Environmental Issues

This page will be managed by Hugh Robertson who has taken on the responsibility for environmental issues within the Cardinal Glen Community Association Board of Directors.

Environment Ideas Sought

Please let us know if you have ideas we can share with everyone regarding the environment on our street.  Send your ideas to Hugh Robertson:
Hugh Robertson mailto:piperhill@sympatico.ca
  OR 613-747-0334.

Investing in Solar Power – Benefiting from the Green Energy Act


Ecology Ottawa

Ecology Ottawa Community Network Brief summary: Ecology Ottawa believes that building grassroots strength is the key to achieving change. With this in mind, we are launching a new campaigning arm called the Community Network and looking for volunteers who want to join us.

The Network will bring together environmental leaders from as many of Ottawa’s 100 neighbourhoods as possible. These Community Organizers will work together on city-wide campaigns but they will advance those campaigns at the neighbourhood level.

This will include things like facilitating a neighbourhood team of Ecology Ottawa volunteers, engaging other local organizations (including community associations), building lists of supporters in their neighbourhood (through things like petition drives), and making sure that City Councillors are hearing from their constituents.

We are looking for people that are interested in joining the Ecology Ottawa Community Network and taking leadership in their neighbourhood. Ecology Ottawa is offering training and support, as well as the opportunity to share experiences and work with other environmental leaders across the city.

If we can imagine coordinated action in communities across the city, then we can begin to imagine transforming Ottawa into the environmental leader that we want it to be. Ecology Ottawa believes that it is time redouble our efforts to develop a capacity to run truly city-wide campaigns—campaigns that are grounded at the community level but are rolled out in neighbourhoods across Ottawa.

There are at least 91 distinct neighbourhoods (or communities) in the city. If we can get local organizers from a majority of these neighbourhoods to come together and agree to all roll-out common environmental campaigns in their respective communities, we’ll be able to create a powerful force for change at City Hall. That’s what the Ecology Ottawa Community Network is all about.

We are proposing an Ecology Ottawa Community Network that is made up of people that want to run city-wide campaigns and are prepared to organize in their own community. If you want to know more, please contact Graham Saul at graham.saul@ecologyottawa.ca or on his cell at 613-558-3368.

Emerald Ash Borer

The City crews are completing the removal of diseased ash trees on Dunbarton Court. In the spring of 2012, a City tree inspector will drop off information sheets offering homeowners a choice of species as replacements for their ash trees.

The Davey Tree company’s treatment applied in 2011 will protect the ash trees for 2 years. Davey will reassess the health of the trees in 2013 to determine which ones will need further treatment. Owners will be individually billed again but as this a more expensive method than one collective bill, the $65 charge will increase slightly.

Reducing Ecological and Carbon Footprints – A Cardinal Glen Success Story

The article in this edition summarizes the efforts of the Robertson household to reduce its own ecological and carbon footprints over the past four years through a series of practical steps. The collective impact of these changes significantly reduced the Robertsons’ consumption of energy and water, and shrunk the eco and carbon footprints of their household to a level well below the Canadian average. In short, their experience shows that real progress can be achieved with a little effort, organization and commitment, but without incurring prohibitive costs or serious deprivation.

For the past 4 years, Jo-Ann and Hugh Robertson, have been engaged in a personal journey to reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. They were inspired to undertake this quest to demonstrate that the targets outlined in the Kyoto Protocol and in the sadly defunct One-Tonne Challenge are attainable without dramatic changes in lifestyle. During this period their progress was tracked by the Manor Park Chronicle.

The Robertsons live in a 19 year old, 1800 square foot townhouse. They launched their project by arranging an energy audit of the house. The audit indicated that the house had an energy efficiency rating of 65 on a scale of 100. In addition, the house was also subjected to an infrared scan which identifies areas of exterior heat loss, such as faulty wall insulation, which are difficult to detect.

Baseline readings of utilities were taken for tracking their energy consumption and for later comparative analysis. The Robertson home was one of the first in Ottawa to have a digital smart meter installed and this device greatly facilitated monitoring their use of electricity. They purchased an inexpensive watt meter which measures the energy consumption of individual appliances.

Armed with baseline readings and energy audit results and recommendations for improvement, the Robertsons were ready to initiate changes in their lifestyle and improvements to their home. They decided to focus their efforts initially on low tech solutions, such as replacing light bulbs, installing rain barrels and sealing air leaks. Redoubling their conservation efforts was also part of the initial approach.

The next step was to assess the efficiency of electrical appliances using the watt meter and to determine which ones should be replaced. Appliances using 220 volts that are wired directly into the panel require a more advanced meter, such as “The Energy Detective” which must be installed by an electrician. All appliances contain embedded energy used in the manufacturing process and simply replacing a relatively new fridge, for example, might not be a wise decision, financially or environmentally.

Another decision involved the cost of new appliances. Bill Kemp, a renowned Ottawa area energy efficiency specialist, explains the concept of life cycle cost, which he calls “true cost” as opposed to “first cost” (or initial cost) in his book Smart Power: An Urban Guide to Renewable Energy and Efficiency. He argues that basing the purchase of appliances on their energy efficiency and buying quality (and, often, more expensive) products when upgrading will actually outperform the stock market in the long run.

The Robertsons have tried to apply the concept of life cycle costs to all their purchases and the related principle of return on investment is already paying off as resource and energy prices continue to escalate.

Energy reduction initiatives:

• High efficiency natural gas furnace.
• Gradually replacing old windows.
• Low flow showerheads and toilets.
• Installed rain barrels.
• Efficient dish and clothes washers.
• Small 25 gallon electric hot water heater.
• Wrought iron front door.
• Awnings on south facing windows.
• Overhead ceiling fans.
• Indoor drying rack above the stairwell.
• Natural gas cooktop.
• Small electric convection oven.
• Energy recovery ventilator.
• Airtight woodstove.
• Replaced barbeque with a small unit.
• Sealed air leaks.
• Replaced bulbs with compact fluorescents.
• Reshingled the roof with light shingles.
• Reinsulated and ventilated attic space.
• Purchased a Toyota Prius.

In order to monitor their energy costs more closely, the Robertsons discontinued their equalized utility billing programs and they now pay for the precise consumption of natural gas, electricity and water each billing period. It requires reading a meter when a utility schedules an estimate and then phoning in the reading. Automatic bank deductions can still be arranged when opting for precise consumption payments instead of estimates and equalized billing.

One of the arguments in favour of equalized monthly billing is the elimination of payment spikes in winter for natural gas and higher electrical bills in summer for air conditioning. But the investment in efficient equipment and appliances has mitigated any major spikes in the Robertson’s utility bills. In fact, as a result of their initiatives and a concerted effort to minimize energy use, they have reduced their bills dramatically.

Their electricity consumption averages about 375 kilowatt hours per month. The Ontario household average varies between 750 and 1,000 kilowatt hours per month depending on the number of occupants and whether electricity is used for space and water heating. Although the Robertsons heat water with electricity, the unit is small and set at 49 degrees C and because showers and appliances are low flow, the power demand is not excessive.

The Robertsons do not use air conditioning. A screened wrought iron door allows cool nocturnal air to circulate through the house and fans and awnings keep the house comfortable during the day. They cook outdoors on a small barbeque and a two burner electrical element to minimize indoor heat build up during the summer. On smoggy days they avoid cooking because coal fired electricity and barbeques both contribute to particulate emissions.

Electricity consumption has been further reduced by using an outdoor drying rack for clothes in the summer and an indoor rack installed above a stairwell during the winter. Most appliances have gradually been replaced with high efficiency units which have helped cut electricity use to less than half the provincial average.

In an effort to trim their carbon emissions even further, the Robertsons have signed on to Bullfrog Power for their electricity. Bullfrog supplies carbon-free renewable energy from wind and low-impact hydro at marginally higher prices. Because so much of Ontario’s electricity is still generated by coal, Bullfrog Power will substantially reduce the Robertson’s carbon footprint.

The Robertson home is heated by a high efficiency natural gas furnace complemented by a low emission airtight wood stove. They also use a gas fired cooktop in the kitchen. Improved insulation, reduced air leaks and supplementary wood heat have steadily decreased their consumption of natural gas. Annual use is approximately 900 cubic meters and dropping steadily. The Ontario household average is 3,000 cubic meters which includes water and space heating but excludes cooking, so the comparison is not entirely accurate.

The Robertson’s water footprint is down substantially too. Water use has dropped to 80 litres per person per day because of rain barrels, efficient appliances and low flush toilets. The daily Ottawa consumption is 250 litres per person and the national average is about 300 litres per person. More than half the City’s operating budget is consumed by electricity charges for pumping, cleaning and distributing water and then removing and treating wastewater and sewage.

Three years ago, the Robertsons decided to replace their 13 year old Volvo with a hybrid Prius. Gasoline consumption has dropped by about two- thirds during this period. The combination of lower fuel consumption and no repairs have resulted in savings of at least $3000 per year, helping to offset the capital costs of the Prius. The initial cost of $30,000 is more expensive than many cars in the family sedan category and yet, based on life cycle expenses, the Prius was rated the “least expensive” car in this category by Consumer Reports recently.

Driving contributes approximately 50 percent of the personal greenhouse gases generated by Canadians who own a vehicle. Although they drive a hybrid, transportation still constitutes the largest component of the Robertson’s carbon emissions. They are not proud of the fact that they average 25,000 kilometres per year, slightly more than the national average. The high mileage is partly for family reasons (“love miles” in the words of George Monbiot, author of Heat) and partly because they avoid flying for environmental reasons.

The initial energy audit rated their house at 65 on a scale of 100. The house was reassessed and as a result of implementing most of the energy auditor’s recommendations, the efficiency rating improved to 72. Further improvements have pushed the efficiency rating to 79 according to the latest assessment.

Ratings of 78 and 79 qualify a house for Energy Star status, while 80 is the entry level for R2000 homes, the gold standard for energy efficient dwellings. Under the latest assessment, the Robertson’s 18 year old townhouse achieved an Energy Star rating and came within a whisker of the R2000 level.

If an 18 year old townhouse, with an average efficiency rating of 65, can be transformed into virtually an R2000 home, why are we as a society not demanding the construction of energy efficient houses? Retrofitting is a more expensive way of improving efficiency and fighting global warming than new-build. At least one third of our personal greenhouse gases are created by heating and cooling our homes.

How cost effective are retrofits and renovations? What is the cost recovery period? These are legitimate questions for homeowners. The Robertson’s improvements were either regular maintenance or replacing worn out appliances or upgrading substandard workmanship. There were no major capital projects, such as installing solar panels.

They have spent about $30,000 over the past 4 years on energy upgrades and improvements to their townhouse. The changes have been partly financed by government rebates and by dramatically lower utility bills. They have established their own personal carbon fund to offset the emissions of the Prius. These “carbon dollars” are also used to finance energy saving projects.

Real estate consultants advise homeowners to set up a maintenance account and annually to set aside 5% of the value of the house in the fund. The money can be used for an ongoing maintenance program, such as replacing doors and windows with quality Energy Star products and for general upgrading of the energy efficiency of the building.

As part of their maintenance program, the Robertsons had to replace the shingles on the roof recently. They chose light shingles to reflect sunlight during the summer and, thereby, reduce heat build up in the attic and keep the house cooler. (Evidently the roof stands out clearly on a Google map of Cardinal Glen. At least we are safe from a heat seeking missile!!)

According to a recent CMHC study, most home renovations are undertaken for cosmetic reasons, rather than energy efficiency. The argument that aesthetic improvements enhance the resale price of a house may well change in the future as resources become scarce. In Britain, homeowners will soon be required to provide prospective buyers with an energy audit. Energy efficiency rather than cosmetic upgrades may soon influence the resale of our homes.

Investing in energy saving renovations and appliances makes both economic and ecological sense. Improvements will increase the value of a house and, unlike other possessions, homes are free of capital gains taxes when sold. Monthly utility costs, paid in after tax dollars, are reduced and generally our homes are healthier and more comfortable after environmental upgrading.

Approximately half the greenhouse gases created by each Canadian are generated in the home and the other half by driving – for those who own a vehicle. Interestingly, the Robertson’s overall upgrading costs over the past 4 years were split in similar fashion: $30,000 for home improvements and $30,000 for a Prius. Neither of these expenditures is excessive by current standards for renovations and vehicles.

The Robertsons have estimated the cost recovery periods for their purchases and energy upgrades at between 3 and 12 years. Increases in energy and resource prices may well shorten these periods. Ultimately, financial cost may not be the most important objective for us – moderating climate change by reducing our footprints may be the most rewarding result.

In addition to their energy reduction initiatives, the Robertsons were able to lower their ecological footprint by almost eliminating garbage disposal. They have been able to cut their disposable waste to one small bag every 6 months by minimizing all purchases, recycling and composting biodegradable material.

Besides curtailing purchases, they also shop second-hand when possible. All products contain embedded energy and, as a corollary, carbon emissions as well as processed water. A cotton shirt, for example, has a water footprint of 2,700 litres. Second-hand shopping is a good way to practise an important environmental R, “re-use.”

The Robertsons have tried to focus their food purchases within a 100 mile radius by shopping at local organic markets and by tending their own vegetable garden in the summer. They have also made an attempt to reduce their consumption of meat. Following a vegetarian diet and purchasing food locally is estimated to shave close to 30 percent off our eco-footprints.

In September, 2005, the Robertson home was assessed under the guidelines of the now defunct One-Tonne Challenge program and the results revealed a footprint of 3.4 tonnes of greenhouse gases per individual occupant. This figure is slightly more than half the national average and well below the Kyoto target of 4.5 tonnes per person. A recent reassessment, using the same One-Tonne Challenge carbon calculator, produced a reduced footprint of approximately 2.5 tonnes per person.

An ecological footprint for the Robertson home was also mapped in September, 2005, and calculated at 4.3 hectares per person. The latest reassessment, after the initiatives described in this article, has established their ecofootprint at approximately 3.5 hectares per person, which is slightly less than half the national average.

The Robertsons do not live a life of monastic asceticism. In winter, for example, the thermostat is set at 20 degrees during the day and dropped to 17 at night. In winter they also run an Energy Recovery Ventilator which circulates fresh air but recaptures the heat from the outgoing air. Their energy and carbon savings have not imposed a dramatic transformation in their daily lifestyle.

The message that emerges from the Robertson’s Kyoto journey is that it is doable. We can embrace the Kyoto challenge without apprehension and individuals can make a difference in the battle against climate change. We can all live more sustainably at no great cost or inconvenience in lifestyle.

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