticeably each day. When we had a temporary winter sunspace, I loved to go sit in it on sunny February days, basking in the glow and temperature in the high 20s C (that's low 80s for those of you who speak Fahrenheit), while it was well below freezing just on the other side of the vacuum-sealed double paned glass panels. There were many days it got uncomfortably warm in the sunspace, so I would open the door to the house and heat the entire house from the sunspace for several hours. That's the beauty of zero-emissions, zero-cost, passive solar heating. And once the sun is setting, close the doors and the sun-space becomes additional insulation for your house during the night.

February 22nd

Water your garden.

February 23th

The sunrise is earlier each day and sunset a bit later (northern hemisphere). If it's cold where you are (it sure is where I am), let the Sun do some of the work in heating your house. Open the window coverings, move the window insulation out of the way, and let the light stream in. Set up dark objects or fabric in the rooms where the sun's rays fall. Dark objects will get warmer as they convert more of the incoming light energy into heat (infra-red). Close up the window coverings again in the afternoon after the sun is no longer lighting the room(s).

February 24th

Seems like a good day to pull open the seed catalogue(s), or browsw online to decide what you want to plant outside this year. Pick food items you really like so you'll be motivated to do the weeding through the summer until harvest time.

February 25th

Have you ever heard of 'square foot gardening'? If not, check it out. Wikipedia entry

February 26th

Skipping a 10% tax increase. (2019) This one might seem a bit off-topic, but bear with me for a minute. Last week, the Ottawa municipal government announced their intention to raise water rates by almost another 10% for 2019. This has become an annual event! If you find that tiresome and would like to boycott this tax grab, there is a solution. Reduce your water consumption by 10% or more. Fight the $70 increase (the estimate for the average Ottawa household over a year), by reducing your consumption by $70.

Think that's difficult? Probably not. Typically toilets use about a third or more of our residential water consumption. So, if you have not already done so, switch to a model that uses less water. Personally, I like our 6-litre (ultra low flow) unit, but I would not recommend our more recent acquisition, an American Standard Flowise dual 3/6 litre unit.

If a complete toilet replacement is outside your recession budget, how about a $5 refit that will reduce the amount of water used to fill your toilet, but does not affect the flush volume at all? (OK, it's a self-serving plug for a product I sell, but this is exactly the reason I found these years ago and chose to make them available to Canadians.)

What's this got to do with greenhouse gas emissions? It takes a lot of energy to pump water to your house, and to treat it so it is safe to drink. That energy comes primarily in the form of electricity, and in this province, a goodly chunk of that is still produced by burning coal and natural gas. So, reducing your water consumption reduces the electricity used, and reduces the greenhouse gas emissions produced. Oh, and it will also reduce your water bill.

I had not planned on dealing with water conservation and efficiency until later in the year, but the recent Ottawa announcement today made me think I should address it briefly now.

February 27th

After some reflection and figuring out how much our small SUV has been costing us, we have decided it's time to get rid of it. While it did not rack up a lot of mileage, it's just time to let it go and start enjoying the savings. On those occasions where we need something like that (typically several times a year), we'll rent.

February 28th

Water your garden.

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