How to shrink your carbon footprint and save money

Small investments can make a big impact

Saving money by becoming more energy efficient is easier than you think, and the Alberta government is determined to help you get started.

The province’s much talked-about carbon levy – an additional charge added to carbon-based fuels – came into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. The first rebate cheques (up to $420) arrived a few days later in the bank accounts of lower- and middle-income Albertans to help offset the cost of the levy – and perhaps encourage greater energy efficiency.

“There’s a vast majority of people in Alberta who live in energy poverty, where they cannot afford to improve the energy consumption of their home or business because of the upfront cost,” says Brandon Sandmaier (Industrial Heavy Equipment Technology ’04, Alternative Energy Technology ’16).

As the managing partner at Generate Energy, a St. Albert-based company that installs solar energy systems and conducts residential and commercial energy assessments, Sandmaier says the rebates – or other investments we make in our homes – could mitigate these costs and yield substantial long-term savings.

“The first step should be conserving the energy you already have and are already using,” says Sandmaier’s business partner Jeremy Frentz (Alternative Energy Technology ’16). Here are their recommendations for ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and start saving money right now.

electrical plugSwitch to LED lighting
Cost: $100 – $300 for bulbs

There are LED options for almost any style or size of bulb. They last for 15 to 20 years, fit common fixtures and are dramatically more efficient than other types of light.

“The biggest flaw of an incandescent lightbulb is it produces 95 per cent heat – only five per cent of the energy results in visible light,” Sandmaier explains. “So something that we use for light is actually more of a heater.”

Despite the upfront costs, switching to LED bulbs today will pay instant dividends, saving you more money than if you wait for your incandescent bulbs to burn out before replacing them, adds Frentz.

Use a programmable thermostat
Cost: $300 – 350

A properly programmed digital thermostat will produce considerable energy savings. Sandmaier recommends setting your furnace to a lower temperature (between 16 C and 18 C) when you’re not home and while you’re sleeping. Set it to warm up the house about an hour before returning or waking up.

For around $300, you can get a smart thermostat that can be controlled by your phone and is able to program itself. Nest Learning thermostats note your preferred temperatures and will create a schedule based on roughly a week of your comings and goings. A Wi-Fi connected thermostat such as Ecobee uses online forecasts to anticipate weather changes and adjusts the temperature in your home accordingly.

Replace weather stripping 
Cost: $50 – $100 per door

Sandmaier says weather stripping is an important but overlooked maintenance item in most homes. “Weather stripping degrades very quickly with our winters and high heat in the summer, and from just opening doors and windows.” Significant gaps can cause extensive energy loss. Even in newer homes, weather stripping might need to be adjusted due to settling or hasty installations.

Fill cracks and crevices
Cost: $20 – $60

Inadequate insulation around windows can lead to another source of heat loss, says Sandmaier. Remove the casing around the frame and, if necessary, fill in gaps with spray foam. Be sure to use products specifically designed for windows. The right foam will create a vapour barrier to prevent condensation behind the casing and also remain flexible once it’s dry so it won’t put excess pressure on the window frames.

mobile energy monitoring systemInstall an energy monitoring system
Cost: $300 – $400

The best way to become more energy efficient is to change your behaviour. Turn off unnecessary lights and unplug “power vampires” that draw electricity even when they’re not in use, such as phone chargers, coffee makers and video game consoles.

To zero in on the worst offenders, Frentz suggests installing an energy monitoring system on your breaker panel, allowing you to see real-time electricity use in your home on a smartphone or tablet.

“You can walk through your house and start turning lights on and off, unplugging certain appliances and start to get a feel for how much energy these devices use,” says Frentz.

Starting at $300 (plus the cost of an electrician), these systems differ based on the level of detail they provide. Neurio, for example, gives a snapshot of your total energy use, whereas eGauge connects to each breaker to provide a detailed readout per circuit.

“When you see how much energy some appliances actually use, it’s quite significant,” says Frentz. “It definitely makes you think differently about those behavioural changes that don’t cost anything.”

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