Energy Efficiency Tips from Peter

& lots of 'em. Thanks, Peter!!


By Peter Bursztyn, Barrie, Ontario, 2008.





Total (of




Domestic Energy 1388.1PJ




      Comfort Heat 830.7PJ




      Water Heating 302.4PJ




      Appliances 246.3PJ




Motor Vehicle(s) 976.8PJ




Natural Resources Canada, End-Use Energy Data Handbook, June 2002

Total                      2364.9PJ

Clearly, the biggest potential for savings is in heating.

The next focus for economy must be in our vehicles/transportation.

THE OPTIONS: No Cost -> Low Cost -> More

No Cost

1.  Turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater!

2.  Set thermostat to 140C-16oC when the house is unoccupied and at night.

3.   Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

4.   In winter, turn off the humidifier and line-dry laundry inside the home or basement.

5.   If you have a roof rack on your car, TAKE IT OFF WHEN NOT ACTUALLY IN USE!  A roof rack increases highway fuel consumption by 5%-15%!

6.   Switch to low-temperature washing detergent for clothes washing and wash in cold water.

7.   Turn off computers, TVs (and any other electrical equipment) not in use. Many devices with a remote control continue to use electricity when "turned off by the remote." Manually disconnect (use a power bar) or unplug them if no switch is provided. (Don't bother if they have the "Energy Star" logo - these are designed to have very low "standby" consumption.)

7. (a)  Modems, routers, battery chargers, etc. all use power on the "off" mode. Satellite decoders can be very power-hungry! (My modem & wireless router together use 20watts on or off; ~$18/yr. A 2005 "ExpressVu" satellite receiver uses 29watts off & 32watts on; ~$35/yr; others use far less.)

8.   Dump the beer fridge - NOW! Most are elderly and cost $200 - $400 per year to run!

9.   Vacuum clean the condenser coils (warm coils) of your refrigerator and freezer monthly at a minimum. (If you have pets, a weekly clean might be justified!)

10.  Buy electro-luminescent night lights. These are cheap & almost no-cost. Their electricity consumption is 0.06 watts each! (A conventional night light uses as much as 80 of these!)

 Low Cost

1.   Buy compact fluorescent lights. Replace 60w incandescent lamps with 13-15w CFs. To have a visible effect on your bill replace 6 lamps for $20 - $30. Payback should be ~6 months. Replace entrance hall, kitchen, porch lights which tend to be left on for long periods. If more CFs are installed in less heavily used lighting, more money will be saved, but the payback will be longer.

2.  Replace standard thermostat with a programmable unit. These cost ~$50. If night-time & unoccupied home temperature is dropped by ~5oC, annual savings should top $100-$150. Note that some local utilities are offering a free thermostat which allows the utility to raise your temperature setting by 2oC, lowering the time your air conditioner runs when the demand for power is high. (They offer various inducements for you to do this.)

3.  Replace wash basin taps with low flow aerator units and shower heads. These reduce water consumption (reducing your water bill), and therefore your use of hot water (more savings).

4.   Add attic insulation. Although this is relatively costly, its effect on heating bills is potentially so large that it must count as a "low-cost" initiative. Getting extra insulation blown into your attic should cost $400-$700, depending on the size of house. Depending on the standard of insulation your house had, this could cut home heating bills by 50% or even more. Depending on your current cost of heating and existing insulation, this could save $300 - $1000 per year! If your roof grows icicles every winter, you need better roof insulation NOW! Note that many types of "loose fill" insulation "settle" with time, so you may well have less now than when your house was new.

5.   Apply transparent plastic sheeting to drafty windows - particularly if north-facing. (If applied to non-drafty windows, smaller (but still worth-while) energy savings will be seen.)

6.    Replace conventional Christmas lights with LED units. These cost ~50% more than conventional ones, but THEY NEVER BURN OUT and use ~10% of the power!

7.    Bookshelves should be located on an outside wall - if this fits in with your décor. Bookshelves on an outside wall can markedly reduce heat loss - particularly in an older house less poorly insulation.

A large piece of furniture (eg: upright piano) also impedes air movement past an outside wall. Floor-to-ceiling curtains also do this. Another idea for an older house is applying cork to an outside wall. Cork is an effective insulator, and produces a warm and cosy (albeit dark and somber) "mood" in a room.

8.  Your dryer heats up air and evaporates moisture from your clothing. In winter, your house requires moisture and many people operate humidifiers. Take that warm, humid air from your dryer - which you have already paid to create - and divert it to blow inside your house. Such diverters are available from hardware stores.

WARNING: You must not do this if your dryer is in a small room with limited ability to distribute the moist air through the house. This may cause moisture to build up and encourage the growth of mould. If your windows begin to fog, there is probably too much moisture in your house.

More Expensive

1.     When replacing you refrigerator, consider buying one with no built-in freezer. These units use less than ½ the energy of combination units. Then get a small dedicated freezer, and put this in your basement - where it will not work very hard!

 2.    In selecting a new refrigerator or freezer, choose a "skin-cooled" unit. These have condenser coils welded to the skin of the refrigerator. (The appliance surface gets warm when it runs.) Their smooth skin does not gather dust-bunnies as do those with visible condenser coils (tubing with fins behind or under the unit.). BONUS: You never have to clean the condenser coils! EXTRA BONUS: You can support local industry because a Canadian manufacturer (Woods, Guelph) makes them!

 3.   Replace your conventional top-loading washing machine with a "European-style" front-loader. Make sure that the spin speed of this unit is at least 1000 rpm. The European units wash in 15-20 litres of water, and have spin speeds up to 1600 rpm. The North American front-loaders* wash in 40+ litres of water and their spin speeds are 600-800 rpm. (Top-loaders use 80-120 litres per load and spin at 400 rpm.) The latter may wash larger loads, but you often do not have enough of a particular colour or fabric type to fill them - so they run part-full.

Many North American front-loaders hold more than the European-style machines. However, if you segregate colours, fabric types, soil levels, and don't have young clildren, you are unlikely to fill the large machines often!

4.  Consider cooking on gas instead of electricity. Gas ranges are considerably more efficient (contact between a pot and the electric coil is often poor), although electric ovens are probably no better than gas. Make sure the oven is self-cleaning; these have far better insulation! A self-igniting oven with spark-ignition is preferable to a "hot surface igniter", which can use a lot of power.

 5.   If you are thinking of central air conditioning, insist on a water-cooled unit. These consume water, but you can use the warm water on your lawn. If you intend to water your lawn, this method of doing it uses no more water, but can save 70%-80% of air conditioning electricity! Far more costly is a "ground source" heat pump which provides a similar benefit, but costs $20,000+.

6.   Awnings should be installed to shade your south-facing windows from the summer sun. If these are fixed (cheaper), make sure they allow the (low) winter sun in to warm your house when it is cold outside. Adjustable awnings do not have to be that carefully thought out, but are more costly.

An alternative to awnings are inside shutters to reflect the summer sun back out before the incoming radiation turns into heat. Obviously, in winter, these are opened to allow the radiant heat in. In winter, these can be closed at night, offering a good barrier to escaping heat. Many European houses have electrically operated outside shutters to keep the solar radiation out in summer and heat in during winter.

7.   Replacement windows should be argon-filled triple- or even quad-glazed "low emissivity" (or "low-e") units. Fit these only to your north-facing windows (windows which receive no winter sun). Take care in choosing these. Their (usually) plastic frames tend to be bulky, covering more window area than a wooden frame would. So replace a 3-pane window with a 2-pane window (or even single-pane) if you want to maintain as much of the view as you had before.

South-facing windows should be double-glazed and NOT "low-e." These allow more winter solar radiation into the house. In summer, shade these with awnings. Well-placed deciduous trees (lose leaves in winter) allow winter sun in.

NOTE: Some "low-e" windows are designed to let solar heat (infrared radiation) into the house, but keep infrared from escaping in winter. I have not found a window salesperson who knows what I am talking about (yet).

8.   If you have a fireplace and enjoy using it, consider a fireplace insert. These are the equivalent of an air-tight stove which burns the wood slowly while taking far less air from inside the house. This means it draws less (cold) air into the house (and room). These inserts have double walls with fan-assisted air circulation, so bring capture much more of the heat from the unit than an ordinary fireplace, and deliver this into the house. Note that, despite using a renewable fuel, fireplaces are reckoned to create a lot of potentially toxic emissions. On the other hand, they are an iconic symbol of the warm, cosy home in our society!

Motor Vehicle

Clearly, the best option is to walk, ride a bicycle or use public transit. However, the communities where some of us live are poorly served by public transit. Although we should probably move to a better served location, we may be reluctant to leave a community where we have lived for many years. 

Our society is bombarded with vehicle advertising. Much tries to persuade us to buy an SUV or minivan or a powerful engine. Clearly, the best option is bicycle or public transport, but if you want a car, try to read between the lines of the advertising and focus on what you actually need.

1.   If you are thinking of a minivan, consider a station wagon instead.

2.  If you are thinking of an SUV (to cope with winter storms?), consider instead buying good quality snow tires for your front-drive vehicle. These last 5-10 seasons. Costing ~$1000 (including spare wheels), they are far cheaper than 4-wd. A 2-wd vehicle with snow tires uses less fuel than even a small SUV, plus it stops and handles far better, and is probably safer too.

3.   A 4-speed automatic uses at least 15% more fuel than a manual transmission. Do you really need it? A manual transmission keeps you aware of road conditions. For example, if you accelerate on snow, it is hard to tell whether your automatic has downshifted or if your wheels are slipping. With a manual transmission, you know instantly! (A 5, 6, or 7 speed automatic, or continuously variable transmission (CVT) reduces the excess fuel consumption, but still uses more than a manual transmission.)

4.   A small, light car uses less fuel than a large one. This is particularly true in urban driving where you must accelerate and decelerate often. In city driving (EPA Urban Driving Cycle), 50% of the energy (fuel) is used to overcome inertia (in acceleration). So vehicle weight is particularly important here.

On the highway (Highway Driving Cycle), most of the energy is used to overcome aerodynamic drag (wind resistance). In steady-speed cruising (100kmph) aerodynamic drag costs us 80% of our fuel consumption! So a vehicle with a small "frontal area" and a good "drag coefficient" (smooth shape) is best here. It is worth noting that the space under the vehicle adds to the frontal area, so a "jacked up" SUV or pick-up truck uses more fuel than a similar, lower vehicle. It is worth realizing that a sleek-looking shape isn't always aerodynamically efficient. The "Dodge Viper" has a drag coefficient similar to that of a pick-up truck. On the other hand, the rather dumpy-looking Toyota Yaris has one of the best drag coefficients in the business!

Typical car dimension is: 2.0m wide and 1.5m high = 3m2 frontal area. At 100kmph (28 metres/sec), it must push aside 28m/sec x 3 = 84m3/sec = 84,000 litres/sec of air. A gram molecular weight ("mole") of any gas occupies 22.4 litres. A mole of nitrogen weighs 28g & N2 is 80% of air. A mole of oxygen (20% of air) weighs 32g. Thus, a mole of air (22.4 litres) weighs ~29grams, or one litre of air weighs 1.29grams.

So, at 100kmph, the car pushes aside 84,000 litres x 1.29g = 108,000g = 108kg of air every second!

It takes less energy (fuel) to push the air aside gently (low drag coefficient), and more to push it aside violently (aggressive styling). But aggressive sells here . . .

In addition, an SUV or Pick-up has almost twice the frontal area of a car!

5.   Hybrid vehicles are advertised as being considerably more fuel-efficient (and less polluting) than conventional ones. Unfortunately, hybrids often fail to perform as advertised. This is really the fault of the driver, driving style, and their daily driving route.

(a) A hybrid will not operate in its hybrid mode until the motor and catalytic converter is warmed up. This can take a long time in heavy urban traffic with the engine operating at very low power, and particularly long in winter when heat is being taken from the engine to warm the vehicle.

(b) Part of the hybrid's fuel economy comes from "regenerative braking". This allows the electric motor to operate as a generator, recharging the battery on braking. A 25 horsepower electric motor can only give 25 horsepower of braking effect. But even normal braking often calls for well over 100 horsepower. Supplied by the friction brakes, the kinetic energy is, of course, lost. "Regenerative braking" only works if you drive gently - not a common urban driving style!

(c) If your driving begins in a distant "rural" suburb, your hybrid will warm up quickly. However, the advantages of hybrid driving tend to be slight in highway driving.

(d) The "better" hybrids have relatively powerful electric motors coupled to smaller internal combustion engines. This configuration forces the gasoline motor to operate near its maximum output most of the time, and allows the electric motor to power the low-speed driving regime at higher traffic speeds. This works well because a gasoline motors are spectacularly inefficient at low power. If the electric motor shoulders much of this burden, the gasoline engine handles the high-power operation where it works best.

6.   Diesel engines are far more efficient than gasoline engines. This efficiency gap is huge at low power (urban traffic) and small at high power. (A diesel can double the fuel economy of a gasoline car in urban traffic (European taxis are all diesels!), while in highway driving the advantage drops to 10-20%).

Overall, a typical diesel car delivers 30% better fuel economy than an otherwise identical gasoline car. With fuel at $2-$4/litre, ½ of all European cars are diesels, and ~75% of European luxury models. Euro-SUVs are almost all diesels. The more fuel a vehicle uses, the larger the savings become. And buyers of expensive cars are not stupid!

In general, a diesel vehicle achieves about the same fuel consumption as a similar hybrid.

Unfortunately, very few diesel-powered cars are available on the North American market. VW and Mercedes are almost the only cars available. The Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee are the only diesel SUV offerings. The *smart* was - unusually - only offered with a diesel engine initially, but the 2008 model being sold here is now exclusively gasoline powered - and considerably less efficient!

NOTE: North American "mythology" has demonized the diesel. They are perceived as noisy, slow, smoky, polluting. This might have been true 20-30 years ago, but is definitely not so now. This is not the place to explain why.

Very few European models are not available with diesel power. Excellent diesels are offered by BMW, Mercedes, VW, Peugeot, Nissan, Fiat, Renault, Honda, Toyota, Volvo, General Motors and Ford!

NOTE: For the record, my own VW Jetta diesel has covered 72,000km in the last 3.5 years. Its overall fuel consumption has been 5.3 litres per 100km (53mpg). My *smart* has averaged 4.4 litres per 100km (63mpg) over its 34,000km of largely urban driving. When I need a pick-up truck, I rent one!

By Peter Bursztyn, Barrie, Ontario, 2008.