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Catastrophic Climate Change: Cutting Your GHG Emissions in January.


2019.01.01

We have met the enemy and he is us.
- Pogo (Walt Kelly for Earth Day 1970)

January 1st

Traditionally, the first day of the year is a day for reflection on the past year, and to resolve to make changes to improve our wellbeing. Often, there are bold plans to eat better, exercise more and better manage our finances. This year, let's see what we can do to make better consumption decisions, exercise our purchasing power to make a difference and better manage the future of the world we plan to continue living on.

January 2nd

Blankets. Really, turn down the thermostat at night, and throw on another blanket or quilt. Comfort is not about keeping the building warm, it's about keeping you warm. Do you really get much value from having the whole house toasty all night when the only space you are occupying is in your bed? So why do you want to pay to heat the rooms you are not using? Or even the rest of the bedroom, when all that really matters is whether or not you are comfortable?

Take a blanket to the living room. On a winter evening, if you're doing your best couch potato imitation, toss a small blanket over your lap, legs and feet, and you will be amazed how much more comfortable you are, even if you turn the thermostat down another degree.

January 3rd

Programmable thermostat. OK, so you weren't happy with me this morning when the alarm went off. You got out of bed, only to think the furnace wasn't working, because you turned down the thermostat last night, and it was still that temperature when you got out of bed. Hope you had the slippers nearby. Clearly, what you need is someone to turn up the thermostat a few minutes before it's time for you to get out of your lovely, warm, cosy bed. (You did like the effect of the extra blanket though, didn't you?) Well, since nobody wants to be the first out of bed into the cold to turn the thermostat up, give that job to a machine: the programmable thermostat. It will happily stay up all night just to turn up the heat before you get up, per your instructions.

Things to look for in a programmable thermostat. They work best if your household has a regular schedule. Most work on a weekday vs. weekend schedule. If your household doesn't follow a regular schedule through the week, there are units that are programmable by day, and will permit more than 4 state changes a day (awake, leave, return, night are the typical change points). If you have a central air conditioner as well as a furnace, get a programmable thermostat that will control both. Units for base-board heaters are also available, but they tend to be a bit more spendy, but often allow you to program by room or zone, giving finer control than the centralized types.

Definitely time to get with the program! Look for coupons from your local hydro company, heating fuel supplier or local hardware stores for discounts on programmable thermostats.

January 4th

More on programmable thermostats. Yes, they really do save on your energy use and fuel costs. My own experience was almost a 20% year over year saving the first winter we had ours (and I would play with the previous manual thermostat daily). This is because heat loss is proportional to the difference in temperature between inside our home and outside it. Because it gets colder at night outside, the difference increases, and so does the rate of heat loss. Dial down the inside temperature at night, and the heat loss rate is reduced.

Experiment with the timing of when the heat goes down and back up, to get a feel for latency duration. It takes time to cool down and heat up the interior of your home. So try turning the heat off 30 to 45 minutes before you normally go to bed, and before the first person usually gets up in the morning. If your house is well sealed and insulated, you may find you can turn the heat down even earlier in the evening, and later in the morning.

January 5th

Snow removal and heating. Let's talk about moving snow. First, let's start looking at options other than 5 to 12 hp, small gasoline engined contraptions that deafen the neighbours and belch smoke and toxins into the air (including greenhouse gases).

Our house, like most in my experience, was laid out with zero consideration for dealing with snow removal. Postage stamp front lawn, large driveway, a convoluted walkway, and front door shelter that harvests every drifting snowflake for metres around into a drift at our front door. The drift is of course surrounded on three sides by 2-storey walls, and the only exit point is into the prevailing wind.

Over the years, we have collected a small arsenal of snow moving weaponry. This includes a selection of scrapers and throwing shovels, a small, corded electric snowblower, and an electric garden tractor with a plow and a snowthrower. Look Ma, no gasoline! No GHGs at point of use!

However, many people don't realize that snow is a good insulator. That's why it works for igloos. So instead of just pushing it all down to street creating a visibility hazard, take some of it and pile it up around the walls of your house. It will add to the insulating effect of the structure.

And if you are moving it and placing it manually, the exercise will help warm you up, too.

January 6th

Free heat. Want some? Look around your house for it. When you are cooking potatoes, vegetables, pasta or other things cooked in water, instead of pouring the heated cooking water down the drain, drain it into a large bowl. Let the bowl sit out until it has cooled to room temperature. It will provide heat and humidity (usually welcomed in Canadian winters) into the house. Use it for watering plants or other purposes after it has cooled. Better than giving your plants cold water shock with water right out of the cold water tap. I have used large vegetable juice tins or coffee cans for this purpose, so I don't have to wash an extra dish after. Then, when the can has done its time, it can just be recycled.

January 7th

More free heat. Anybody in your household take showers or baths? Do they use hot water? Put the stopper in the drain hole, and collect that water. Leave it in the tub until it cools to room temperature, then drain it. This will allow the heat from the water to move into the building, along with humidity, which is usually welcome indoors in the Canadian winter.

This idea does have a few drawbacks. Don't do this if you have mobile and unsupervised toddlers with access to the tub, as it presents a drowning hazard. It may require some additional tub cleaning periodically due to bathtub rings. It won't work in most dedicated shower stalls. If you have a regular humidity problem during the heating season, this may contribute to it. However, if you do try this technique, it may surprise you to see just how much water you actually use when you do take a shower!

January 8th

Still more free heat. Cook at home. You can save money by cooking meals at home rather than grabbing another fast food meal. You can make a more nutritious meal, and save money on the food costs. You also save on GHG emissions you likely create by driving to the restaurant or take-out place.

However, during the heating season, you also get the benefit of two uses of the heat used for cooking. Not only does it prepare your food for consumption, it displaces the heat your furnace or other heat source(s) would have produced. That saves on your heating bill, because it's heat you were producing for another reason anyway.

One thing to watch for if you use an electric stove, and are subject to time of use (TOU) pricing, also called interval pricing. Try to do your major cooking at off-peak times (e.g., weekends and holidays), and limit your range and oven use at peak price times (e.g., weekday dinner times). If you can shift your electrical usage time to off-peak times, you will save money, and in much of Canada, use a less carbon-intensive fuel for electrical generation as a result.

January 9th

Still more free heat. Do you have an oven with a self-clean feature? Is it overdue for a cleaning? This process generates a high temperature in the oven, meaning a lot of heat in your home. So, if it's overdue, why not do it this weekend? Even if you are using electricity on a time-of-use pricing plan, the weekend is off-peak hours (cheap juice).

January 10th

Still more free heat. Now that the sun is shining (at last, after 14 straight days of overcast here), draw back the curtains from your sun-facing windows and let that solar heating energy flow into your house. Of course, when the sun sets, you have to close the window coverings again to try to keep some of that heat in.

Windows are a major point of heat loss in most homes. While contractors will happily sell you replacement windows (and that may be justified in many cases), it's a major expense and not necessarily the best return on investment for your energy saving portfolio.

Instead, I recommend that you invest in some removable window coverings with an appreciable insulating value. Some of these approaches are not even particularly expensive to implement.

January 11th

Still more free heat. Laundry day. It's not a day conducive to hanging out laundry to dry; cold and snowy. So, the electric clothes dryer will see duty today. It is vented indoors into an air space in our basement during the winter. That way, we are not sending the heat energy we paid for outside, when we can benefit from it and the humidity inside our home. Do NOT do this with natural gas dryers due to carbon monoxide poisoning issue. Also, take care to point the hot, humid dryer exhaust to an open space to avoid condensation issues. We also use an additional lint catcher (old pantyhose) to reduce the lint dust coming into the basement.

January 12th

Winter driving energy tip. Don't wait for your car to warm up.

On these cold winter mornings, it's so tempting to push a button to start your car, so it's warm and toasty when you get into it. However, modern cars don't need to warm up before being driven. The engine and drive train will loosen up more quickly when being driven - that's when they produce more heat, and the motion will heat up the transmission fluid and engine oil more quickly than idling.

As for that pesky frost build-up on the inside of your windshield, just leave the driver door window down a crack when you park your vehicle. This allows the moist air in the heated cabin to escape while the car is parked. Next day, no interior frost build-up.

Of course, it does mean dressing for the weather, and not summer-time conditions while driving. I hope if more people are dressed for the actual outdoor conditions, perhaps they'll actually take 2 minutes to clear the snow off their windows. Removing the snow will reduce vehicle weight and improve the aerodynamics, improving your fuel economy. It also means you won't be creating a mini-blizzard for those behind you for the first couple of kilometres that you drive.

An engine running at high idle will burn 3 litres of gasoline, or more, per hour. (My old van used over 4, according to my ScanGuageII.) If you let your vehicle warm up for 20 minutes before driving away, that's 2.3 kg of CO2 created each time. With gasoline at $0.959 a litre (the price I saw yesterday - almost identical to the price I saw in January 2010), that's about a dollar out of your pocket each time you indulge in that little luxury.

If you stop burning a litre a day warming up your car for 90 days out of the year, that's $90 in your pocket, and possibly almost a 5% reduction in your vehicle-related greenhouse gas emissions for the year (assumes 2,000 litres annual gasoline consumption for the vehicle, averaging 10 litres/100 km, and 20,000 km driving per year).

January 13th

Send the heat where it is needed. If you have a central heating system, adjust the airflow by room via the registers. For example, we have small bathrooms, but they get the same size registers as the larger rooms in our house. So, we adjust the registers in the small rooms to reduce the air flow there. There is also a walk-in closet which gets the same register size as the large bedroom it serves. So, reduce the closet air flow, but let the bedroom get full air flow.

It's common practice to put registers under large windows, because windows tend to be the coldest places in the house. However, some window coverings and treatments extend out to cover the register. In those cases, use an air deflector to push the warm air into the room, instead of trying to heat the window. The deflectors are typically less than $5 at hardware stores, or you can fashion your own. The key to effective use of the heat you are paying for is to benefit from it. As you don't spend your time between the window and the curtains, there is no value in putting the heat there. Send it into the room where you are.

January 14th

Free heat from decor. Decor is largely a matter of aesthetics and personal taste. However, in your rooms with sun-facing windows, you can enhance your solar gain. As sunlight strikes lighter colours and glossy surfaces, more of it is reflected than absorbed, and some will be reflected back out of the room. However, when sunlight strikes dark colours and matte surfaces, more of the light is converted to infrared (heat) energy. By putting darker colours where the sun strikes, and lighter colours on the walls around the windows, there should be a small heat gain as a result.

January 15th

Driving energy tip. If you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission, when you are stopped at a red light, and will be for some time, shift into park. When the light for the opposing traffic turns to amber, in preparation for your green, shift back into drive. Based on my experience in the past couple of days with the ScanGaugeII, my fuel consumption drops by at least 10% when I am in park, compared to being in drive with the brake on and not moving.

I know it's not where you consume the majority of your fuel, but it is a place where you can easily save 10% of your greenhouse gas emissions by reducing your fuel consumption with a simple driving behaviour change - no investment required. You are not getting any additional benefit from burning 10% more fuel while you are not moving anyway.

January 16th

Free heat: know what isn't. It's only free heat if you aren't paying extra for its use. So, while your television may be kicking 10 or 20 watts of heat into your house when it is supposedly 'off', that's not free heat. You pay for the electricity that produces that waste heat, even though you get no benefit from it. So, instead of wasting that electricity, disconnect your 'instant-on' from the power source so they are really off, and reduce your household electrical use, the associated electrical bill, and the upstream greenhouse gas emissions created to produce that electricity.

January 17th

Seal the envelope. In previous posts I have presented several ideas on how to obtain free heat. Now, I will shift the focus to how we can keep the heat in.

The outside of your building - the walls, doors, windows, roof, foundation, etc. - is called the building envelope. It's what goes around the package of value - your home. Unless you have one of those rare homes designed to be energy-efficient, odds are there are a lot of small holes in your building envelope. Added up, they constitute a big hole, typically a square foot or more in size. That means you are heating a lot of air that is leaving the building, costing you money and providing you with no benefit. That hole also represents a draft that likely makes you feel cold, causing you to turn up the thermostat, further increasing your heating bill.

January 18th

Seal the envelope (1). Fireplace. If you have a fireplace, the chimney is a large hole in your roof. Warm air will exit the building by rising up the chimney, abetted by any winds that effectively suck heated air out the top. Blocking that hole is the best solution. One way to do this is to build a solid barrier that you can place in front of the fireplace opening, and creating a seal against drafts.

One approach is to start with a piece of plywood larger than the opening by at least 5 cm (2 inches) on each side and the top. Cut extruded polystyrene foam boards to fit the inside of the opening, then attach those to the plywood (centred side-to-side and flush at the bottom). Go as thick (deep) with the foam board as practical, even if that means 2, 3 or 4 layers of foamboard. Dress the back side of the 3 edges with gasketing material, or crushable fabric. Decorate the front as desired (perhaps a picture of a glowing, welcoming wood fire), possibly adding handles to make it easier to insert and remove the covering. This fireplace cover will greatly reduce heat loss through your fireplace by providing an air barrier and insulation. If you currently have an open fireplace, this measure could significantly reduce your heating fuel use, your heating bill, and greenhouse gas emissions.

January 19th

Seal the envelope (2). Attic hatch. Most houses have an entry point into the attic, be it a doorway or a hatch. In most cases, this passage is poorly sealed, and not insulated. In other words, it is a chimney, taking warm air from your living space and ejecting it into the attic, where it provides no benefit, and from there into the atmosphere via roof vents.

Get some foam weather sealing tape, and use it to create an air resistant gasket around the edges of the hatch or doorway. That will reduce the flow of warm air from the living space into the attic. The foam tape is cheap, and in this application, it will last a very long time (assuming this door or hatch is not used frequently).

While you have the hatch open anyway, apply a few layers of extruded polystyrene foam board to the top side of the hatch panel. 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) of thickness is the target, to get us up to at least R-40 worth of insulation. That's the minimum we want above our living space as insulation.

Reducing the air flow and the heat flow via the weather sealing and insulation will reduce the amount of heating fuel used, and in turn reduce the associated greenhouse gas emissions. It will also reduce your fuel bill.

Finally, while you can poke your head into the attic space, have a look around (likely requires a flashlight), and see how much insulation is up there, and what kind (e.g., fibreglass batts, rolls or blown; blown cellulose; rock wool) and how deep it is. We'll continue tomorrow.

January 20th

Seal the envelope (3). Attic insulation. So, how much insulation is really in your attic? And is it uniform and complete to the edges? It's worth checking. When we bought our house (built in the cheap energy early 1970s), two building inspectors went through it as part of the sale; first for the vendor, then another for us. Neither reported what I found later - there was no ceiling insulation at all in one corner of the building. It appeared that the original builder simply quit laying fibreglass batts when they got to one corner. Even where there was insulation, there was only 3.5 inches of it (nominally R-12, but more like R-10 in reality.) Worse, none of it covered the joists, which acted like thermal bridges as a result, and the original installation was sloppy, not getting batts up to the edges of the runs between the joists.

The resolution to this was to buy a bunch more batts of ceiling insulation (20 cm or 8 inches thick), and install it. I also bought one bag of the 3.5 inch insulation and used that to fix the original issues before layering in the thicker batts. I laid a first layer of the thicker R-19 batts cross-ways to the joists, and then another layer perpendicular to that, making sure to leave space for air flow under the roof. Result, nominally R-50 throughout most of the attic space, and up to R-70 over the upstairs hallway. That resulted in a major drop in our heating bill the following winter (about 30%), and a corresponding drop in our household greenhouse gas emissions.

The financial payback was roughly 2 heating seasons. This one did require a significant investment (hundreds of dollars) and a couple of days of my time to do the installation. (I'm not a professional at this, I was fixing previous issues and being meticulous, and putting in more insulation than most people would.) As a result, we are maintaining the same level of comfort as before, but with less energy used.

January 21st

Seal the envelope (4). Exterior doors. While they're critical to letting you in and out of your house, they're also a portal for your heat to leave the house. It's tough to make an airtight seal around your doors, however, that should be the target. Where feasible, take an airlock approach to your building entrances. That is, create two separate doorways some distance apart so that it is unlikely both will be open at the same time. This greatly reduces the volume of air exchanges when the doors are opened. This was the real function of foyers and vestibules in older architecture. It's also a good channel to line with closets. Not only because they provide convenient storage for coats and boots, but they also act as a thermal buffering space between the the living space and the building exterior.

However, even if you can't take on the construction of a new airlock this week, you can still likely improve the air-tightness of your existing doorway. If you don't have a two-door system now (i.e., a main 'security' door and a 'storm' or 'screen' door, definitely look into rectifying that.

The conventional sealing of a door is based on the fit of the door to the doorframe, a bottom sealing 'sweep', the door frame lip, and sealing strips. Ensure all of these are in good order, and repair or install/replace as appropriate. However, this may still not be enough. Weather-sealing foam tape on the inside of the door frame lips can make a big difference in reducing air infiltration around doors. A strip gasket at the bottom of the outside edge of the main door goes a long way to stopping that pesky under-door draft (however, it can present a tripping hazard, so weigh the benefits and issues before installing that one). Make sure the sweeper on the screen door is set to the proper depth to mate with the door sill when closed, and the gaskets around the edges are in good order. Repair and replace as appropriate.

January 22nd

Seal the envelope (5). Interior doors. If you have rooms in your house that don't need to be kept as warm as others, keep them closed as appropriate, and seal them up a bit. For example, if there is a door to your attic, treat it as if it were an exterior door, perhaps even going as far as installing a 'storm' door with the existing door. Add a bottom door sweep to seal the bottom of the door. Consider attaching some foam board to the back side of the attic door to increase its insulating value. Put a cloth cover over the door knob to reduce conductive heat loss through it. Put the foam weather-sealing tape to work on the door lips. If you have a cold cellar (as opposed to a heated basement), consider giving the door to it similar insulating and weather-sealing treatment.

For doors to regular rooms which may be kept closed on a regular basis, consider a door 'snake'. The door snake is just a weighted tube of insulating material wrapped in fabric which is the length of the bottom of the door. It sits on the floor against the door, blocking air flow. The fabric exterior prevents scratching flooring material, provides a flexible edge to improve the seal against the door, and adds some insulating value. Also helps reduce noise transmission under the door. There are 'U' shaped versions that put insulating strips on each side of the door bottom, and move with the door when it opens and closes. Don't work so well on carpeted doorways. There are commercial versions of both types, but you can easily make your own.

Foam weather-sealing tape may be overkill for regular interior doors, but not out of the question in some situations.

January 23rd

Seal the envelope (6). Outlets and switches. In the typical house, electrical outlets and switches that are installed in exterior walls are energy holes. First, they put a thermally-conductive box where insulation should be. Second, they create a physical hole in the interior skin of the wall. Third, they puncture the vapour barrier. Fourth, they create a path for cold air to enter the structure. Fifth, outlets and switches mean wiring inside the wall, which usually leads to poor insulation installation.

What can we do about them? When doing renovations, additions or new construction, try to avoid putting wiring, outlets and switches in exterior walls. However, that doesn't help us with existing homes that already have outlets and switches in exterior walls. For that, we need to wield a screwdriver and some appropriate materials. Most hardware stores will stock gaskets and insulating spray foam. In this case, we don't want the stuff that expands to 7 to 10 times its original size, but foam that only expands slightly.

Flip the circuit breaker or pull the fuse for the circuit(s) you will be working on, to de-energize the circuit(s).

Remove the cover plates from the outlets and switches. If it is obvious that there is no insulation around the box, use the long nozzle to spray some foam behind and around the electrical box. Try not to imbed the adjacent wires in case of future maintenance or renovations that might need access. Spray a little foam to seal the edge of the electrical box and the wall. Move to the next outlet or switch box to be done (get all the foaming done first so you can seal up the can, and only have to seal it once for the exercise).

Go back to the first work spot, and clean up any foam that has expanded to places you don't want it. Then, take an appropriate foam sealing gasket and fit it over the outlet face or switch, and put the outlet or switch cover back on. Repeat for all the work spots.

Turn the circuit breakers back on.

Remember, the focus is exterior walls. There is very little benefit to sealing up the electrical boxes in interior walls. This exercise will reduce the drafts in your house, reduce the amount of heating energy you use, and as a result reduce your heating bill and your greenhouse gas emissions, possibly by 1 or 2%.

January 24th

Seal the envelope (7). Joist Headers. In typical wood-frame house, the floor that sits on the foundation is simply a ladder of 2x6 or 2x8 boards, with another board edgewise to close it in. A dressed piece of lumber makes a terrible insulator. Therefore, to help reduce the heat energy loss through this point, it makes a lot of sense to put some real insulation alongside it. Also, it is a good idea to use caulking to seal the edge between the lumber and the concrete to reduce air infiltration. Don't forget to put vapour barrier in place on the warm side of the insulation if using a type that can retain moisture.

January 25th

Seal the envelope (8). Vents. There are several holes in our houses that we put there intentionally: kitchen fan vent holes; bathroom fan vent holes; clothes dryer exhaust; combustion air intakes (for carbon-fuel furnaces); whole-house attic ventilation fans; soil stacks and so on. In most cases, the job of these holes is to eject warm (and frequently moist) air from the building. During the heating season, this is not necessarily beneficial, as we could use that heat and moisture to advantage.

Where these vents exhaust through a wall, they frequently have one-way flappers to prevent reverse flow when not in use. It is worth checking these flappers periodically to ensure they are working correctly. If not, they are simply holes in your house letting heat escape.

During the heating season it is also worth trying to use these powered vents (bathrooms, kitchen) as little as possible. If your bathroom vent is controlled from the same switch as the light, it may be worth trying to separate the circuits so they can be controlled separately, to save electricity and heat loss.

Finally, if a vent won't be used for a season (e.g., electric clothes dryer), consider opening the duct pipe close to the vent and inserting an insulating 'plug' to block airflow and provide additional insulation.

January 26th

Seal the envelope (9). Finding the holes. As it is windy day as I write this entry, it comes naturally to think of using that to advantage. Take a walk around your house on a windy day, and listen and feel for the breezes that are penetrating the envelope of your house. Take note of where they occur so you can figure them out and address them later.

Personally, I have not resorted to the incense stick trick to find drafts; I simply cannot stand the smell of them. However, it that is not an issue for you, I have read that you can put 2 or 3 together to increase the amount of smoke to help visualize the air movement.

The usual suspects are around windows, doors, ducts, pipes that penetrate the building exterior, chimneys.

January 27th

Seal the envelope (10). Finding the holes (more). A couple of other ways to detect breaches in the integrity of your fortress against the elements. Tape a single ply of toilet paper or very fine tissue paper to a piece of dowel (or a long pencil), and carry this about in front of you as you move about the structure. Movement of the paper is an indicator of a draft or air movement.

Another means of detection is to look for cobwebs. Not only do they tend to waver in the breeze of a draft, their very existence is a clue. The webs are often placed by spiders in a gentle air flow which can move their prey in the the web. Some of the webs will only indicate a convection airflow in a room (which is why they are often in corners close to the ceiling). However, other locations may be a clue to a subtle draft.

January 28th

Seal the envelope (11). Window Air Conditioners. If you have a window air conditioner, take it out before the heating season, and stuff the space full of foamboard insulation, and seal all the edges of the opening with weather-sealing tape. After all, if you had a machine blocking the view all summer, you don't need that view in the winter. A few inches of insulation will be better for your heating bill than the original window.

January 29th

Seal the envelope (12). Finding the holes (still more). Infra-red imaging. A relatively new development in the past few years, thermal imaging devices can take a heat picture of your home. Best done on cold days (or nights), so the contrast is more stark. Used outside the house, hot spots are usually the indicator of points where heat is escaping from your building. Used indoors, cold spots are the likely trouble points. The professional cameras are still a bit spendy, but more affordable models are available for under $500. However, you may be able to hire the job out, rent or borrow a camera. Another option is to use a thermometer gun, usually about a hundred dollars ore less. This is much more time-consuming, but if you have a candidate spot in mind, it may suffice to prove the point. I have also heard that military surplus night-vision goggles or binoculars can be somewhat useful for this purpose.

January 30th

Shopping Tip: Skip the drive-through lane. I'm not suggesting that we sleep-deprived Canadians take to the wheel without our caffeine hit. However, if you make that first coffee at home, it will cost you less, and reduce our use of disposable cup and lid by one, every day.

January 31st

If you still want/need to go to the coffee shop to start your day, park your car and walk up to the counter. The fuel you don't burn stacked up in the drive-through lane will reduce your GHG emissions, and your fuel bill.

Better still, take your re-usable travel mug in with you. Most coffee shops will give you a discount on your beverage (typically 10 cents). Reduced emissions and a small savings on your morning coffee - now that's the way to start your day!

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