Tag Archives: energy

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building

Here is link to the Cascadia report on Eco-Sense.  One year Research Project funded by a grant from Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation.  Gord and Ann have over 425 hours into this…250 of which was volunteer…we missed our summer.

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building  (Written for the public.)

Also a link to the Technical Report  which served as the basis for the Cascadia report.  Written by Gord Baird, Christina Goodvin of Goodvin Desgins, and Ann Baird.  Lots of graphs, tables, and building science analysis for the earthen walls in four seasons (temperature, humidity, dew point),  full technical analysis of sustainable energy systems (solar PV, Solar Thermal, wood gassification), full policy report, full water analysis (grey water, rain water harvesting, composting toilets, water balance tables, and more).

See research page on blog  for all the individual reports (water, solar PV, building code, wall performance, and energy comparison reports)

Energized, over carbonated and gassy?

Sounds painful… like something should be cut out of our diet?

Energy Diet Challenge

Today we look forward to a countrywide challenge, a diet of sorts.  A diet that even Ann and I feel the need to participate in.  Lets challenge your imagination… picture Gord, using some electrical extension cords to act as suspenders to hold up his pants over his fictional CO2 beer belly, or better yet, one of those same electrical cords used as a belt cutting into Ann’s carbon bulging belly (no laughing…. Just consider this a mental exercise).  Over the next three months Ann and I will be helping six families across Canada try to slim their energy and water consumption and trying to cut down their carbon footprint in the Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada Energy Diet Challenge.

Eco-Sense as Mentors

As mentors, for these six families, we will be guest blogging on the Canadian Geographic Energy Diet Website; (http://energydiet.canadiangeographic.ca/home/landing ).  In addition we’ll be sharing technical “how to” and “why”, and we’ll participate alongside these families by trying to cut our own carbon bulge.   If you would like to follow our Eco-Sense Canadian Geographic blog, vote for the families, participate in the dialogue, share your stories, learn some technical how to, or even go on your own personal energy diet, this adventure is for you.  The challenge will also be covered in the print version of Canadian Geographic with a feature on Eco-Sense in the October 2011 issue.

When it comes to transportation, we still have a BIG footprint.  For us this means going multimodal (multiple combined methods of transport for one trip).  Gord has taken on the task of teaching the kids and himself how to get around on transit… seems it is easier for the 11 and 13 year old than for Dad.  The first lesson Gord learned… was he needed to get an updated eye prescription as he jumped on the #14 only to realize that his blurred 42 year old eyes placed him upon the #4 going the wrong direction.

As he headed off to his optometrist appointment one week later, to get drops in his  eyes, and using transit once again, he walked into the office, only to have receptionist say “You have to go home right away.  Your neighbour’s house is on fire!”.  So as Gord spun around and walked out of the office he looked towards the west and 17 kms away was a horrible black smoke trailing through the sky.  His first thought, “Ahh Shit!    Then a second thought, “what’s is the fastest bus home?”.  Total travel time from leaving the home in the morning, driving to the park-n-ride, catching the bus in, and returning home… a total time of 70 minutes… quicker than if he had brought the car into town and found parking.

Sadly, the neighbour’s cedar house was lost, but thankfully all safely escaped.   The hot embers that landed around the neighbourhood were either put out or did not ignite, and we are so lucky the whole tinder dry forest did not ignite.  It was very frightening, however there was some comfort in knowing that our earthen home is not flammable.  A fire and a scare really puts into perspective what’s important, our lives, our pets, and the beauty of our shared land…fire (or climate change) doesn’t stop at fences.

So, what else has Gord learned in this effort to become more responsible in his fossil fuel indulgence… he’s become increasingly aware of parenting!  It really was time for the kids to be learning more independence.  Having them taking on responsibility for their own mobility is part of preparing them for the future we envision.  Most agree that energy use and transportation will be very different in the kids’ future, so it only makes sense to raise our kids in this reality.  Gord must admit that he also appreciates not having to spend the time sitting in a car doing this most mundane of tasks.  With our goal of reducing our energy footprint and striving to have more time to spend doing things that are important… dropping the kids off at the bus achieves this in spades.

For the kids… well they quite enjoyed the transition as it means they are no longer a captive audience in the ride to and from school and don’t have to listen to dad’s rants and lectures about the future.

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and The Future of Green building

Quite separate from the Energy Diet Challenge, but tied directly to energy usage, we have just finished 18 months of research on the home, a year of data logging, 3 months of procrastination of how to digest the 721,000 data points, and 3 months of analyzing and writing several reports; we have real data of our energy footprint.  Part of this research focused strictly on the cob walls, and their functioning (moisture and thermal properties), and the rest was tied to the energy use of the house.  Obviously the house is one big interconnected system so the trick was to separate the pepper from the flyshit and see what energy was used for what purpose.  No easy task.

Of interest was the variable of solar insolation, (the energy provided by the sunshine); the research period from June 2010 to June 2011 served us a year of cloud.  Using data acquired from 3 UVic weather stations surrounding us, we found this period to have the equivalent of 2 months short of sunshine.  This equates to 15% less solar gain, and a 14% increase in the number of Heating Degree Days… and consequently more energy used for heating the home than in an average year.


A comparison of our energy usage can be found on our wordpress blog at https://ecosenseliving.wordpress.com/research/.  The full science report can also be found there.  We would also like to extend a big THANKYOU to Christina Goodvin for all of her amazing help to Gord in setting up the research, analyzing the data, and report writing.  Gord and Christina were truly amazing in their dedication to this project.  Cascadia has used this science report to write the summary report just completed today.  Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and The Future of Green building.  Link coming later this week!  Thanks to Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation for funding this research and of course our research partner Cascadia Green Building Council.

As we look at energy and we look at learning the new language, we have had to learn how to conceptually picture what different units of energy look like.  Imagine what a Kilowatt looks like.  No, not on your hydro bill… go a little deeper.  Imagine a calorie, a BTU, a joule.  Energy units can be very abstract and confusing.

Its easy to picture a litre of gas, and to understand how far it gets you in your car or scooter; But what’s a kilowatt (kW)?  Think of food or a daily dietary intake of 2500 calories… the energy to power our bodies for a day.  Now lets compare the food for our bodies to a single litre of gas and the total household energy use for the average BC person per day.

2500 calories is about 3 kWhrs

One litre of gas is about 9 kWhrs

The average person in a house in BC uses 35 kWhrs of energy per day (and this does not include our transportation…or the transportation of everything we buy…or the energy to make everything we buy)

At Eco-Sense the energy used per person per day in our home is 16.5 kWhrs.  This energy comes from wood used to heat the home, Solar Thermal to heat the hot water, Solar PV  for electricity, and propane for cooking.  We consume half the total energy of the average resident, and much of our energy is from renewable energy.

But we can do better, especially when it comes to transportation… and have some laughs doing it even if they are at Gord’s expense…which is why we are now drinking a low carbon footprint local beer…made right here.  It’s covertly known as CSIS…Carbon Sequestering Imperial Stout.   Problem is that we now need to conserve energy, water, and BEER.  All this done to tighten up our energy bulge and make lifestyle changes that will last…for generations to come.

And what about the energized, over carbonated, and gassy feeling?  We’ll see at the end of three months if Gord is feeling better.

Smart Meters

Letter to Premier Clark from a friend of ours regarding SMART METERS.
Written by Steve Satow on August 3rd, 2011


Dear Premier Clark and Mr. Coleman,

I am writing to you to express my serious concerns about the on-going installation of the so-called ‘Smart Meters’ by BC Hydro. I request that you do whatever is within your power both as official representatives of the citizens of BC and, hopefully, as concerned citizen to over-turn this misguided program.

I suspect that you may already be aware of the numerous reasons for challenging this program, but I would like to take a moment of your time to present my particular concerns:

1) Cost.

BC Hydro estimates that the installation will cost $930 Million. This equates to about $500 per household in BC. They claim that this money will be recovered within 10 year through savings, increased efficiency and a decrease in theft which, by their own estimates, amount to $100 million annually. This is highly questionable as their figures for theft have somehow risen from $12 million in 2004. Regardless of whether their estimates are realistic, the new smart meters can only detect theft that occurs at the meter (which only accounts for about 4% of total theft) according to a report by the Ontario Energy Board.

I quote:

“Theft of power may be detected more easily if it involves meter tampering.
However, theft accomplished by tapping conductors before they reach the meter would
not be detected by smart metering.” 
 Ontario Energy Boards “Smart Meter Initiative” Working Group.

Furthermore, these costs will be born by BC tax-payers or passed on to users through higher bills without generating any significant advantages for the user.

BC Hydro claim that power outages will be reported more quickly and accurately through automated reporting by the meters. But, in reality, this will not translate into problems being fixed any quicker than if users call in shortly after they discover an outage, since it is still dependant on the crew being dispatched based on workload or other considerations.

2) Loss of Jobs.

The majority of meter-readers are likely to be made redundant, since their service is no longer required. BC Hydro claims that they will be replaced by an undisclosed number of “technology-based” positions necessary to administer the metering program, but I strongly suspect that the number of new positions will be small compared to those lost.

Apart from the trauma caused by loss of employment, these redundancies will put an added strain on the BC welfare system. Furthermore, the loss of these jobs will make it harder to detect theft, since there will be even fewer on-site visits.

3) Economic justification.

BC Hydro claim that the new meters will help them to achieve significant reductions in power usage over the new decade, as mandated by the BC Clean Energy Act. They maintain that the meters will encourage people to implement reductions by becoming more aware of their usage. This has been clearly demonstrated as unrealistic, not only by the experience with the current two-tier tariff in BC, but also by studies in a number of other parts of the world where smart meters have been installed.

Ontario’s Premier McGuinty has stated that the program’s expenses would not be recovered through the program itself. This is mirrored by the experiences in Connecticut and Maryland.

It has been clearly shown that these meters will not achieve the results that BC Hydro is claiming, namely to lower our electricity usage in order to relieve pressure on our aging generation and transmission infrastructure.

On top of this, it is estimated that 20 – 30% of the losses incurred by power companies are during long-distance transmission. If BC Hydro is serious about lowering peak and future loads on the system, it would make far more sense to invest in local renewable generation through incentives such as those implemented under Ontario’s MicroFIT program. This would have the other significant advantage of creating new jobs within the province.

One option might be to install renewable systems for customers, retain ownership of the systems and charge a fee for the energy generated as has been done successfully in other parts of North America.

4) Health.

The new ‘Smart meters’ will expose our homes and offices to almost continuous Electromagnetic Field radiation (EMF).

There is a growing, and very credible, body of scientific evidence to show that exposure to short and long-term EMF is hazardous to our health and wellbeing (as well as all living organisms including bees) and the World Health Organization (WHO) very recently classified it as a class 2b Carcinogen alongside DDT, Lead and car exhaust fumes. Would you allow any of those into your home on a voluntary basis?

BC Hydro claims that the ‘average’ emissions of the smart meters fall below the levels set by Health Canada but this is both untrue and subject to serious question.

BC Hydro deliberately uses the term ‘average’ because they know that the actual power of the individual transmissions is well above the 600 (for 900 MHz) or 1000 (for 2.4 GHz) microWatts per cm2 (uW) safety level set by Health Canada under Safety Code 6. Studies have shown that the transmission strength can and does exceed 4000 uW but by calling it an average, they are taking into account all the time when the meters are not transmitting. This is a highly spurious attempt to mislead the public.

Furthermore, the meters act as a grid, communicating with each other regularly throughout the day. This can increase the density of EMF emanating from the meters by orders of magnitude.

In addition, there is very sound evidence to show that the Health Canada limits are far higher than is actually safe. Medical studies in several parts of the world have shown quantifiable biological effects at exposures to 2 uW and below.

One of the reasons why Health Canada’s limit is so high is because it is based on the tests done by the US Military on large, fit, adult male subjects (hardly representative of the general population). These early studies were the first attempts to understand the effects of EMF and consequently were based on the very dubious assumption that EMF was only harmful once it was strong enough to raise core body temperature by 1 degree. The conclusion from those studies was that 10,000 uW was the safe limit.

Since then scientists all over the world have proven this to be dangerously high and the limits have been significantly lowered. Although Canada’s limits – at 600/1000 uW – are much lower than those of the original studies, they are still unacceptably high and far out of line with levels set by other countries.

5) Privacy and Security.

There are serious concerns about the security and privacy of the data transmission and storage related to these new meters. These concerns are currently being investigated by the Privacy Commissioner for BC, Elizabeth Denham.

In addition, these same meters being installed in various US states have the capability of communicating with other so-called ‘smart’ appliances within our homes, thereby monitoring our lives on an almost real-time continual basis and generating even higher levels of EMF pollution.

6) Lack of Choice or Consent.

Setting aside the fact that this whole program is based on highly spurious claims as to its benefits, safety and effectiveness, the manufacturer of the meters that BC Hydro are buying (Itron) produce the same ‘smart meter’ in a version that is capable of communicating via wires or cable as well as wirelessly.

BC Hydro has stated that, due to the geography of the province, using wired systems would be too difficult or expensive though I have yet to see evidence of why this is so, since virtually every house in the province is connected to a telephone line and/or cable capable of transmitting the necessary data.

The Clean Energy Act, 2010 also gives BC Hydro and its agents authority to install these meter ‘without consent’ of the homeowners. I regard this as a gross infringement of my civil rights as a Canadian citizen.

Furthermore, BC Hydro has failed to engage the public in the process of deciding whether to implement this program and it has been exempt from oversight by the BC Utilities Commission, a fact that raises considerable concern among many people, including myself.

7) Higher Electricity Bills.

The evidence in numerous parts of the world is that the installation of these new meters has caused higher bills for many users without any increase in their usage. In part this will result from the transition from our current two-tier system whereby we pay less for the first few hundred kilowatts, regardless of when we use that power, to a system where we will pay a high rate for all electricity used during the day.

Also, there is justifiable concern that these wireless meters may be susceptible to errors resulting in false billing due to erratic power fluctuations. A class-action law-suit has been initiated against GP&E in the US by a large group of people who have seen their electricity bills double or triple after the installation of the meters.

While I acknowledge that we pay a very low price for our electricity in BC – and arguably should pay more – higher bills should not be based merely on the ill-conceived installation of new meters.

In conclusion, I thank you for taking the time to read this message and hope that you will seriously consider revoking this program.

Energy Composition: Solar Thermal, solar PV and Wood

The latest data from the research and data loggers for the energy inputs.

Energy composition:  Solar PV, Solar thermal and Wood.  Solar thermal brings in a LOT more kWhrs than Solar PV.  The wood used so far this year translates into 1.26 cords of Douglas Fir.

Energy Composition for 6 months

In this graph, this documents the generated energy, not necessarily the energy used; the solar thermal gain in the summer time is partially used.  From this graph we can easily see that trapping and storing the solar thermal would have been a wise investment, possibly with the addition of another 30 tubes, we may not have needed the gassification boiler.  The $6500 put into the boiler could have gone into a large highly insulative storage medium, thus avoiding combustion.