COASTAL LIVING: Increase efficiency to help combat rising electricity rates in province

NANAIMO – New windows and insulation are two ways to lower amount of electricity consumed in the home.

Few will appreciate the fact our power prices will rise another nine per cent on April 1, especially for the 60 per cent of us who heat with it.

Some will take this increase in their stride, some will grumble and do nothing, others will angrily complain that B.C. Hydro is “price gouging,” some will switch to natural gas or wood heating, and others will be proactive about the increases by lowering their energy consumption.

We complain even though we will still have some of the cheapest power rates on the continent, because we’ve been spoiled, and because we live and work in some of the least energy efficient buildings.

Based on my experiences as an energy advisor, here’s what smarter people (those who elect to save energy) may wish to address.

Windows are often the single largest source of heat loss. Single and clear double pane windows are the worst; low-e coated windows are way better.

Aluminum frames, still amazingly popular in commercial buildings, are horrible conductors of heat.

Poor insulation is typical in our West Coast homes. The newer two-by-six walls are better, especially if rigid insulation is added over the external or internal surfaces. Most attics are poorly insulated, and virtually all basements have non-insulated slabs and crawl spaces, sucking a large percentage of heat into the ground.

Even putting some cork or underlay carpeting throughout the basement will really help. It’s best to have at least R-10 on/under the basement floor and R-50 in the attic.

Air drafts are the least expensive to fix. Hiring an energy advisor for this alone is worth the small charge. Just make sure your home still breathes, otherwise expect to get sick.

Skylights are often the worst culprit for heat loss, as they face up toward the coldest area (outer space), almost always leak due to a lack of a seal between the skylight and the roof, and their walls are often poorly insulated. If you want that natural light without paying more for your heating, install light tubes instead – they are superior in all three ways.

Only after first reducing your energy consumption should you consider upgrading your heating system, as this results in greater living comfort, keeps the heat longer when the power goes out, it means you can choose a smaller heating system, and the upgrades improve the building’s net value.

The more energy we save the slower the price increases will be. That’s good news for all of us.

Ian Gartshore is chairman of the non-profit Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island.