Let’s start with a simple truth. While it’s important for citizens of Orillia and elsewhere to reduce their personal emissions—sometimes referred to as their “carbon footprint”—the most important thing we can do as citizens is demand that our governments act to force industry and corporations to take serious action to reduce the emissions that result from their activities. For example, governments around the world—including Canada—must stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies and put that money instead into the development of green energy.
A recent report by the government-funded Trottier Energy Institute, as reported in the Globe and Mail, points out that “to reach net zero, Ottawa needs to focus its efforts on industry, energy providers and ‘the private sector in general’.” The way Canada’s economy is structured and the way domestic emissions are counted, less than 20 per cent of greenhouse emissions are attributable to “citizens’ direct choices,” mostly around vehicles and home heating.
Can industry and the corporate world make these changes? Absolutely. For example, the technology now exists to make cement/concrete and steel with much-reduced emissions. Another example? Around the world—and right here in Orillia—“passive houses” that require little energy to heat or cool them are being built. And these technologies will only improve as the drive to reduce carbon emissions gains momentum in the next few years.
So the most important thing all of us can do as individuals is to engage in political action—and not just during an election, but every week, even several days a week. Join the Sustainable Orillia movement here in our community. Pick up the phone or write a letter to your MP and/or MPP. Send an email to the Prime Minister or the Premier of Ontario. Sign an online petition. Don’t let our elected representatives put this issue aside. Don’t let them think they can ignore the necessary actions and still be re-elected next time around. Be clear—you will NOT vote for a politician or candidate who doesn’t see climate action as her/his first priority!
But this article is also about things you can do personally to reduce your housing emissions. Canadian carbon emissions per capita come in among the highest in the world. Individually we use almost twice as much energy as citizens of China—and ten times as much as citizens of many African countries. And while there are reasons for this situation, our vast distances and cold climate being most often cited, there are still dozens of ways for each of us to reduce our personal footprints, especially in our housing and transportation.
Today’s focus is on the easiest—and least expensive—things we can do to reduce energy use in our houses and apartments. The occasional page references are to BF Nagy’s The Clean Energy Age, a source of information we’ve recommended in earlier articles—and recommend again.
- Choose modern low-flow plumbing. Low-flow faucets and showerheads reduce not only your water usage, but also the electricity needed to produce hot water since you’re using less of it.
- Add drain water heat recovery to your shower pipe. This “drain heat recovery” can recover about 60% of the water heat energy in an average house. The heat energy from the outgoing shower water or warm wastewater (from your clothes washer, for example) is transferred to incoming water. A simple device, once installed, it works for decades. (92)
- Replace old lighting with LED lighting. Experts say that one of the best investments you can make is to modernize lighting. Paybacks (savings paying for the cost) are about one to four years (85). Saveonenergy.ca also provides information on “smart plugs and receptacles,” “smart switches” and “smart bulbs—along with many other energy-saving tips.
- Use power strips. Many appliances—especially computers and entertainment equipment—use power even when not in use (often referred to as “phantom power”). In some new-build modern homes, you can have a single manual kill switch near the door that cuts the power on everything except a few essential items like the fridge, freezer, heating and cooling (17).
- If you can, replace old, inefficient appliances with Energy Star models (17). Clothing dryers, water heaters, refrigerators, freezers and older-style air-conditioning consume a surprising amount of power. Energy Star is an international efficiency standard for consumer products, though some products may be efficient even without this label.
- Finally, yet other relatively low-cost ways to reduce energy use:
- Buy a programmable thermostat
- Clean your refrigerator coils 2-3 times a year
- Use cold water for laundry (bonus: cold water washing is easier on your clothing’s colours)
- Add weather-stripping to doors and windows and add insulation to your attic space.
Again, as we’ve noted in other articles, taking steps like this not only reduces your share of harmful emissions, but also ends up saving money. Electricity costs are a substantial part of most households’ expenses. Reducing use of electricity in the ways listed above is a win-win strategy—better for the environment and better for your wallet.
There are more expensive changes that can save even more energy, of course. Watch for an article coming soon that will outline which of those should be priorities for all homeowners.
1. Canada falling behind on promised climate goals, report says. The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) October 6, 2021.
2. Nagy, BF. The Clean Energy Age: a guide to beating climate change. Rowman & Littlefield. Lanham, Maryland. 2018.