What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Energy and Water Conservation Pays Off!

Energy conservation is something that is on everyone's minds today. The driving force for many is simply a desire to save money on their utility bills. However, many more including ourselves have a desire to reduce our carbon footprint and put less of a strain on the environment. The primary method I use to determine if we are lowering our water, natural gas and electric consumption is to analyze the utility bills.

water usageWater Bill

Water plays a large part in our lives because we are surrounded by the Great Lakes. So not only do we use water for our daily living, we live on waterfront property and we use water for entertainment. We have always been concerned about water conservation and water pollution. Despite raising a somewhat larger family our water bills have always hovered between $40 and $50 per month. Our water bills consist of a charge for water consumption as well as a sanitation charge for sewage. As consumption increases so to does the sanitation charge.

According to Environment Canada, the average household uses 10 to 25 cubic meters of water per month1. One cubic meter of water equals 1,000 L or 220 gallons. So the average household uses 2,200 to 5,500 gallons of water per month. Our current water bill came in at 6 cubic meters or 1,320 gallons of water for a 3 month period or 440 gallons per month. The total cost went from an average of $33 per month to less than $18 per month. This 3 month bill was $54.13 and the previous 3 month bill was $43.88 or $16.34 per month over the last 6 months. How did we do it?

What's working for us to conserve water:

  • high efficiency front loading washer used only with full load
  • high efficiency dishwasher used only when full
  • 5 minute showers with energy efficient shower head
  • replaced boiling vegetables to steaming, less water and nicer results
  • vegetable/cooking water is saved for watering potted plants
  • left-over tea or coffee is also used to water plants
  • one toilet is a low flush model
  • rain barrels for watering gardens
  • being conscious of how we use water
One of our toilets is not low flush so will be replaced with a 4L/6L dual flush when we renovate. We further save on water costs by not buying or using bottled water if at all possible. We use refillable water bottles instead. In terms of water usage, we are likely about a low as we can get but will still look for other ways to reduce our water consumption.

natural gas graphNatural Gas Usage Graph

We have the following natural gas appliances: outdoor grill, hot water tank, fireplace, dryer and furnace. The outdoor grill is used year round as is the dryer. The hot water tank is old so we are planning on replacing it before summer with 2 on demand water heaters. One will eliminate a long run of about 70 ft to the kitchen. The other will service the two bathrooms.

On first glance our natural gas usage graph is not all that impressive and it really doesn't look like we have changed our usage at all. In comparing A (2007-08) heating season to B (2009-09) heating season there are a couple of notables though. First you will notice in A a steady climb in natural gas used followed by a sharp decrease. In B there is no steady increase but rather a large jump in natural gas used. In the summer of 2008 we suspected a small gas leak at the meter. We called the gas company who checked it and painted the meter. They told us the meter was fine and wasn't scheduled for replacement for a couple more years. Still we suspected a problem. The first week of February 2009 the gas company called wanting to change the meter (story here) and while they never did say there was a leak I can't help wonder at the apparent jump in gas usage. The graph gives a lovely visual of our gas usage and is great for troubleshooting. If there is a spike where there shouldn't be then immediately we know there is a problem. However, the graph does not tell the whole picture.

natural gas chartNatural Gas Usage History

Highlighted in red is the 2007-08 heating season while the 2008-09 heating season is in blue. Essentially our heating season is 7 months long. Total natural gas used for the 2007-08 heating season was 1,914.657 cubic metres while we used 1,903.634 cubic metres for the 2008-09 heating season. Essentially we used 11.023 cubic metres less during the 2008-09 heating season. Well that doesn't seem like much, does it? Let's look a bit closer though.

During the 2007-08 heating season the average monthly temperature was 2.428ºC. In comparison the 2008-09 heating season averaged 1.143ºC per month. In short, the 2008-09 heating season was colder than the 2007-08 heating season yet we used less natural gas despite a suspected small meter leak! Immediately this tells me we are doing something right. All of the caulking and sealing we have done since moving here in 2007 is paying off. The tighter we get the house sealed the lower the temperature we can keep it at. The house itself is well sheltered with the main level mainly below ground making it quite energy efficient. The programmable thermostat was set to 19ºC during the day and 15ºC at night. On extra damp days we supplemented using the natural gas fireplace for a few hours. We also used the fireplace in place of the furnace on milder days, shutting off rooms not being used.

Despite these encouraging results, I feel there is still a lot more we can do. We discovered more drafts during this past heating season, some that could not be fixed until nicer weather. We are planning on adding storm doors and replacing one large window. The entire 1 foot deep wells around the lower patio doors and one large lower window will be opened, sealed with expandable foam then closed. All window weatherstripping will be replaced this spring. As always we will be sealing any cracks allowing drafts as we discover them. We will also be tackling the problem of the gas fireplace installed in the opening of the original wood fireplace but not correctly sealed or insulated. We currently put plastic up on the 3 season upper sunroom for the winter. This acts as an excellent windbreak as well as creating a solar heat sink on sunny winter days where we can open the upper patio doors letting the free heat into the house. I'm working on a few more solar ideas for heating as well so will write more on solar heating in a separate post.

Electricity: Our electric bills average $100 per month with about 56% of that in service charge and the rest actual usage. The average household uses 1,000 kWh per month. We consistently come in just under the 600 kWh per month range. Much of what we change now as far as reducing electricity usage is not going to have much of an impact in terms of kW used. The design of our house means there are lights on in the lower, main living level basically from the time we get up until the time we go to bed. They are all CFL lights in the daytime spectrum. The majority of our outdoor lighting is solar supplemented with CFL only when absolutely needed. Our range is electric and the new smoothtop cartridges are more energy efficient than the coil cartridges (story here). This will save a little for daily cooking but the key thing is every time we can save a little it is an environmental plus! At the same time we are changing a few bad habits like leaving the energy efficient main computer on 24/7 unless away. Off means 0 kW used! So we really are going in a couple of directions with respect to electricity. We are incorporating more solar inside while practicing conservation. In terms of costs with the ever increasing cost of electricity we likely won't seen much of a cost savings but what we should see is a continuing decline the the amount of kWh used.

Garden Gnome