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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog

Alberta homes have an enormous ecological footprint. There are nearly one million homes in the province, and their construction required substantial resources of materials and energy to build. Every year, our homes consume massive quantities of energy for power, heat, cooling and water. Polls show that more than three-quarters of Canadians feel that sustainability should be a top national priority. The biggest impact we can have on reducing our energy consumption and going easier on the planet can be attained right at home. How energy efficient are most of our homes" In most cases, they are less than optimal, and in many cases, they are wasteful gluttons. Generally speaking, houses built 40 and 50 years ago aren"t as energy efficient as those built today, but even newer homes can always been more frugal with the resources they consume.

A new publication by Natural Step, (www.naturalstep.ca) funded in part by the Alberta Real Estate Association (AREA), is aimed at helping homeowners make a difference by making sustainable and healthier choices right at home. As the booklet puts it: "By taking a few minutes to read and go room by room through your new house, you will learn about simple decisions and different options that will help you save money, improve your health and reap many other benefits of sustainability."

Making our homes more sustainable not only saves money in energy and other costs, but it also increases resale value and makes living spaces more comfortable. It truly is a win-win situation.

The publication also encourages us to reduce our ecological footprint by reducing our use of resources like power and water. That means not leaving the tap running all the time when washing dishes and not using a dishwasher unless absolutely necessary or, like we"ve done at my house, not using a dishwasher at all. Okay, well, I"m the designated dishwasher.

Choose detergents that are free from hazardous chemicals and compounds, which will reduce your family’s exposure to them, and reduce the quantities entering the watercourse. Whenever possible, support local farmers by buying locally produced seasonal and organic foods. It’s good for the Alberta economy and it cuts down on fossil fuel use needed to transport food. That’s the idea behind the 100-mile diet.

Before shopping, ask whether you really need a certain item, how it was produced, how it will affect your health, and what you"ll do with it when you no longer need it. Will it go to the landfill, or can it be recycled"

Check out the Canadian government’s list of ECO labelled products at www.environmentalchoice.com and the "Eat Well Guide" at www.eatwellguide.org. Skin Deep rates personal care products according to their potential to harm human health at www.cosmeticdatabase.com.

Using Energy Star appliances can increase household efficiency. When shopping for appliances, look for the numbers that rate the amount of electricity they use. www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/energystar.

Up to 80% of the energy used to wash clothes comes from heating the wash water. Washing in cold water can mean significant savings. ENERGY STAR clothes washers use up to 50% less water and at least 50% less energy per load. They can save families $150 in utility costs and more than 33,000 litres of water per year.

Get your hot water tank an insulated blanket, to keep it all snuggly and warm, and set its thermostat to a lower temperature. Scalding hot water increases the chance of somebody getting burned, and every 5.5 "C reduction saves up to 13% on water heating costs.

The amount of energy required to treat, deliver, then treat the water as sewage flushed down the toilet produces one kilogram of carbon dioxide. Low-flow toilets reduce the amount of water used and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Space heating consumes nearly 60% of the total energy use in the average Alberta house. Replacing an aging, natural gas guzzling furnace with a higher efficiency model can slash the natural gas bill by as much as a third.

Federal government ecoENERGY grants are available to help homeowners retrofit their homes to more sustainable and efficient standards. www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca. Energy Solutions Alberta also has more tips and info at www.energysolutionsalberta.com.

If you are thinking about renovating, carefully evaluate the ecological impact of the work and any new spaces. Consider making any renovated space more energy efficient by using higher efficiency heating and cooling systems, low-flow bathroom fixtures and high performance building envelope systems.

Recycled building materials are a great way to use existing resources. Find stone, tiles, bricks, windows, flooring, and much more at salvage yards and junkyards like Architectural Clearinghouse.

For more ways on making your household more sustainable, visit www.treehugger.com. The Environmental Defence website has loads of information on the toxins in household chemicals. www.environmentaldefence.ca.

Copious amounts of treated water are used to water lawns. Replacing grass with well-mulched native plants will reduce evaporation by up to 70%, helping conserve water and reduce the use of this precious resource.

For a PDF version of "Sustainability at home: A toolkit," visit www.aref.ab.ca.

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