Saturday, October 25, 2008

Home Heat Home

Last week’s announced increase in hydro rates is only the latest hit on the energy bill for Ontario residents. With the cost of natural gas and home heating oil also on the rise, conserving energy in the home has long since left the realm of environmental responsibility. Finding affordable ways to cut home heating and energy costs has become a critical issue with Old Man Winter only weeks away.

Before you start chopping up the furniture for firewood, The Ontario Home Energy Audit (OHEA) Program is here to the rescue. The program, which offers up to $ 10,000 in rebates, begins with a home energy audit.

Using the OHEA website ( enter the first three digits of your postal code to locate qualified and licensed auditors in your area. It’s recommended that you get quotes from several available companies before scheduling your Home Energy Audit. Depending on where you live, it usually takes a couple of weeks to schedule an audit once you’ve decided on a service provider.

The initial audit, which costs somewhere in the vicinity of $ 300, identifies how you use energy and where it’s being wasted. Your home will be given an EnerGuide rating on a scale from 0 (being the least efficient) to 100. You will be provided with a list of improvements that can be made to improve your home’s heating, cooling, hot water heating and other energy uses. The OHEA program will even pay 50 percent of the cost of your audit, up to $ 150.

According to the OHEA website, a typical audit involves four steps. The first is a walk-through assessment of your home’s insulation, heating and cooling systems and other energy uses.

The next step is to perform something called a “blower door” depressurization test. A large variable-speed fan is mounted on an adjustable panel that fits into an exterior door on your home. The fan slowly reduces the air pressure inside the house, allowing the outside air to flow in to your home through unsealed exterior openings and cracks. A special pressure gauge is then employed to keep your house at a constant pressure. This enables the auditor to calculate your home’s resistance to air infiltration.

The third step is to calculate your home’s energy efficiency rating. The more air tight your home, the higher the rating.

The fourth step is to check to ensure that your home’s ventilation allows an adequate amount of fresh air to circulate, to ensure the health of the occupants.

Once your audit is complete, you’ll be given a personalized Energy Efficiency Evaluation Report that will rate suggested energy efficiency improvements according to their potential for energy savings, priority and available rebates. For example, a new water heater may only get a single star for energy saving potential, but because of the $ 500 rebate available, it may be more immediately affordable than installing a more expensive furnace that also has a $ 500 rebate.

In addition, you’ll be given a list of no cost/low cost suggestions that don’t qualify for rebate program such as how to effectively use weather stripping and caulking.

Once your first audit has been completed, you have 18 months to make some or all of the improvements suggested in order to qualify for the available government rebates. Upon completion of as much work as you intend to do, you’ll be required to have a second, post-retrofit audit completed. After your post-retrofit audit, you’ll then receive matching rebates from the Governments of Ontario and Canada, to a maximum of $ 5,000 each, for a grand total of $10,000.

As a final step, your auditor will perform your audit and provide you with your home’s new EnerGuide rating that shows how much you have improved your home’s energy efficiency. Given the high cost of all kinds of energy, an excellent EnerGuide rating can also increase the value of your home – a warm thought for the cold winter days ahead.


Visit to locate a qualified home auditor, view a sample Home Energy Action Checklist, find out about various rebate programs and other energy saving tips. has tips and tools on how to reduce energy use.

From now until November 16th visit for valuable discount coupons for energy saving products such as programmable thermostats, power bars, timers, compact fluorescent floodlights and spotlights.

For information on federal incentive programs for businesses, including fleet management, facilities and building improvements, visit Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Waste Not

Ontario’s blue box program is probably one of the most successful public awareness campaigns ever launched. It may also be one of the most disastrous.

It’s estimated that 95 percent of homes currently have access to curbside recycling programs. Of those, a whopping 98 percent use their blue boxes to recycle waste items on a weekly basis. In addition, the increased availability of curbside organics recycling means that we are able to divert more and more of our waste. As a result, municipal diversion rates in many Ontario cities exceed 50 percent, with some reaching even further. In 2007, the Town of Markham boasted a 70 percent diversion rate – the highest in the province.

All this makes us feel wonderfully responsible and eco-friendly - and therein lies the problem. For starters, curbside programs, as the name suggests, are largely restricted to residents with curbs. Despite all promises to the contrary, residential recycling programs for apartments, townhouses and other multi-residential units are still in their infancy.

For example, in 2007, Toronto boasted a single-family residential diversion rate of 59 percent. Factor in the multi-family residential rate of only 13 percent, and Toronto’s total residential diversion rate drops to 42 percent.

It is important to note that the key word here is residential. With only 30 to 40 percent of our waste being generated at home, our total diversion rate is less than 25 percent. According to the Waste Reduction Week handbook, “The remainder (is) coming from commercial, industrial, construction and demolition sources.” In total Canadians produce more than 31 million tonnes of waste annually, or about 2.7 kilograms per person, per day.

Here’s the real kicker. This is the garbage that is discarded after we have purchased and consumed products. The U.S. EPA estimates that for every tonne of waste that we discard – either into the blue box, the green bin or the black bag – we produce an estimated 72 to 73 bags of manufacturing wastes such as mine tailings, sludge and other by-products to produce raw materials. Using the EPA’s ratio of 98.6 percent to 1.4 percent, that 31 million tonnes of waste translates into a total waste stream in excess of 2.2 billion tonnes annually. While many of these industrial wastes are generated offshore, we bear the responsibility of their production because we purchase the consumer goods that these processes ultimately create.

Now, back to where we started. Compare the 2.2 billion tonnes of manufacturing wastes with the total of 824,000 tonnes of wastes diverted by Ontario’s Blue Box program in 2004, and it becomes clear that curbside recycling is little more than a band-aid on a much bigger problem.

In addition to generating billions of tonnes of waste, producing goods (whether as raw materials or finished consumer items) uses a tremendous amount of energy. Manufacturing and industrial processes account for about 14 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions and the transportation sector (which ships all those consumer goodies to a Big Box store near you) accounts for another 26 percent. It’s worth noting that this is an increase of 30 percent from 1990 to 2004.

What doesn’t make it to the blue box ends up in the landfill. Once in the landfill, what doesn’t end up leaching into our groundwater system will eventually decompose. This process not only makes our landfills stink, it produces vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane – the latter being 24 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the former. Environment Canada estimates that landfills account for 38 percent of Canada’s total methane emissions.

More than a hundred years ago U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt said, “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

Canadians are part of the 20 percent of the world’s population that currently consumes a whopping 86 percent of the world’s resources (up from 80 percent in 1990). We are so far past the point of responsible consumption that we may never find our way back.

But where’s there’s life, there’s hope. October 19 to 25 is Waste Reduction Week in Canada. It’s time to begin.


Waste Reduction Week

The Grassroots Recycling Network has information about Zero Waste and Extended Producer Responsibility.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanks Giving

A couple of years ago my daughter’s Guide troop participated in something called a Shoebox program. The girls were asked to pack a shoebox (or reasonable facsimile) with a variety of basic necessities; inconsequential items that we take for granted. Common items including pens and pencils, crayons or markers, small writing pads, solar calculators, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, face cloths, hairbrushes and combs, socks, small bags of candy or gum, dolls, toy cars or stuffed animals, kazoos, yo-yos and skipping ropes. Once filled, the boxes were to be distributed overseas by various church groups and aid agencies to children living in desperate poverty.

In describing the program to the girls, the guide leader told the story of one boy in Africa who received his box and removed the lid. He stood gazing and the wonderful things that were packed inside for a very long time. Finally, the aid worker who had given it to him said, “It’s okay, take it.”

The boy stood there pondering his gift for a few moments more and then very carefully reached in and pulled out a pencil. With a grateful smile he gently put the lid back on the box and returned it to the worker. When the worker tried to hand the box back to the boy, he shook his head. He simply couldn’t understand that the entire box was all for him.

This story bears repeating at a time when we celebrate the bounty of the season. The idea that a single pencil could transform the life of a child is as much beyond our comprehension as the idea of the abundance of our daily lives would be to him. We have so very much that we are blinded by the bounty.

Another Shoebox recipient was a 10 year-old young Russian girl by the name of Tanya who was living in an orphanage. It was the very first gift she had ever received; the very first time that she felt that somebody actually cared about her.

Years later, after Tanya and her two siblings were adopted and living the U.S., she launched a shoebox program at her high school. Tanya ultimately had the opportunity travel to Ecuador to distribute shoeboxes.

In a recent interview with CNN, Tanya told the story of one little boy who opened his box and jumped for joy when he saw a pair of socks. He ran around, gleefully waving his socks in the air. As Tanya says, “If we got a pair of socks for a gift, most of us would be annoyed, but for this little boy it was the greatest present he could receive. Everything matters to those kids.”

This Thanksgiving, as we stuff ourselves with turkey in the comfort our own heated and comfortable homes, it’s important to not only give thanks for what we have (and so often don’t appreciate), but also to reach out for those whose lives are so vastly different from our own. We must remember that we are part of the privileged 20 percent of the world’s population that consumes a whopping 86 percent of the world’s resources.

This isn’t just about social and economic justice. It’s about environmental sustainability. If everyone on the planet wanted to consume resources at the rate that we do, we’d need an estimated 4.5 planets to meet everyone’s need (and greed).

When I was at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, I saw a slogan on a t-shirt that perhaps described it best of all. It said, “We need to live simply so that others may simply live.”

By doing more with less and sharing what we have, we not only ease the burden of the estimated 1.4 billion people living in the developing world who are barely existing on less than $ 1.25 US a day, but we also help relieve the pressure on our beleaguered planet.

Happy Thanksgiving.


For more on data on global poverty, visit the World Bank.

Remember to make a donation to your local food bank this holiday weekend. For a food bank near you or to make a cash donation, visit the Canadian Association of Food Banks.

Thankfully, shoebox programs are rapidly growing in popularity. While many churches have established programs, for a basic How-To Guide, visit the U.S. based and go to Operation Christmas Child.

The Big Move

Last month Ontario’s long-awaited Metrolinx draft plan was unveiled. Entitled, The Big Move: Transforming Transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the plan proposes a massive $ 50 billion investment in public transit and transportation infrastructure over the next 25 years. When completed, 1,150 km of new rapid transit lines will bring 75 percent of residents in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) within 2 km of rapid transit. Currently only 42 percent of residents are within the targeted 2 km range.

According to Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac, the plan will launch a “Renaissance of Transportation for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area.” Metrolinx is a Crown agency of the Province of Ontario, operating within the legislative framework of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority Act, 2006 and the provincial Growth Plan.

“Transportation is the largest challenge facing our region – and this plan will be a major step forward in addressing that challenge,” said MacIsaac. “This plan will yield tangible results – moving more people, more conveniently, faster. It’s a plan of action, to get things moving now. We are finally playing catch-up, after decades of neglecting major-league transit improvements. Other jurisdictions in North America and around the world have gotten the competitive jump on us. This plan can restore our city-region as pre-eminent in transit.”

In addition to public transit, The Big Move proposes a $ 500 million investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, including the creation of more than 7,500 km of pathways.

Input on The Big Move will be sought over the next two months through open houses and meetings with the public and stakeholder groups. The final plan is scheduled to be released later this year.

If all goes according to plan, The Big Move will definitely ease the transportation chaos that has become a daily nightmare for many GTHA commuters. The question is, “What do commuters do in meantime?”

One very effective and immediate solution is carpooling. Years ago when I used to take the GO Train into Toronto on a regular basis, I would sometimes count the number of people in each vehicle as the train whizzed by the traffic crawling along on Highway 401. While my head counting wasn’t an exact science, on average only 1 in 10 cars had more than one person inside. As a general rule, the cars with two or more passengers were usually fuel-efficient compact vehicles or hybrids. Larger gas-guzzling SUVs, vans and luxury vehicles were almost exclusively the domain of one.

Carpooling has come a long way from the days when co-workers from the same office would ride together out of convenience. Now thanks to program like Smart Commute, people can connect through an online ride matching system that identifies commuter’s points of origin and destination. In addition to carpooling, Smart Commute also helps local employers and commuters to explore different commuter choices like teleworking, transit, cycling, walking or flexible work hours.

Smart Commute is a partnership between Metrolinx and the cities and regions of the GTHA region. While GHTA residents wait for The Big Move to get them out of their cars and on to public transit, Smart Commute offers more immediate solutions.

Which brings us nicely back to carpooling. This simple step has tremendous potential to help relieve traffic congestion and its associated ills. Imagine what would happen if everyone doubled up on his or her daily commute? Road traffic would immediately be cut in half, effectively reducing the frequency and severity of accidents, as well as the wear and tear on our highways. Commute times and in-traffic idling would also be reduced, further reducing greenhouse gas emission, fuel consumption, commuter fatigue and even road rage. Parking spaces would no longer be at a premium and the cost of monthly parking passes could be shared. As an added bonus, a drop in congestion will reduce insurance rates for everyone.

There’s no time like the present to get started. The first annual National RideShare Week is scheduled for October 6-10, 2008. Join in and let someone else do the driving for a change.


National RideShare Week is a program of the Association for Commuter Transportation in Canada. Check out for more details, or to find out about the upcoming Canadian Transportation Demand Summit in Halifax, October 19 to 22. offers a wide array of services such as ride matching programs, site assessments, emergency ride home programs and employee work solutions workshops, promotions and other fun stuff.

The draft plan The Big Move: Transforming Transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, is posted at