Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Category: Eco-Living (page 3 of 4)

Why we need to consume less electricity

Here in Quebec, our hydro-electricity is so readily available that we have the cheapest rates in North America. Electricity is abundant, the valleys are already flooded, ecosystems lost ages ago (seriously though: dams are a problem), and the resulting methane production is dwindling. So why would anyone care about how much clean electricity we use? After all, it is the best in Canada (ergo, North America) for GHG emissions. We seem to have done a few things right, no?

Well, yes, but wait. As more people move to the cities [when they should really be moving (back) to the regions], efficiency increases the perception of abundance, and the draw on the power grid increases. The cities are not doing enough, yet, for themselves to keep the demand steady-or-less, or supply more of their own. Until businesses, municipalities, and utilities develop a local private/community power model, that electricity must come from somewhere. HydroQuébec doesn’t have many, or even any, incentive programs to help people switch to off-grid electricity generation, though, unbeknownst to many, it finally established a net metering option for self-generators to feed power back in to the grid. That will help a bit.

“During cold periods, consume wisely.” So unplug unneeded devices, put the dishwasher and laundry on timed delay, and program your thermostats!

Elsewhere, many utilities practice load-balancing: timing periods of demand by offering consumers preferred rates, after businesses close down for the evening and overnight (when one can run the dishwasher, laundry, bathe and shower, and charge electronics). HydroQuébec doesn’t do this, either. And yet meeting future peak demand is why they want to develop new sources.

The kicker is, cheap electricity is practically designed for waste.

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Changing the lighting – a renovation to conserve energy

When I came up with the idea for Green4r | V3rt [now Rewilding], I wanted to learn the business by doing it for myself. I identified a bunch of green projects, put them into a table, and identified the priorities based on how they connected to each other, like so:

Click to look closer at how it’s set up

One of the first projects that I could get off the ground was changing the lighting – and it was a lot of changes. Here is one reason it was so necessary:

Though it may not be obvious, that is a recessed lighting pot, with a junction box attached to it

Recessed lighting, so beloved by designers and normal humans alike, should not be put into a ceiling that goes into the attic or space below the roof. It might look nice, but the fact is, you’re creating a hole 5″ in diameter through which all the heat escapes. As heat rises, you’re pulling air in from below, which means you are paying to heat fresh air that must come in from the outside.

My attic has 11 rows of batts, which I will double, to take my attic insulation from R-20 to R-40 or R-50.

Not only that, but unless you had put in a fireproof box surrounding that lighting pot – not many people have done this (it only marginally reduces the escape of heat from your home) – you are putting yourself at risk of an electrical fire in your attic, because like the picture demonstrates, the insulation bats were layered on top. The dark staining that you see on the Fiberglass Pink is where the batt has acted like an air filter. It gets dirty. Fibreglass is slow to catch fire, but it can if things melt down due to heat or sparks fly out due to damage.

One of my priority projects was to remove the seven recessed lights in my attic ceiling to cut down on those drafts. Three were in the foyer ceiling (pictured below), and four in the bathroom.

The third lighting unit is somewhat obscured by the chandelier
Two removed from the bathroom – with a slot cut for fishing a wire through to a new place for a sconce light

I moved these recessed lights down to my finished basement, which was dreadfully dim, with only one recessed light and a couple of sconces. But first: I finally found some sconces I liked, at ReStore, the store for recycling home renovation materials and decor.

A bad pic, but they are fancy!

Here are some pics of the basement now that I moved five recessed lights down there (there are now six). How dim it was before the change! Although I had two table lamps and two desk lamps that kept things cozy and functional.

The pendulum lamp above my couch is a kitschy red light (so I moved it to the bedroom). My basement is due for a declutter.
The two sconces – they are on a separate switch from the recessed lights
The holes in the ceiling, patched (but not painted yet), and the new sconce, which is connected to the ventilation switch. It more brightly illuminates the shower and the toilet.

Meanwhile, upstairs, I patched over the holes in the ceiling. I also installed a new sconce in the bathroom, and temporarily installed some old track lighting with the fixtures I want to keep, while I wait to get started with the solar tunnel project. That will be happening in December.

Urban soil and how we handle it, in perpetuity

This post is based on a meeting I had with Eric Duchemin, Associate Professor of Science and the Environment at UQAM, who has taught students working in urban agriculture for several years now. (I participated in the École d’été sur agriculture urbaine in 2010.) A grad student giving a talk about the urban agricultural history of Montreal, so I took the opportunity to ask Eric some questions about remediating landscapes and urban soil and returning it back to primary use – that is, forestry and agriculture.
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Saving electricity in winter

First, do this test for your electricity efficiency!

the reno-climat program

There’s a difficulty with most so-called economic behaviour in the world: it pays attention only to the first price tag, and rarely to the second. The first price tag is the sticker at the store. The second price tag is the cost of operation and maintenance. Then, there’s also the third – the price you don’t pay, but someone else does. It’s called an externality, and there’s a lot of that going on, and it usually falls to government to pay it – or no one at all.

Truly economic behaviour would consider all prices, including these externalities. For these, a mitigation fee could be paid. I’m going to talk about this now, but first, admire this rubber coaster:

Ontario has a Tire Stewardship Program;
this is one of two coasters I have of recycled rubber.

In Quebec, we pay the Electronic Waste fee when we buy electronics (such as an iPad). We also pay an environmental tax when we buy tires – at $3 per tire. Then, when you want to scrap your tires, you can bring them to any garage that does tire service, no questions asked. They go to a recycling plant. They used to be stockpiled – a good thing to do when recycling technology hasn’t kept pace with the supply – but then, someone accidentally set some ablaze in the early 1990’s. That kicked recycling into high gear! Last summer, Quebec announced that the last stockpiled tires from its various dumps have now all been recycled.

Now I’m going to bring this post back home, so to speak.
When you buy a home, it’s good to consider all the costs. After the purchase price, you first have to pay the mortgage and condo fees; second: annual tax; third and fourth: annual insurance and energy bills; fifth: initial repairs/renovations; sixth: excise/land transfer/”bienvenue” tax and other closing/selling costs. When I was shopping for a home, I created a spreadsheet to track these, along with square footage and features. It helped me consider the value of what I was looking at purchasing.

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Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.


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