Posts Tagged ‘LED lighting’

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:


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: 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.

Canarm ceiling fan

Canarm 52″ ceiling fan available through 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).

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.

LED Lighting Illuminated

November 26th, 2010

LED lighting has some significant advantages over both incandescent and compact fluorescent. For one thing it uses significantly less electricity which saves you money and puts less strain on any electricity system. For another, it doesn’t contain mercury or other harmful elements that our current lighting systems have. LED bulbs are fully recyclable and parts can be reused in new LED lights, and finally, if you buy the right bulbs, you won’t have to change them for years and years. But (there’s always a “but”) it’s also expensive and if you don’t choose the right bulbs you might not be satisfied with the results. LED isn’t like incandescent or compact fluorescent (CFL) lighting; if you want to be satisfied with your LED lighting, you’re best to hire a lighting consultant to guide you through your first (and possibly last) light bulb purchase.  I have been researching LED lighting for a few years now. Each time I visit IIDEX I take a half hour and go and talk to the lighting experts about LEDs for use as everyday lighting. I always ask the lighting reps: “Is it ready for prime time?” The answer, it turns out, depends on who you talk to. When I spoke with representatives from Phillips and GE the answer was “not yet, but it’s coming.” When I spoke with Dmitri Shaffer from evoLED Green Lighting Solutions, he said, “Of course it is, but it’s not as easy as walking into Home Depot and buying a replacement bulb.”

You’re telling me. When I first went on to evoLED’s website I was overwhelmed with the selection. I really didn’t know what my needs were, and considering the cost outlay for one bulb (averaging $40), the investment, if done properly, can be significant, and depending on how often your lights are on, so can the savings. So, the best solution was to book Dmitri for an appointment and have him come and take a look at my lighting needs. While he was here, I took the opportunity to ask a lot of questions the different LEDs available and how to choose one. It turns out that the reason you don’t want to buy one from the big box stores has more to do with familiarizing yourself with LEDs rather than the actual light bulb itself — although that too is an issue.

LED 50 watt halogen replacement bulb (9 watt version)

The quality of Light Emitting Diode “bulbs” is highly dependent upon the chip that is inside the light itself. The quality of this chip in turn will determine the longevity of the light. So, as Dmitri points out, “if an LED is selling for $10, don’t expect it to last the usual 40,000 to 100,000 hours expectant of a name brand LED.”  There are, in Dmitri’s opinion, three chip manufacturers that are the best, although he acknowledges that there are many manufacturers who are improving their chip quality all the time. The three chip manufacturers he recommends are CREE, Nichia, and Epistar. So how do you know whose chip is inside the LED you’re about to purchase? Ask your lighting professional. In theory, they should know who manufactures the chip inside the LED. I must say though, I have my doubts that sales people at the big box stores will be able to answer this question, but I’m happy to be proven wrong!

Another factor in an LED light’s longevity is the design of the light itself. According to Dmitri, each diode can use up to three watts of power. However, the more diodes the bulb has, the more likely the entire bulb will get hot, so another important factor in a light’s design is the size and quality of the heat sink. The larger the heat sink, the better, because it allows higher brightness without overheating the diodes. However, the manufacturers are confined to existing bulb sizes when trying to design a heat sink, so in small sizes, like the MR16 for example, they have to find the balance between brightness and heat management. Bright diodes without an adequate heat sink will fail shortly after the installation. Luckily, most manufactures take this into account.

Finally the design of the LED lamp is another important factor and consists of the size of the bulb, the number of diodes, the colour temperature of the light and the angle or span of the light.

Colour temperature. This term actually refers to the colour the light casts, not the heat emitted from the bulb, and is measured in degrees Kelvin. The cooler the light temperature, the whiter or crisper the light. If you’re interested in keeping the same cast as an incandescent bulb then the recommended light temperature is 2700K. As the Kelvin degree increases, the light becomes whiter then blue, as in daylight blue. I tested 3000K LEDs and the colour temperature provided both a crisper, white light, but without the cool colour that the daylight bulbs cast, which are usually between 4000 and 6000 K.

Another issue with LED lighting is the angle of the light. A 30 degree bulb casts a spotlight, whereas an 80 degree light casts a wider angle and the light disperses earlier, so ceiling height becomes an issue: if ceiling heights are 12 feet, probably a narrower angle is better because the light will likely still make it to eye level and maintain its intensity.

LED lights come in a variety of designs. Some are made for replacing your 50 watt halogen potlights, some are excellent for undermount lighting. Choosing one will depend on your fixture, where it is, and what the purpose of the light is (ie., task lighting or general lighting.

The light spectrum of an LED is much wider than a fluorescent, without the same heat emission as well. One thing to consider is depending on how often your lights are on, they may contribute to the heating of your home/business. Changing to LED lights will lessen the air conditioning load in the summer, but may increase the heating load in the winter.

I asked Dmitri what the main reasons were for people wanting to switch to LED lighting and it turns out there are two:  the first is to save money and energy, the second is comfort level. Undermount halogen lights turn out not to be great lights. They are hot, so food and wine shouldn’t be left underneath them, and they can leave unlit areas on the counter if the light pucks aren’t placed close enough together. Fluorescent undermount don’t contain the full light spectrum so decorative items can lack their usual colour. LED undermounts are in strips with the diodes placed so closely together that very little of the counter isn’t lit.

Regarding strength, or lumens, of light. One of the complaints of LED lighting is that the light output isn’t as strong as incandescent or CFL lighting. However, there has been a lot of progress in this area, and there are now sufficient substitutes to replace 50 watt halogen bulbs. When Dmitri did our lighting audit he told me to focus only on the the most used rooms in the house, which in our case is the kitchen. I estimate that on average, the kitchen lights are on for 5 hours per day, every day. There are 7 halogen and two 60 watt incandescent bulbs. We estimated that if we replaced all those bulbs, we would break even at the current electricity rate in 3 years and 9 months, which is much less time than I thought .

Having spoken with Dmitri, I now have a much better understanding of the complexities of LED lighting. I also believe that if you’re going to make an investment in LED lighting you’re best to call in a consultant who can help you choose the right bulbs based on your needs and your current lighting design.

Contact Dmitri Shaffer at evoLED for more information on having a lighting audit done in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Healthy Home at Downsview Park: Kitchen

March 29th, 2010

I wrote a post about the Healthy Home a few days ago. But really, there’s SO MUCH information on the home to cover that I couldn’t capture it all in one post (well, I could, but your eyes would glaze over after awhile).

To recap, the Healthy Home is an example of how using smarter materials doesn’t have to look different. All of the products used in this home are easily obtainable in Toronto. In fact, what was surprising to me was how many products were supplied by Sears. I’ll be honest — I have never thought of Sears as a supplier of green materials — shows you what I know.

I thought for this post I’d focus on the kitchen, because, well, it’s my blog, and I love the kitchen! (I’m in one for most of the day — it feels like anyway — so functional and pretty kitchens are important to me).

A few of the features of the Healthy Home’s kitchen:

Sink area

Kitchen sink -- height modified

Cabinets were manufactured by Heritage Finishes: Cabinets are made from low-VOC Composite wood board (Uniboard NuGreen low VOC wood composite panels), Richelieu Hardware supplied Greenguard veneers, and Allstyle cabinet doors supplied low-VOC cabinet doors. There is very little, if any, “off-gassing” of harmful chemicals from these cabinets. Low-VOC glues, adhesives and paints were also used in the making of these cabinets.

(Note: Greenguard is a third party certification organization that focuses on helping companies improve the indoor air quality of their products.)

CeasarStone Quartz Counter tops

Countertops: Provided by Dixie Marble and Granite. CaesarStone is made with up to

93% quartz and a polymer resin. Quartz is the second hardest substance and is excellent for kitchens. The surface is non-porous, durable, won’t scratch or stain.

Backsplash: Provided by Antica Tile and Stone. Onix Moonglass in Pearl. Mosaic tiles are made from 98% recycled glass.

Wall paint: provided by Homestead House, which is a local Toronto company, and the only Canadian company to produce a milk paint. The paint has a higher pigment concentration for fuller colour intensity, and is zero VOC.

Led-Linear Chandalier

Led-Linear Chandalier

Lighting: The kitchen chandalier is provided by Led-Linear, and uses linear LED lighting strips in a creative way for a central light. Undermount lighting for kitchen cabinetry was provided by Hafefle.

Appliances all supplied by Sears:

Wall Oven by Sears

  • Refigerator: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Annual energy cost: $47. Internal icemaker, external water dispenser.
  • Dishwasher: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Saves up to 42% water and 31% energy cost. Includes HE function, automatically measuring time water and energy for maximum efficiency. Annual energy cost: $30.
  • Cooktop: Kenmore Elite Induction Cooktop: cooks in half the time of gas or electric cooktops. Annual electricity cost of $23.
  • Wall oven: Kenmore Elite Self-Cleaning oven. Annual electricity costs $24.
  • Water filtration system: Kenmore MD Central Water filtration system. The system filters chlorine and other unpleasant tasting odours from water. Filter never needs changing as it’s self-cleaning.

Sears Self Cleaning central water filter

The Healthy Home is on display at Downsview Park until December, 2011. Open to the public, Monday-Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 12-3pm.

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The Zero Point Eco Home Store

February 5th, 2010
The Zero Point

The Zero Point

Today I decided to visit The Zero Point — a store that sells a lot of different merchandise for personal and home needs. There are two sections to the store — the front holds everyday products such as cleaning supplies, baby and children’s clothes, some reuseable BPA free #5 plastic recycled and recyclable plastic plates and cups, while the back of the store is dedicated to building supplies. The different areas of focus might seem a little unusual until you realize that everything in the store is easier on the environment than its traditional counterpart (I’d say “green” or “eco-friendly” but I think we’re all getting a little numb to those terms). And many of the products are generally hard to find.

Being an eco-building material enthusiast, I went right past the olive oils, stainless steel containers, natural soaps and natural cleaning supplies and headed straight for the flooring and countertop section. The great thing about this store is that you can do a lot of your green building shopping in one place. Below is a brief description of some of the products this store carries.

Flooring: The Zero Point carries a line of flooring products called Eco-timber. Eco Timber was one of the first flooring companies to be FSC-certified, way back in 1993. All of its wood comes from managed forests in North America, while its bamboo comes from one plantation and isn’t harvested until it is 5-7 years old — which means it is much more durable than many bamboo flooring products on the market.

Reclaimed Barnboard Flooring

Reclaimed Barnboard Flooring

Another flooring product is reclaimed hardwood flooring sourced from old barns and other buildings no longer in use in Ontario. This is beautiful, rustic looking flooring available in Antique Hemlock and Elm, in different stains (price: $8.75/square foot).

Countertops: IceStone is a composite of 80% post-consumer glass and 20% concrete. It comes in 29 different colours and is stunning to look at.

PaperStone looks like a laminate countertop but it’s actually made of compressed paper. It’s durable and longlasting and comes in several different colours.

Yolo Colorhouse Paint

Yolo Colorhouse Paint

American Clay products

American Clay products

Paints and finishes: American Clay products are a natural plaster that is tinted into tranquil pastel colours. Because clay is derived from a natural mineral it allows your walls to breathe, and is a natural moisture inhibitor. There are no VOCs emitted from clay, and the air in rooms with this plaster is cleaner than in painted rooms. This product is very popular for babies’ rooms and playrooms (primer: $80 per gallon, $295 per 5 gallons; $80-$160 per 50lb bag — coverage approximately 200 square feet).

Yolo Colourhouse paint is a high quality, low odour acrylic paint with  no harmful chemicals and no added solvents. Yolo Colorhouse paint is zero VOC, even when colour pigments are added.  (1 quart: $21.06, 1 gallon: $64.14).

LED lighting: While not very popular yet, LED lighting offers a lot of advantages to CFLs: longer lifespan, no added mercury, and even lower wattage while producing stronger light than CFLs. While the cost of each bulb isn’t cheap, the fact that their lifespan is 40,000 to 100,000 hours. That’s a long time! There are bulbs available to replace 60Watt incandescent, 100 Watt spot lights, 75 Watt spot lights and 50 Watt halogen lights. I plan on replacing my 50 Watt halogen lights one bulb at a time, as they burn out.

Kitchen cabinetry: The Zero Point will also arrange for cabinetry quotes from a local kitchen company that works with formaldehyde free, FSC certified MDF board.

Furniture: Around the store are beautiful pieces of hand-painted wooden furniture that is available for sale. The pieces are made from local reclaimed wood.

Please note The Zero Point appears to be closed — March 1, 2016


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