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:
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.
When it comes to energy – gasoline, electricity, other fuel – as a primary producing nation, Canadians often pay too low a price. We don’t pay much attention as to how we use it, except we exclaim when the rates go up, or if there’s a sudden spike in use we don’t expect.
Nonetheless, those winter heating bills are something to contend with when it’s -25ºC. I ran into someone at Home Depot who was shopping for Roxul, rock wool, to insulate his 1950’s home, like I’m planning to do. He told me about the comfort already achieved in his kids’ bedrooms by upgrading the insulation, and the ongoing process of things he had to do. There’s a lot of information out there, particularly on YouTube, about how to upgrade your insulation in various parts of the home. There are a few tax-incentive and utility company programs that help people pay for the upgrades, too, so look into it. The Rénoclimat program allows you to measure your home efficiency and get a rebate on the work you carry out, and low-income folks can use the Econologis program to improve their own dwelling’s energy efficiency.
When I had my house tested for the Energy Retrofit a few years ago – and I intend to use the Rénoclimat program again this year – I found out that my house exchanges air with the outside a whopping 14 times per hour. My house was rated a 66, but the most efficient houses are rated in the 80’s. I know I can improve it.
Becoming more energy-efficient is a mix of habit and customization
For example, if you put on a housecoat and slippers, you can keep your thermostats at 18º. You should seal off drafts with caulking and weather-stripping. You could run cold water in the laundry (or a tepid 20º-30º; turn down the pressure of the tap, or the thermostat on the hot water tank, especially if you do a lot of laundry.
Set up your entertainment unit so that you switch off the power bar when you go to bed. For devices you don’t use often, just unplug them. They run what is called a phantom or ghost load with the Standby power feature – I mentioned it in this post regarding putting my iMac to sleep.
Interesting to note: phantom power and ghost load have other very specific meanings, one for audio equipment, and one for shotguns.
You can also try, like me and many good country folks, closing your bedroom doors so they’re not heated by the rest of the house. People usually sleep well in the cold. (Psst. It’s okay to use incandescent bulbs in winter, at least if they’re at person-height. They cast off waste heat. They make you feel good when you’re reading or working next to them. Go ahead.)
I reduced the annual electricity consumption of my house by at least 20% in the first two years of living here, and considerably more compared to the previous owner and at least one of my tenants from when I’ve gone away. In fact – I didn’t notice this until now – but in the summer, I joined the 10 kWh club. My daily consumption between May 29th and September 25th, 2013 was 6 kWh per day. That is awesome!
(Of course, now that the heat is back on, it’s over 25 kWh per day. I will add insulation one of these coming years.)
Here is a graph of my electricity consumption since I started the above measures. It doesn’t graph against the weather, but most electricity use depends on the weather.
Why is this important?
Because HydroQuebec needs to export more electricity to supplant environmentally-damaging sources like coal, without converting to similar methods themselves, as they are planning to do. I’m not talking about windmills, though the monopoly on how we do grids here is a whole other kettle of fish, and makes wind the “enemy” to a lot of people. I’m talking forest biomass conversion, which impoverishes source ecosystems.
Also published on Medium.