By Ruth Kamnitzer
Like many people, the environment wasn’t the first thing on Bruce Murdoch’s mind when he first began watching his energy consumption.
“About 17 years ago I got hit by a big bill that really floored me”, he explained, “but while my first interest was purely economic, as I began to understand climate change, I saw that saving energy could really be a win-win situation.”
And that’s good news, because as a certified housing professional, Bruce is able to turn his commitment to energy efficiency into smart building and renovation practices that create comfortable energy efficient homes that, as he puts it, ‘don’t break the bank.’
Bruce shared some of his top tips via zoom this week at the Cranbrook Climate Hub’s Climate Friday, a monthly talk highlighting sustainability related issues and initiatives relevant to the East Kootenay. And with the many incentives available to homeowners through CleanBC’s BetterHomes BC website, now is a great time to start looking at how to improve energy efficiency in an existing home or a new build.
According to Bruce, careful planning can go a long way towards increasing efficiency at minimal cost; on a home his team recently built in Kimberley they achieved an energy efficiency of more than 40% better than a standard home (Step Code 4) with only a few thousand dollars extra investment.
“Air tightness was something we really focused on”, he explained. That meant sealing up all those little places air (and heat) leak, from the basement slab to the window joints. And while this is easiest on new build, Bruce also gave some tips on how to find and fix air leakage in an existing home. ‘Check around the window frames’ he advised ‘you can pop those off and seal it up with some spray foam’.
Of course, increased airtightness means you need to think more seriously about ventilation to maintain healthy air quality. The answer is a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) which captures 70% of the energy from the outgoing stale air and transfers it to the incoming air; fresh air without a cold blast. As these become standard in new homes, prices continue to fall.
Heat pumps are another great innovation, yet at 5-6000 dollars, one that many shy away from. But here’s where strategic thinking comes in. “As soon as someone tells me they need air conditioning” Bruce says “I tell them adding a heat pump to that is only another 1,200 dollars or so. It’s a no brainer”.
And the final piece of the puzzle? Rooftop solar. Though the initial investment can feel substantial, costs are coming down all the time. Add in the ability to sell power back to the grid and rebates currently being offered, and panels start to look like a very attractive investment.
Bruce’s pragmatic approach is what also helped him to cut his personal energy consumption – in half. ‘I must of done 50 different things,’ he says “some big and some small”. One of the most important was always considering the ‘energy factor’ when existing appliances needed replacing. “For us the dryer was an obviously culprit. The kids were living at home and it seemed that thing was going 24/7.” So, when the washing machine eventually needed to be replaced, he chose one with a high extraction setting, meaning that clothes needed less time in the power hungry dryer. Choosing a multi-step furnace and an on demand hot water system are other smart choices when it comes time to replace old models.
Small things can make a difference too. A programmable thermostat lets you turn down your heat at night, or access your thermostat if you’ve forgotten to turn it down when going away for the weekend. Beware of ‘energy vampires’ like desktops and entertainment systems that draw power when on charge or in standby mode. Turn them off when not in use or buy a programmable smartplug that automatically turns them off at night. Switching to LED lighting when bulbs need replacing is another wise idea.
With BC’s push for net zero ready homes by 2032, there’s a whole raft of rebates available to those looking to lower energy usage. I typed Cranbrook into BetterHomes BC’s website and found over 30 offers for someone renovating an existing home, and up to $25000 for those building a new home. Even better, many of these rebates were doubled if you registered before Dec. 31st. With all these ideas, rebates and innovations, maybe this year is the time to put ‘energy efficiency’ at the top of your New Year’s resolutions list.
Cranbrook Climate Hub’s next Climate Friday event will be on Jan. 29, 2021. Bruce Wilson of Thor Hydrogen & Iron and Earth will discuss hydrogen’s role in decarbonization. For more information or to register please email firstname.lastname@example.org or see their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CranbrookClimateHub
For information on rebates for energy efficiency improvements, please see www.betterhomesbc.ca/rebate-guide/
A special thank you to Bruce Murdoch of K Country Homes for sharing his expertise. You can find him at www.kcountryhomes.com