Shopping for energy efficiency

Better energy management often means investing in alternative products and technologies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money – it could be as simple as buying some wooden clothes pegs and a clothesline to take a load off your electric dryer. In the last decade, hundreds of products and services designed to help save energy and money have hit the market. The best way to determine whether or not they actually work is by looking for the “Power Saver” or “Energuide” labels.

The Power Saver symbol identifies manufacturers, retailers, contractors, builders, installers and architects who sell, manufacture, install or distribute products that Ontario Hydro has deemed energy efficient. The products are arranged in categories: appliances, water-saving devices, lighting, insulation, heating cooling and ventilation, and miscellaneous (cords for vehicle block heaters, clotheslines, etc.). Not every product in those categories qualifies as a proven energy saving product, so make sure you look for the logo on the dealer’s premises. If they are displaying the logo, they can provide you with information on energy saving products.

Buying Products

SHOWERHEADS: Water heating is the second largest energy user in the average home, accounting for 20 per cent of the typical energy bill. Not surprisingly, showers represent the single largest user of hot water. Short of taking fewer showers, an energy efficient showerhead is the most cost-efficient way to tame this number one hot water user.Energy saving showerheads don’t usually cost more than $50; some are available for as little as $8. Without sacrificing a thing – there is no noticeable difference in water flow – you can cut hot water use by a third, which works out to about 28,000 litres of water over the course of a year. An energy saving showerhead should have a flow rate of less than 11.0 litres/minute or 2.5 gallons/minute. They fit standard 1/2-inch threaded shower arms. In areas with heavy water sediments, regular cleaning is recommended to gurantee good performance. Try cleaning it in a bath of vinegar.

FAUCET AERATORS: At a cost of between 50 cents and $3.50, you can screw a faucet aerator onto your tap to cut unnecessary water flow. It works on the same principle as some of the low-flow showerheads: the flow seems to have the same force because of the aerating effect.

LOW-FLUSH TOILETS: A typical family of four uses more than 1,000 litres of water a day. The toilet is responsible for about 40 per cent of that. Conventional toilets use as much as 20 litres per flush. By comparison, water-saver toilets use less than 13.25 litres and low-flush toilets use six litres or less. A low-flush toilet can usually pay for itself in two or three years.

OUTDOOR TIMERS FOR BLOCK HEATERS: There are about 1/2 million block heaters in use in Ontario, and half the people who use them plug them in when they get home from work; the other half, at 11 p.m. But a car only needs two to four hours on a block heater. A timer, which costs about $30, can save up to 60 per cent of the energy.

LIGHTING: The easiest way to achieve significant energy savings in your house is to change the light bulbs. A whole new generation of lighting products makes it possible to achieve higher efficiency and higher quality. Switching to fluorescent is the most energy-efficient alternative. The quality of color rendition has been greatly improved in the newest fluorescent tubes – skin tones no longer take on that bluish, greenish hue and on average they use 60 to 80 per cent less energy than incandescents. They cost more than bulbs, but last 10 to 20 times longer. They are ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, workrooms and in coves and valences. On the other hand, compact fluorescent bulbs are most appropriate in light fixtures that are on for more than three hours each day. These bulbs use 70 per cent lessenergy and last 10 times longer than incandescents. Halogen bulbs are a type of incandescents, but use up to 40 per cent less electricity. Most halogen bulbs operate on standard household voltage; the small low-voltage bulbs that provide the same light output as regular bulbs while consuming up to 50 per cent less power, require a special housing. If you prefer incandescent, consider switching to the new, energy saving bulbs in 34, 52, 90 and 135 watts instead of the usual 40, 60, 100 and 150. Few people notice the difference.

When shopping for new ceiling or wall fixtures, keep in mind that a fixture with a single bulb is more economical to operate and will give you more useful light than one with several bulbs having the same total wattage.

MOTION SENSORS: In addition to saving energy, equipping outdoor fixtures with a motion sensor will light the way when you or your guests approach your house, and serve as a good security measure when intruders approach. Motion sensors are also available as indoor replacements for regular light switches.

DIMMER SWITCHES: These will save energy and extend the bulb’s life. Dimmer switches also give you the option of having the lights lower in one part of the room than another. Most dimmer switches do not work with compact fluorescents, regular fluorescent tubes or some halogen lamps.

TIMERS: Programmable timers will make your house look occupied when you’re out by turning lights on and off at specified times. This costs less than simply leaving the lights on when you’re out.

Buying Appliances

Reading the Energuide label

The six major appliances consume 45 per cent of household electricity if you have gas heat/water heating and 22 per cent if you have all electric. Energy efficiency varies a surprising amount between models – some cut energy consumption in half – so it’s worth it to shop around. Before making a buying decision based on the cost of an appliance, look for the Energuide rating, which is considered the “second price tag.” Energuide takes into account the cost of operating the appliance throughout its 10- or 20-year lifespan. It gives the appliances consumption in kilowatt hours per month – the lower the number, the more efficient the appliance. To figure out the energy costs, multiply this figure by the cost per kilowatt hours (usually about $0.065). Multiply the figure by 12 to arrive at an annual cost. Over the lifetime of an appliance, you can save up to $2,400. Remember, smaller appliances use less energy. Below are some buying tips.

FRIDGE: Check for an “energy-saver” switch, which allows you to change the setting when the air is very humid and condensation forms on the outside of the fridge. A fridge with wheels is easier to move in order to clean and vacuum the coils (regular cleaning makes it run more efficiently). An old “basement” fridge can cost up to $100 per year to operate. It’s wiser to keep one larger energy efficient fridge.

FREEZER: Chest freezers are more efficient than uprights because they retain the cold better and keep more cold air in when the door is opened.

CLOTHES DRYER: Look for a dryer with a cool-down cycle, which tumbles clothes in cooler air during the last five to 10 minutes. Look for an electronic moisture sensor to turn the dryer off when clothes are dry.

DISHWASER: More than 80 per cent of the operating power is used to heat the water, so choose a dishwasher with a short or “econo-wash” cycle. Look for an energy saver switch that turns off the heating element, allowing dishes to air-dry. An extra powerful spray action cuts down on water use. A delay-wash option lets you program your dishwasher to come on late at night when you’re not using hot water for other things.

CLOTHES WASHER: Look for models that offer cold wash and rinse cycles and a water level control for shorter, gentle cycles. Front-loading washers use less hot water since they move the water and clothes around more efficiently.

STOVE: Self-cleaning ovens cost more but are better insulated and therefore use less energy for normal use. Look for oven doors that are well-insulated and fit tightly.

ELECTRIC WATER HEATERS: When buying an electric water heater or having one installed, check for the CSA label on the tank to ensure that it meets safety standards. A pressure relief valve is also essential and is purchased separately. All installations should be carried out by qualified personnel and must pass on Ontario Hydro electrical inspection. A setting of 60 [degrees] C (140 [degrees] F) is recommended by manufacturers.