Archive for the ‘Electronics’ category

Recycling Electronics in Quebec: Environmental Handling Fee as of October 1st, 2012

August 15th, 2012

broken keyboard, defunct speakers

Starting October 1, 2012 there will be an Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) charged to a variety of new electronics purchased in Quebec. Quebec will join 7 other provinces which currently charge an environmental handling fee for safe disposal of electronic items.

What is an environmental handling fee?: An environmental handling fee is indicated on receipts for electronic purchases as an “EHF” with an associated cost. The fee covers the cost of recovering and recycling or processing that electronic once it reaches its end of life. The money goes to the Association pour le recyclage des produits electronique du Quebec (ARPE) which manages the program, identifies and certifies recyclers and processors of electronic waste, as well as funding drop-off centres where consumers and businesses can take their old electronics. The environmental handling fee will vary by product. The fee is meant to reflect the true cost of disposing the product.

Best Buy has a document on its website which outlines what the environmental handling fees are by product and province. Visit its website to learn more.

Where electronic items can be dropped off: There are several municipalities within Quebec that already operate drop-off centres for old electronics. These will continue to exist, but will now be funded by the ARPE. There is no charge for dropping off old electronics. Keeping them out of landfill is very important, however, given that there are many valuable metals within electronics that can be extracted and reused, as well as toxic materials that should not leach into the ground. Recycling is the most reponsible method of disposing of electronic devices.

In addition to municipalities already participating in e-waste recycling, Bureau en Gros (Staples outside of Quebec) also has drop-off depots for old electronics.

All e-waste is then collected and sent to certified recyclers and processors for recovery.

For a list of depots and municipalities that participate in e-waste collection in Quebec, see this page on the ARPE site.

To find a list of depots and municipalities in other provinces, visit the EPRA homepage (Electronic Products Recycling Association) to find your province, items accepted for recycling and depots where you can drop them off.

What kinds of electronic and electrical devices can be recycled?: Below is a list of products that can currently accepted for safe disposal and recycling in Quebec. Hopefully the list will grow as the program becomes more established. (source)


What Can I Recycle (in Quebec)?


Portable Computers

  • Laptop computer
  • Notebook computer
  • Tablet computer
  • Netbook computer
  • E-book readers

Desktop Computer

  • Computer terminal
  • Desktop computer used as a server
  • Thin client or Net top Computers

Display Devices

  • Television
  • Computer monitor
  • Professional display
  • Closed circuit monitor screen
  • TV with built-in DVD and/or VCR player/recorder
  • All in one computer

Printers, Scanners and Fax Machines

  • Desktop printers
  • Desktop scanners
  • Desktop MFDs
  • Camera dock printers
  • Desktop business card scanners
  • Desktop cheque scanners
  • Desktop computer scanners
  • Desktop fax machines
  • Desktop label, barcode, card printers
  • Desktop photo negative scanner

Floor standing Print, Copy, Fax and Multi-Functions Product

  • Floor standing printers
  • Floor standing scanners
  • Floor standing MFDs
  • Floor standing fax machine drum scanners
  • Floor standing fax machine photocopiers
  • Floor standing fax machines

Computer Peripherals

  • Mouse
  • Trackball
  • Keyboard
  • Keypad
  • Cables
  • Connectors
  • Chargers
  • Remotes

NON-Cellular Phones and Answering Machines

  • Telephones (corded and cordless, VoIP, satellite phones)
  • Telephone line answering machines (cassette and digital)
  • Speaker/Conference phone

Cellular devices and Pagers

  • Cellular phones, including those offering camera, video recording and/or audio functions
  • Smart phones (cell-enabled)
  • Palmtop computers (cell-enabled)
  • Cell-enabled PDAs utilizing touch-screen technology
  • Cell-enabled handheld devices
  • Pagers
The e-waste collection programs vary significantly from province to province. British Columbia’s is the most advanced, charging handling fees on almost any computer, small appliance or electronic, but it also accepts almost all electrical devices for recycling.

::via Blueway

HeronLED Personal Task Light Made from 89% Post Consumer Recycled Plastic, Great Design

October 18th, 2011

Nancy Wahl-Scheurich with the HerronLED and components

Nancy Wahl-Scheurich is the Co-Founder of Little Footprint Lighting, a lighting company that will launch its first product: the HeronLED Personal Task Light in the next few weeks. I caught up with Nancy at Greenbuild a few weeks ago to talk about this well-designed, low energy lamp.

The Design: As I’ve always said, it doesn’t matter how eco-friendly, green, low-impact, whatever you want to call it, a product is, if it’s not well-designed and appealing to the eye, it’s a wasted product. The HeronLED is in the shape of, you guessed it, the Great Blue Heron. It has a sleek design, and the nice little vents that contribute to its herron-like appearance aren’t just a design feature, they also provide the necessary heat venting for any well-functioning LED lighting system. The individual LED bulb uses 4 Watts of electricity but provides the same amount of light as a 30Watt incandesent bulb.


HerronLED task lamp

Perhaps one of the unique features of this lamp is that in the event that the bulb stops working before the end of its estimated 15 year life span, it is replaceable. One of the issues that Nancy found while working for an architectural LED lighting company, was that in many of the LED task lamps made today, the bulb is integrated into the entire design. If something ever went wrong with the bulb, you have to throw the entire light out, yes, including the lamp! How green is that? So Nancy and her business partner, Cecilia Lobdill, set about making a lamp with replaceable bulbs. It may seem obvious to us, but apparently it isn’t in the LED task lighting industry.

Material Use: Another goal that Nancy and Cecelia had was not just to make a lamp that used a small amount of electricity, but also to ensure that the manufacturing of the product was as low-impact as possible. To this end, the body of the lamp is made from 89% post consumer recycled plastic — and not just any post consumer plastic, but e-waste plastic. Nancy found a company northern California, that recycles e-waste to an extensive degree. Not only does it separate the metal from the plastic, but the company also separates all the different types of plastics that make up electronics into their individual plastics. In the Herron’s case it uses recycled ABS plastic (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, the same plastic that is used for Lego building blocks). The plastics recycling company processes the separated ABS plastic into a pellet that consisting of 89% recycled ABS plastic and 11% additives such as colourants. The plastic pellets are shipped down the road to the manufacturing plant in San Leandro, CA. It is uses the pellets in an injection moulding process, assembles the lamp with a steel base, made from 70% recycled steel from an American manufacturer, an LED bulb which contains a CREE chip — a high quality US LED chip manufacturer. Nancy told me that the LED bulb is made in Vermont at a company called LEDdynamics. I confess, I didn’t know there were any LED lighting manfacturers in Vermont.

ABS Plastic pre-shredded (left), medium shred, (right)

ABS Plastic. Left, medium stage. Right in pellet form, ready for injection mould

The point of explaining how these desk lamps are made is to show you how much thought and effort has gone into this product. Little Footprint was out to make a well-designed, affordable, energy efficient, low-impact desk light. They even considered its end-of-life disposal. They’ve accomplished it all the while maintaining manufacturing of it within the US.  To top it all off, the company offers a five year warranty on its product. Oh, and when the lamp has reached its end of life? It can be completely recycled again. Now that’s a perfect example of a “cradle to cradle” product.

Purchase: The lamp will be on the market as of the end of the end of November — early December, 2011. Currently they are taking advance orders and are selling it through their website for the early adopters price of US$145.99. It will regularly sell for US$195.99. The company ships to Canada and the product will carry the ETL/cETL listing mark showing compliance with Canadian and US electrical safety standards.

Energy Efficiency — Creating and Implementing an Action Plan

September 10th, 2011

Woods auto shut off powerbar

I’ve written many articles on energy efficiency, and read a lot on it as well, where I’ve always gotten frustrated are the uncoordinated tips that are given about improving your home’s energy efficiency. “Buy this super duper auto shut-off plug!” “Install CFLs!” “Replace your windows and doors!” If you’re not taking targeted action, you’re not going to be as efficient as you think you are. You have to know where you use the most electricity before making changes, otherwise you’re not spending wisely, and you won’t see the results you want.

The first three articles in this series on energy efficiency involved discovering how much electricity your household uses, doing a home DIY electricity audit to determine which devices are using the most electricity, and finally, monitoring your family’s behaviour to see how electricity is being used. Now it’s time to synthesize that information and take concrete steps towards lowering your electricity consumption. You’ve done the research, now do the foot work.

Set a target. Let’s say you’ve determined that your family uses 1200 KWH of electricity per month and you want to get that consumption down to 900 KWH/month. Look through your energy audit and any notes on family behaviour regarding electricity you’ve made and decide how easily achievable the goal is (Reducing from 1200 KWH to 900 KWH is a 25% reduction, so it could be a top-lofty goal to start with).

There are four ways to reduce plug load consumption:

  • unplug,
  • use power intermittently,
  • replace items with more efficient models, substitution (ie., ceiling fans for central air),
  • change family behaviour (probably the toughest action to enforce).

Unplug. You know where electricity in your home is being used from your DIY audit. Go after the inexpensive, low hanging fruit first. No, not the light bulbs, unplugging gadgets. Unplugging is a no-brainer. Why is your VCR still plugged in? When was the last time you used it? What about that digital clock and old TV in the spare room you rarely use? What about the coffeemaker? If you don’t use the timer and it has a clock, unplug it. Any cord that comes with a DC converter and feels hot to the touch when it’s plugged in should be unplugged unless in use, particularly cellphone chargers and laptops. Those chargers draw power even when nothing’s attached to them. If you’ve done a meticulous electricity audit, you can see on paper just how much electricity you’ll stop using by unplugging gadgets and just how close to your goal the unplugging will bring you. Not only have you not spent a dime to make changes, you’re now paying less to your utility company too.

Use power intermittently. This means put gadgets on timers, unplug cellphone chargers when something’s finished charging. Learn how to program and use your thermostat for both winter and summer. The earliest models were a pain to program, but the current models walk you through programming fairly easily. Schedule 15 minutes one weekend morning and program your thermostat to meet your family’s needs.

Add auto-shut off bars to your gaming stations, computer stations, and anything else that uses a lot of phantom power, such as cell phone chargers. You can plug several cords into one unit, so you will likely only need two or three cords, maybe you even have some already that you bought with good intentions, but just never got around to using properly.

Look at your DIY Audit, figure out how many power cords you’ll need, then program the devices to be on for only a few hours a day (why turn on a gaming station before 4 in the afternoon, or even, during the week if your kids aren’t allowed to game during the week?).

If you use your outdoor lighting every night, all night, you might want to consider putting it on timers or sensors so that it only goes on when someone approaches. We only use our outdoor lights when we’re expecting company (or the pizza delivery guy), because there’s a street light outside our home that does the job.

Go to saveONenergy for money-saving coupons on many energy efficient products including light bulbs, sensors and auto shut-off timers. Note: coupons are valid in Ontario only.

Calculate how much electricity you’d save if items were completely off for 18 hours per day and see how close you’re getting to your target.

Replace items with more efficient models. This is the area where some investment is involved, so you might want to develop a budget and see how much you’re prepared to do and when.

Lighting. In our house lighting counts for up to 20% of our over all electricity consumption, so it’s worthwhile examining where changes can be made to have an impact on overall efficiency. However, I have a confession to make: I hate CFL bulbs. I don’t like the light they cast or how long it takes for them to warm up. They don’t last as long as they’re touted to because (and no one ever tells you this) the more often you turn them on and off, the shorter their lifespan; they’ve got mercury in them, and you just know that some people are not going to dispose of them responsibly so some are likely ending up in landfill. It’s hard to find dimmable CFLs, and finally, I don’t like their shape because they don’t fit with some of my lamps. Harrumph. But I still use them. Not everywhere, just where I have a tendency to have lights on all the time, like in my office, the rec. room, and the kitchen.

Before changing all your light bulbs to CFLs and LEDs think about what really needs changing. Don’t bother replacing bulbs that are rarely used, ie., basement or hall closets, any other rooms/lamps where lights are rarely turned on. It’s not worth the money, and you won’t be saving enough electricity to make a difference. The next time those burn out, replace it with something more efficient. In the mean time focus on the rooms where lights are on the most often. In our house it’s the kitchen, the office and the rec. room. They all contain CFLs (even though I hate them). Not only will you see a significant drop in electricity consumption, but in the summer they generate less heat relieving your air conditioner of some stress too. Of course the corollary of that is that they generate less heat in the winter, so you might be increasing your heating bill slightly.

I like LED bulbs. They’re dimmable, they’re better looking, the light they cast is crisp. Plus, they don’t have any mercury in them. Because they’re still not cost effective for short-term decisions, it’s best to replace lights where they’re used the majority of the time. Buying LEDs, however, isn’t as simple as going into Home Depot and picking up a few, so I’ve written an article on how to buy LED lights. Invest in good quality ones and they will last the 75,000 to 100,000 hours they say they will.

Appliances. The next time you need new appliances, look for the most efficient Energy Star appliances you can afford. Here’s the thing about Energy Star, in order to be certified, an appliance needs to be at least 20% more efficient than its non-Energy Star counterpart. But there are many, many brands that go much farther beyond the 20% more efficient. Read labels and Energuide information that’s tacked on the front of all models and compare to the brand beside it. European models are so much more efficient than most North American models it’s not even funny — but they’re also considerably more expensive and may be hard or expensive to repair if anything goes wrong. Buy new appliances when you need them, and figure out which one is going to make the biggest dent in your electricity bill (most likely the fridge and the washer).

Note that central air conditioners and furnaces are also Energy Star rated, as are new homes, but not ovens or dryers. If you know how much energy your current appliances use, you can figure out how much electricity a new model is going to save you.

Ceiling fans: There are Energy Star rated ceiling fans too, although using ceiling fans throughout the house will permit you to set your central air conditioner at a higher temperature, or do without it altogether. Ceiling fans consume, on average, about 60 Watts of electricity, versus a central air conditioning unit which uses approximately 3500 Watts (depending on the size, year made, efficiency, etc.).

Change Family Behaviour. If you’ve been watching your family’s and your own behaviour, you’ll have noticed when they leave lights/computers/gaming stations on, the fridge door open, chargers plugged in, etc.  Controlling your own behaviour is the easiest and maybe the best way to start is by improving your own habits. Can you line dry some of your clothes more often? Have you set up a centralized cellphone charging station where it’s easy to unplug at the end of a charging session? Have you got yourself into the habit of turning lights and computers off every time you leave the room?

Regarding the rest of your family, doing a few calculations to see how much it costs every time these little actions occur may help, especially if there’s a way to incentivize them to change. If, after a year of behaviour change you saved enough money to treat yourselves to your family’s favourite restaurant, or something even bigger, maybe that would help. Whatever motivates them to think about conserving, you should try. Maybe they can help you brainstorm ideas, if kids take a stake in the decisions, they are more likely to follow through — with lots of reminders, coaching, and encouragement.

Review and compare. Now that you’ve taken steps to reduce your electricity, review and compare your results and see how you’re doing versus your original target goals. There are a few ways to do this: The first is to wait until you get your next electric bill and see what your power usage from the previous year was. If you want instant gratification, and you have a smart meter, and you live in a service area, sign up for Not only does the service send you your electricity usage daily, it starts you off with an automatic 10% reduction target. Every time you use less electricity, you receive a cash deposit in your Paypal account at the end of the month. If you don’t have a smart meter hooked up to your home yet, have a look at the Power Cost monitor. This company has just teamed up with Plot Watt to offer even those homes without smart meters the ability to track and identify accurately, the electricity consumers in the home.

Cutting your electricity Use: Observing your Family’s Behaviour

August 10th, 2011

Think back to the ’80s, before the existence of iPods, home computers, electric telephones, home theatres, gaming stations (all right, there was Nintendo). Although our appliances consumed a lot more electricity per unit than the ones we use now, we used a lot less electricity per household because there wasn’t as much electronic stuff. How many of us actually think about how we’re increasing our plug load when we buy a new electronic gadget?

So, now that you know how much electricity you’re using and where you’re using it (from my previous two articles), you can probably identify some of your home’s major electronic consumers. But there’s another piece of the puzzle that many people don’t even consider, which is human behaviour. You can have all the efficient lighting in the world, a programmable thermostat for your heat, Energy Star rated auto shut-off power bars, but if you’re not using the equipment properly, they’re not giving you the benefits you bought them for in the first place.

In addition to the obvious things like turning off TVs, printers, and computers when you leave a room, there are other less obvious behaviour items to check for, such as:

  • Programmable Thermostats. Do you know how to program your programmable thermostat and have you done so? If you haven’t, pull out the instruction book and do it. You can save significantly on your air conditioning bill by raising the temperature by 3-4 degrees while you’re out at work or away on weekends. Did you also know that when you set your home’s temperature to cooler for when you return to your home at the end of the day, your thermostat triggers the “recovery” mode early enough in the cycle so that by the time you’re home the house has reached the desired temperature setting? In other words, don’t worry about setting it for a cooler temperature half an hour before you get home, the thermostat takes care of the temperature difference well in advance. If you’re really comfortable with your programmable thermostat and you’re away on weekends, either turn it off, or set the temperature a few degrees higher for the weekends. While you won’t notice, you’ll be happier with your electricity bill.
  • Extra and/or Older Electronics not in use. As I mentioned earlier, we have a lot more devices plugged into our homes than we did 20 years ago. So many, in fact that it probably doesn’t even occur to you what kind of plug load you’re adding when you buy a new electronic device. Now, with a critical eye go through each room in your house and look at the electronics that are a constant drain on electricity and don’t even get used. Do you have a digital clock running in a guest room you never go into? An old VCR plugged in you haven’t used in years (and may even still be flashing 12?), how many phones are cordless? Can you switch a few that are rarely used over to the old and quaint corded models? It’s a good idea to have at least one of these phones in use in the event of a power outage if you still have a land line.
  • Appliances. The extra 25-year-old fridge or freezer you’ve been using for as a drinks fridge or extra food sucks up a lot of extra money, so much money that you might be better off getting rid of it and investing in a more efficient second fridge or freezer or trying to make do without. If your washer and dryer are older than 15 years, you might want to consider buying new Energy Star rated ones. They save on water and electricity and dry your clothes faster. Are there appliances like the coffee maker, microwave, etc. that you don’t need them plugged in when not in use? Do you use the timer on your coffeemaker? Does the microwave need to be plugged in all the time? Look for savings to be had which involve nothing more than unplugging appliances not in use. This is particularly true for smaller appliances that have LCD clocks/displays.
  • Chargers. Unplug all chargers, cellphone or otherwise, when not in use. This is an easy step to talk about, but apparently a difficult one to achieve. The amount of power that’s wasted is estimated to be between 10-15% of your overall electricity bill. An easy action to think about doing, probably more difficult to achieve until you’ve developed the habit.
  • Shutdown/Turn off. Turn off devices, lights, computer, printers, etc., when not in use. How do we get our kids to remember to do this? If anyone has some suggestions, I’d love to know. I’m fortunate that I work from home because our electricity bill would be significantly higher if I left the house before my teenagers. Lights stay on all over the house after they’ve left for school in the morning (and yes, cellphone chargers also stay plugged in too). I’ve told them a thousand times to turn off lights when they leave a room, but since there are no consequences for leaving them on, they ignore me. Maybe I’ve got to start handing them an electric bill at the end of each month to get their attention.
  • Do exterior doors stay open during extreme weather so you feel like your father yelling “stop heating the neighbourhood!” Make sure your family closes doors to keep your home’s temperature constant. Also, keep doors to unused rooms closed and vents blocked to make cooling and heating more efficient.

Monitor your family’s behaviour patterns over a few days, make notes about any glaring issues you see. If there are easy fixes to make such as unplugging appliances that are never in use, do it, but don’t worry about making changes now, the next article is about creating and implementing an action plan.

A Do-It-Yourself Plug and Lighting Load (Electricity) Audit

July 27th, 2011

In a previous post I discussed the importance of benchmarking your electricity use. Benchmarking helps you understand how much electricity you are currently consuming, as well as your usage history. Now we want to figure out where we consume it.

A Do it Yourself Home energy audit is easiest if electricity is used exclusively for plug load and lighting. In the event that it’s also used for heating and cooling, it’s best to call in a home energy auditor so they can help you track down the air leaks in your home and help you figure out where to add insulation, weather-stripping, and plug air leaks to bring your heating bills down — or you can calculate plug load in the non-heating season.

I’ve written about the benefits of hiring a home energy auditor here. Note: The Canadian government has just reinstated the ecoEnergy Retrofit grant program, now available until March 31, 2012, which means now is a great time to get an energy audit done, particularly if you’re planning on home renovations. Between the Ontario government and federal government, you could get $300 of your audit paid for, which for most homes covers 75-100% of the audit. (Update: program is now completed. Feb 4, 2014)

In our home’s case, I know our electricity use is entirely plug load and lighting since we use natural gas for heating, hot water and cooking. There are two ways to do an electricity audit — the quick and easy but less accurate way, or the detailed, time-intensive but far more accurate way (quite the salesperson, aren’t I?).

In either case you should take your time and calculate your lighting load using the following method since no extra equipment is required and all the information you need is written on the light bulb (usually).

Calculating lighting load: Decide whether you’re going to start from the top or bottom of your home, but work your way systematically from the front of your house to the back visiting every room, bathroom and closet that has lights. Note your ceiling lights, table lamps and undermount lights, their wattage and estimate how much time they’re on each day. Include closets if they have lights in them.

In our kitchen there are six 50 watt halogen lights that are on in the morning for 1 hour for six months of the year and 2 hours for six months. In the evening, the six lights are on for three hours in the summer and five hours in the winter. There are also two incandescent hanging lamps which are on for three hours in the evening. So, calculating the amount of electricity the kitchen lighting load for an average day (estimate 1.5 hours per morning, 4 hours per evening for a total of 5.5 hours per day).

  • 6 lights x 50 watts/light x 5.5 hours per day + 2 lights x 60 watts/light x 3 hours per day  = 2,010 watt-hours per day or 2 kwh per day. Therefore, in one month the kitchen lights use 61 kwh of electricity.

Repeat this process for every room in your house and add up your total lighting consumption at the end. The results will tell you how much of your total electricity bill is dedicated to lighting. In our house, I estimate that our lighting bill accounts for 20% of our total electricity bill before central air is turned on.

Finding your electricity hogs: So, if lighting only accounts for 20% of our home’s total energy use, where is the other 80% coming from? Appliances, computers, TVs, digital boxes, stereos, cellphone and game chargers, gaming stations, alarm systems, digital clocks and of course, air conditioning.

Method I: Quick and Easy Way of estimating where your electricity is being consumed.

Make rough estimates of time usage for each appliance in each room in the house (remember to count those items that are in standby mode too such as computers, DVD players, stereos, TVs, etc.) then multiply it by the amount of watts per device as given in the links below.

Method II — Detailed, exact measurement: If you’re Type A like me, then you might be interested in determining exactly where you’re using the most energy instead of just making educated guesses. There are a few reasons to do it this way: one is that the results may surprise you — perhaps you thought it was your four-year old dryer that was using the most energy, but in fact it might be your 15-year-old deep freeze — especially when you consider that it runs 24-7- 365. Another surprise might be seeing how much energy your TV-Surround Sound-Gaming System use — even when it’s off (because it’s not really off, it’s in standby, still drawing electricity, commonly referred to as phantom power).

Measuring the electricity draw of each device is fairly simple, but to do it properly, you’ll need a few tools.

1. Pencil/pen and paper for recording your findings,

2. calculator for the math-challenged like myself,

3. energy monitoring device such as a Kill A Watt EZ monitor or PowerCost monitor. sells energy monitoring devices, and Canadian Tire sells a Blue Planet Energy Monitor. I’ve also read that some libraries, such as the Ottawa Public Library, will loan out the Kill A Watt. A good idea for a partnership between Toronto Hydro and the Toronto Public Library, don’t you think?

Go through each room in your house, identify everything that is plugged into a wall aside from lamps — which you’ve already done in part I. Don’t forget to measure things that might be put away but are used on a daily basis. Below is a list of some, but not all, of the possible electricity using devices in each room. Generally though, you only need to count the items you use daily or weekly.

Bedrooms contain a variety of items from clocks/iPods and chargers, TVs, digital boxes, DVD players, computers, in addition to lamps and overhead lighting.

Bathrooms have a lot of appliances that you might use in the morning getting ready for the day including hair dryers, curling irons, straightening irons, etc. These items can use a lot of electricity even if it’s only for a short amount of time.

Kitchen. All those small appliances that get used daily including toasters, toaster ovens, coffeemakers, microwaves, hand blenders, etc. can really add up. Also try to determine how old your fridge, dishwasher and oven are and look at this chart to estimate how much electricity they consume.

Laundry room. Washer and dryer, iron, steamer.

Living room/Family room/Great room. Stereo, TV, DVD player, surround sound system, digital TV PVR box, gaming system, video player, musical instruments such as electric amps, guitars, keyboards.

Home Office. Computer, monitor, speakers, printer, scanner, photocopier, telephone, cellphone charger, wireless router, modem, etc. If you’re using a measuring device, be careful about unplugging and replugging devices back in as some cause an automatic reset on devices. Check your manuals first.

Furnace and utility room. Dehumidifier, furnace fan, electric hot water heater, central air conditioner, alarm system, whole home sound system, sump pump, etc..If you still have access to the manuals, for some of these devices it would be better to check them for electricity consumption or look up their energy consumption online. Some items are better left untouched unless you know what you’re doing — in this case a measurement device like the Power Cost monitor is better than the Kill a Watt because it measures pulse changes in your electricity consumption and devices don’t need to be unplugged.

Garage and outside. Lawn mower, weed wacker, whipper snipper, garden lighting, pool heater, hot tub heater, cabana lights/fridge, stereo, etc.

For each of these devices estimate how much time they’re on for daily, multiply the wattage by time and divide by 1000 to get the number of kilowatt hours they’re drawing. Ex:

number of hours  device is on x watts / 1000 watts = x kilowatt hours.

so, for a hair dryer that draws 1000 watts that’s used for 10 minutes  or 1/6 of an hour daily

1/6×1000/1000= 0.167 kwh daily.

At this point we’re just recording how much electricity each device uses and estimating how much it gets used. You should have accounted for, in theory, about 90-95% of your overall electricity use after systematically going through each room in the house.

The goal here is to discover where the most electricity is being used. However, before we can develop an action plan to reduce our consumption, there is another part to the equation that’s often over-looked and that is, human behaviour. We’ll look at how we affect our home’s energy consumption in the next article.

The Power Cost Monitor — Measuring Your Electricity Consumption Every 30 Seconds

June 6th, 2011

I’m developing a series of articles to help homeowners reduce their power consumption in a step by step way. The outline for the series was a piece of cake. Filling in the specifics, however, has been a bit more of a challenge than I first thought. Truthfully, I’m still stuck on the second article: “Identifying the Electricity Consumers in Your Home.” The title for the second article also changes all the time, so don’t go looking for it when it’s finally published.

The thing is, assessing your plug load, particularly around lighting, is relatively easy. You look up at the ceiling, figure out how many bulbs are on, what their wattage is, estimate the number of hours they’re on during a 24 hour period and you’ve figured out your lighting load. But the rest is a little trickier. While I was doing my lighting consumption for my house, I discovered that lighting accounts for 20% of my overall electricity consumption. That means 80% is unaccounted for. Using my trusty Kill A Watt, I can get to the gaming stations, the lamps, clocks, TVs, and phones. But what about the appliances whose plugs I can’t reach? Or the built-ins that hide the plugs and make it difficult to access?

Power Cost Monitor

Power Cost Monitor WiFi

Enter the Power Cost Monitor. This is another electricity monitoring device that allows you to measure electricity consumption for any electrical device in your home, including your central air conditioner, oven, dryer, and any hard to reach electronic or appliance where you can’t access the plug. The Power Cost Monitor sounded intriguing so I contacted Peter Porteous, CEO of Blue Line Innovations, the company that makes the Power Cost Monitor, to find out how it works.

The device consists of two parts — the first part you hook up to your electricity meter. The monitoring unit is compatible with 90% of all electric meters in North America.

The second part is a handheld device that reads changes in electricity consumption when appliances are turned on (“baseline” vs. with appliance on). It will tell you in dollars or kilowatt hours, how much electricity the appliance is using. When I spoke with Peter he mentioned three things about it:

  1. The monitor reports changes in electricity consumption at 30 second intervals. This is the outside amount of time their customers are willing to accept.  Reporting periods longer than 30 seconds lose their relevance because so much can happen in 30 seconds. A few lights can get switched on, someone can turn on the stove, start watching a movie or start a load of laundry, and you don’t know which action has caused the increase in power use.
  2. Now the Power Cost monitor can hook up to your computer using WiFi so you can see your readings in chart form and track your consumption over time.
  3. Kids love to use it because they point it at a device, like a dishwasher, start pushing buttons on the dishwasher like “power scrub” or “heat dry” and watch the numbers on the monitor climb. Then they’ll do the same with the washing machine, adding “hot water” or “second spin” and see the same thing. They learn how behaviour and choices affect the amount of electricity we consume.

You can see how receiving your electric bill once every two months isn’t giving you nearly enough information for you to act on. Having information fed to you every 30 seconds helps you identify how much electricity devices in your home are using, and suddenly you the information you need to start doing something about it.

Discovering what your base load is, that is, what’s using power even when everything is off, can help you take concrete steps towards lowering your consumption. Peter told me that when he first used his monitor, his baseline electricity consumption was 1.1kw/hour. Now, after identifying behaviour patterns, phantom powers and appliances that were using a lot of electricity, he’s been able to reduce his baseline load to 300 watts/hour.

For a dealer near you, see the Power Cost Monitor website.

Unplug your cellphone after it’s charged — Action #6 on Practically Green

April 6th, 2011

Practically Green is a wonderful website that helps consumers go a little greener one action at a time. There are plenty of great things about this website, from helping you determine where you currently sit on “the green front” to helping you set goals to lighten your environmental load. It’s not a preachy site; they don’t tell you what you’re doing wrong, they just give you little steps you can take to make yourself and your family a bit greener — or a lot greener depending on what you want to accomplish. It has lots of suggestions of things to do, and suggestions of products to help you accomplish your goals.

Practically Green has branded April as “Earth Month.”  They have taken their top thirty most popular actions on their site and devoted a blog post each day to help all of us tackle these actions.

Today I wrote about “Unplugging your cellphone charger,” the sixth most popular action people have taken on the site. It sounds like it’s an easy thing to do, but you’d be surprised. Take a look around your home and see how many chargers are plugged into the wall without the cell phone in it.

Read my full post here, and to find out just how green you are (and how to help you become greener), visit Practically Green’s website.

Taking advantage of Toronto Hydro Coupons to reduce Home Energy Consumption

March 28th, 2011

“Coupons” and “saving money” are words that get my attention. I actually look for these Toronto Hydro coupons around this time of year and glory be, they were waiting for me in my mailbox when our family got home from March Break! This year I noticed that the coupons are good through December 31, 2011. This is a smarter way of doing things than in the past; last year we bought some ceiling fans in October and all of Toronto Hydro’s coupons had expired (finding ceiling fans in October wasn’t exactly easy either). If you didn’t get your booklet in the mail have no fear! They’ve posted the coupons online as well. (Note, coupons are available twice per year, in April and again in the fall, this link may not be valid when you click on it, if it is not during the two months of the year when these coupons are being offered).

In any event, this little coupon booklet has a lot of deals on electricity saving devices, but maybe you’re not sure which ones you want to use. To be honest it really depends on what your needs are, how handy you are, and where you will get the biggest bang for your buck.

The average Ontario family of four consumes just under 900 kilowatt hours of electricity each month (950 kwh for a family of five), according to a Stats Can 2007 study. Most of our (Ontario’s) electricity use is for plug load — only 30% of space heating in Ontario is electric. That means that for most of us to lower our electricity bill we need to look at what and how we’re using our electricity, from appliances to lighting to electronics.

My family’s electricity bill. According to our Hydro bill, our family of five consumes 26 kwh per day of electricity outside the air conditioning season for a total of about 786 kwh per month. While it’s less than the 950 kwh used by the average Ontario family of five, it could be better. So, I am going to strive to lower our family’s usage by 10% or 2.6 kwh/day over the next two months with a little help from my  Toronto Hydro Coupons. Here are a few of the things I can do:


CFL from Home Hardware

Lighting: Lighting is the “low hanging fruit” and there are $1 -$5 off coupons for CFL light bulbs. I can tell you right now, the 50W halogen pot lights are energy hogs. I’m not a huge CFL fan, I don’t like the length of time they take to warm up, they never last as long as they say they will because their lifetime hours are based on continuous use and in a residence you tend to use them for shorter amounts of time, not to mention their mercury content, but yes, we have several CFLs throughout the house and I know they consume a lot less energy than incandescent bulbs. I’ll use the coupons to buy some more, but really, what I have to do is bite the bullet and invest in some LEDs for the kitchen. I’ve written about new LED lights available (read here and here) — unfortunately there are no coupons for LED lights yet — I think the technology and price still needs to improve first. (pictured left: 23w spiral mini CFL bulbs from Home Hardware).


Clothes dryer umbrella stand

Clothes dryer: We do at least one load of laundry per day with all the different sports activities we play, and, therefore, the dryer is also going once per day. While I line dry some things, our house isn’t set up to line dry many clothes inside. However, summer is different and I have the perfect outdoor spot for a clothesline. Fortunately there is a coupon for $5 off umbrella and clothesline kits. (pictured: umbrella clothes dryer from Home Hardware.)

My other electricity hogs: My favourite energy measurement device is my Kill A Watt. Since I’ve used it, I put my computer and wireless station on a powerbar with built-in timer. This has helped me not only save energy during the night, but also, because the wireless system shuts down, I know my boys aren’t using their iTouches well into the night too. This year I plan to buy a programmable time for the basement TV/game system which gets a lot of use, especially during the winter. Our 8 year old TV is now ridiculously outdated and is definitely an energy hog but I feel guilty thinking about replacing it because it’s only eight years old and in good working order. If I put the TV and the PS3 on a powerbar timer, I’d save more electricity and would “break the beam” if the boys get into a late night gaming session. Save $4 on power bars with integrated timers or auto shut-off.

52" ceiling fan from Home Hardware

Ceiling fans:  Ceiling fans can help you save electricity during air conditioning season, big time. A typical ceiling fan uses about 60 watts of electricity versus a central air conditioner which uses about 3500 watts (both numbers depend on the size of the appliance). A ceiling fan can bring the perceived room temperature down by 2-5 degrees Celsius. Save $10 on Energy Star certified ceiling fans. Last year we put ceiling fans into our sons’ room after I built “The Wall”, but we have one more to buy for our daughter’s room which has southern exposure and can get really hot in the summer. (draw curtains in south-facing rooms to help stave off solar heat and protect your furniture from fading). (Ceiling fan pictured available through Home Hardware.)

Timers and Dimmer Switches. The value of these two devices cannot be overstated in terms of helping you control when lights are on. However, keep in mind that dimmer switches aren’t always compatible with CFL and LED lightbulbs, so consider which will work best for a given room or area  –or buy dimming-compatible CFLs or LED light bulbs. In our laundry “closet” there is a ceiling fan that you turn on whenever the washer/dryer are on to help prevent moisture build up. The problem is that you have to remember to turn it off, and sometimes it might run for the entire day if you leave when the washer is running. This is the perfect spot for a timer switch.

There’s a $4 coupon for insulation blankets for electric hot water heaters — our hot water heater is gas, but we put an insulation blanket on it and it definitely made an immediate difference in our gas bill.

For your garden landscaping there is a $4 off coupon on heavy-duty outdoor timers — perfect for lighting your gardens when people are awake and want to see it, and for shutting it off when everyone’s asleep. We have gone a step farther and use the Noma solar lights. I’d say they’re kind of, sort of okay, but they need a lot of sun to work well into the night, and they don’t get a lot of sun in our north facing backyard. If I were to redo our lighting, I’d use outdoor LEDs on a timer.

Other coupons: our house is weatherstripped and insulated to the hilt, although it could use better windows (already warped and only four years old!) and some more caulking, but here are some other coupons you might find useful.

Programmable baseboard thermostats: If you use electric baseboards for space heating, but you only need to heat a space for a few hours a day, you’ll want the $10 to $30 coupons for programmable thermostats for electric baseboard heaters. Great idea for rooms that are used intermittently, or so that you don’t need to adjust the baseboard thermostats manually any more.

There are also coupons for weatherstripping and hot water pipe insulation. Insulating your hot water pipes can help save the water temperature 2-4 degrees by the time it gets to its destination, meaning you’ll use less and can keep it set on a lower temperature.

Other electricity saving ideas. Use a critical eye regarding all plugged-in devices in each room. In addition to replacing light bulbs and adding ceiling fans, don’t forget to unplug appliances that you don’t really use all the time. For instance, is there a digital clock in a guest bedroom that is only used a few times a year? Unplug it. What about the coffee maker with the digital clock. If you don’t use the clock or timer, unplug the coffeemaker when it’s not in use. When was the last time you used the VCR? Don’t forget to unplug cellphones after they’ve been charged. And of course, use the “Refrigerator Round Up” to schedule an appointment to have your old basement fridge picked up. One other point of note: in our last house we needed the fridge out before the Round-Up people were available to come so we called a scrap metal place instead. They charged us $20 to haul the freezer from the basement, and at the same time took other broken metal things we couldn’t figure out what to do with (a broken ironing board, an old metal pole from a previous landscaping job, a rusted clothes drying rack…).

For a list of participating retailers, visit the saveONenergy website.

Repair Your Cell Phone, Don’t Ditch it!

January 3rd, 2011

A few weeks ago, Graziela Benedet from contacted me and suggested writing an article about repairing cell phones. While cell phone repair isn’t exactly a “green building” topic, repairing home electronics and appliances is, and, frankly, repairing electronics is generally better for the environment than replacing. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. That 20 year old fridge you’re still using has more than outlived its useful life and is probably costing you more in electricity than it’s worth. Your old TV in the basement that weighs 700 lbs (okay, maybe it just feels like it), could stand an upgrade and save you electricity consumption too. However, when it comes to cell phones, and technological toys in general, I really have a bee in my bonnet about them. I hate to finger point, but Apple is at the core of this problem, and yes, while I know that they have been making great strides in their environmental stewardship program, all of their environmental steps mean squat if they keep producing new and “next generation” products well before their “old” products have outlived their useful life. Here’s a perfect example: my son recently complained that his iTouch (that he scrimped and saved for using birthday and odd jobs money) was old and outdated and he needed a new one  – and he’d only had it for a year! I’m picking on Apple because of the big splash they made in 2010 with the iPad and iPhone 4G launch (did they launch the MacBook Air too?), but all electronics companies are guilty of this practice (Sony, Nintendo, Samsung…).

RepairLaunch highlights the negative effects of throwing away your old electronics if they’re not managed properly — which, sadly, is most of the time. Repairing a cellphone prolongs its life and lessens the toxins let into the environment by old cell phones and reduces demand for new ones. RepairLaunch not only provides a mail-in service for repairing cellphones, the website also lists local affiliates where you can get your phone or other electronics repaired (only a few are in Canada, the rest in the US). The site is full of information on e-waste including how many toxins leach out of electronics into landfills and tips on what to look for in a reputable cell phone repair place. Below is the article Graziela sent me on behalf of RepairLaunch.

Tips for Repairing your Cell Phone

The repair service industry has seen an increase recently as expensive phones and other personal electronics tend to break easily are very costly to buy without a long term carrier plan to come with them. The reason starts with Apple, who maintains a minimum in overall products and as a result produces products that can be fixed at a respectable price. Through this, more and more places are opening up to repair other models of phones, such as HTC and Motorola as well as the variety of computers and media players.

Here is a top 5 list of things to keep in mind when buying your cell phone.

Cost of repairs

The cost of a repair depends on what the problem is. For stores to order parts at a reasonable price, they must look to wholesalers in China. The problem is, even from China, the cost of some parts is extremely expensive. The older models of iPhone (3G, 3Gs) had the screen separated from the LCD. While this could cause dust to get in between, it makes screen repair much cheaper. With those models, just because the screen cracks does not mean the LCD is harmed. So, instead of spending $150 or more to get it repaired, it only costs $60. If a repair costs more than $150, the customer will likely consider starting new. The water damage problem is one that will never go away. Service typically charge $100 or more for this service, depending on if a part is needed.

Don’t Order the wrong thing

If you are confident in your skills with DIY repair, make sure you diagnose the problem correctly. First. Ordering the wrong parts can be a very bad thing and often time ruins a phone. The best thing to do if you have any questions is contact the people you are buying parts from.

Carrier blocks

You are legally permitted to jailbreak and unlock your phone. This is a cool thing because people can now use their favorite phone on any carrier. Many phone companies are conceding to the legalities of the issue and while not always making easy, certainly are not making it any harder.

DIY repairs are hard

The growing amount of videos and manuals are very encouraging. Unfortunately, DIY repairs themselves are still very difficult for the average Joe. It does not have to be this way. It would be awesome if people knew that if they broke their phone, they could easily order a cheap part and fix it. As it stands now, most phones require and intense amount of organization and know-how that most people do not possess.

Protective accessories

Many accessories that are sold don’t do much to protect the phone and can actually cause more damage. If a phone cover is not designed correctly, dirt can collect, scratching and even cracking the phone down the line. Others are just plain misleading, such as the bumpers sold for the iPhone 4. These were once called “protective” bumpers but don’t protect the iPhone at all. Seriously, not even a little.

Even by taking the “protective” out of their marketing pitch, the name “bumper” in itself is misleading. When the iPhone 4 antenna problems came about, Apple started giving these things out for free to correct the issue. While it can help with reception issues, other protective cases can help with reception as well as protect the device. Now there are a bunch of users walking around thinking they have a protected device, but this is not true in the slightest.

You should look at your phone purchase as a significant investment. The parts are valued, for the typical smartphone over $150. This means that even when your phone breaks, the phone is still worth something to someone, most likely a local repair shop.

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