environmental citizens organization



On many days, the air quality in Caledon is as bad as, or even worse than, downtown Toronto! One of the major causes of smog is the inefficient use of fuel and electricity.
The Clean Air Clean Energy project helps present surprisingly simple, inexpensive, painless steps that we can all take to do our part to reduce climate change and smog.
On this page, you will find interesting articles and other resources which have been written or found over the years, by ecoCaledon members.

Solar Power MicroFIT

Solar power – a guaranteed high-return investment for the ordinary home and business, and a huge bonus for the environment.

When most people think of a house with solar power, they may imagine an off-grid house with minimal electricity use and batteries charged by the sun.

This type of house requires a very careful lifestyle using very little power, and that is rare in Caledon.  There is now a program that allows anyone in Ontario to sell solar power back to the electricity grid at a premium, guaranteed rate.

When my wife and I were researching a clean power system, we wanted to find one that would work with our 40-year-old house. Six years ago it became possible to install a grid-tie system in our area. In those days, people did this for the environmental benefits, not because they ever expected it to be profitable.  In a grid-tie system like ours, power from solar panels is fed into an inverter unit about the size of an electrical panel. The inverter converts solar power into AC electricity which is either used in our house or fed to the power grid.

When we first installed our system, we simply got credit on our electricity bill for any excess power generated; this was known as the Net Metering Program. We installed 1320 Watts of solar panels. Because it was a grid-tie system, we didn’t need to purchase expensive batteries which would need to be replaced before other system components. However, in the event of a power failure our system must shut down to avoid any risk of shocking repair technicians working on the grid, so we are without power like everyone else.

Since then, a much better program has become available in Ontario.  Under MicroFIT (Feed-In-Tariff), you can install up to 10 kilowatts (kW) of solar panels on your roof and sell the power straight to Hydro One via an inverter and second electricity meter for a premium price of 80.2 cents per kW-hr, guaranteed by contract for 20 years. We had doubled the size of our home solar system before this program was implemented and fortunately were permitted to convert to a MicroFIT contract. I was so impressed by the program that I recently installed a 7.5 kW solar system on my office building as well.

Steve Eng from Enviro-Energy Technologies managed our installation and provided expert help with the paperwork and administration as well.

The paperwork for the large office system was relatively simple and the installation took only one day. While the capital cost is not cheap, the system will pay for itself under MicroFIT in 9 years, and the rate is guaranteed for 20 years. It’s an investment with a guaranteed 9-10% annual return for 20 years – far better than my RRSP. There is also an HST rebate.

Despite the economic logic, we installed these systems to reduce our impact on the environment. We produce the most clean power on hot sunny days when electricity demand and coal-burning smog are also highest.  This year my office system will prevent emissions of over 5 tonnes of CO2 per year, more than taking a large vehicle off the road.

This MicroFIT offer is not indefinite. Right now the premium rate only applies to rooftop systems under 10 kW. Ground mounted systems are cheaper to install, and get a lower but still generous rate of 64.2 cents per kW-hr. There is also a FIT program for larger systems that use solar, wind and biomass.

Right now the demand is so high it can be hard to get solar panels. A significant percentage of Ontario content is required in the solar systems for them to be eligible for the program. This should grow the local solar power industry.  As the industry scales up and prices drop, so will the price paid for the clean power. This generous program is still a pittance compared with long term taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power in Ontario. A similar program in Germany turned that country into a solar superpower where the renewable power industry is now greater than the auto industry.

If solar power systems like these were placed on one in ten homes, we could shut down the coal burning generators in Ontario – the biggest single smog sources around.

For more info visit

Dr. Richard Ehrlich

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Painless steps we can all take to reduce smog

and climate change

Article by Dr. R. Ehrlich

Global warming, climate change, Kyoto Protocol, record smog alerts in Caledon, greenhouse gases, severe weather, droughts, melting polar ice caps… These stories are in the news every day – big issues being discussed by politicians and scientists around the world. Is there anything that we can do about them here in Caledon? Actually, yes.

Here’s a quick summary. The bad news: It’s predicted that Canada will be affected by climate change more than most other countries. In Ontario, climatologists predict drier summers with more extremely hot days, wetter winters, reduced air quality (smog), more severe weather (ice storms, tornadoes) and droughts. As a result, scientists predict water shortages, health problems (allergies, respiratory and insect-borne diseases), reduced water quality, problems for farmers (drought, pests, disease), animal and plant extinction, reduced hydroelectric power capacity, lower water levels in the Great Lakes and much more.

Here’s the good news: By taking action now we’ll reduce the impacts of climate change on our economy and quality of life. There are simple, inexpensive steps that we can all take to help. Most climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. We produce greenhouse gases and create smog when we burn fuel to heat our houses or drive cars, and whenever we use electricity. If we can find easy ways to use less fuel and electricity in our day-to-day lives, we will produce fewer greenhouse gases and do our part to fight climate change and smog. And we’ll save money too!

Where to begin? In upcoming columns, I will describe painless, inexpensive tips for reducing your personal smog and greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these ideas are well known, but others may surprise you.

The Caledon Countryside Alliance’s Ecological Footprint Project has introduced the Step Up to Kyoto Pledge, several surprisingly easy actions that you can take to achieve your share of Canada’s emissions reduction target. For more information, please contact the CCA at 905-584-6221 or Information Request

Dr. Richard Ehrlich

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Clean Pool, Clean Air

It’s great to escape to a swimming pool on a hot, smoggy day, but did you know that this same pool can contribute significantly to smog and climate change?  Pools can use an enormous amount of electricity (generated by smog-producing coal in Ontario) and other types of energy, but there are easy, inexpensive ways to reduce the impact.

Pool pumps draw 1000-3000 watts of electricity – like turning on all the lights in a typical house.  Some people run them 24 hours a day, all swimming season. This can double your hydro bill for the summer and is totally unnecessary.  I know several pool owners who have installed outdoor timers on their pump motors to shut them down overnight.  According to Caledon resident Ray Cowan, who has a beautiful, clear pool, if you use a solar blanket (pool cover) you can shut the motor off up to 20 hours a day without needing more chemicals. There are more precise electronic timer systems that can be professionally installed.  Accessories like fountains and lights should be on timers too. A $25 timer can save you $100-$300 annually and, as a bonus, your yard will be quieter.

Another option, according to Richard Minderlein at Leader Pools, is a 2-speed motor that runs on the lower speed overnight. These motors draw 1000-3000 W on the high speed, but pump half the water at 1/6 the power when running on lower speed. They are much quieter and work well with automatic pool cleaners.  High efficiency pumps provide another alternative.  For example, a 3/4 HP Northstar unit pumps more water than a standard 1½ HP pump and uses 13% less power.  A 2-speed motor costs about $200 more, but saves you $70-$210 per year.

Using either a timer or a 2-speed motor will meet your personal Kyoto target for greenhouse gas reduction, preventing 1-4 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Building a new pool? Minderlein suggests using 2-inch plumbing for substantial savings over the long term, as the water moves easily and the pump works less hard. A timer control system can be installed at the same time.

Pool heaters use a huge amount of energy, often more than your furnace.  A typical pool uses $1000 of gas for heating throughout the season, producing a whopping 5 tonnes of CO2 emissions, as well as other pollutants. Old gas or propane pool heaters were only 55% efficient, but newer, high efficiency heaters with electronic ignition can be 90% efficient and save up to 45% of your heating costs. The Hayward IDL is one of two heaters on the market that exceed California emission standards.  Using a high efficiency heater can reduce CO2 emissions by 3 tonnes/year – three times your personal Kyoto target.  Another excellent option is to install a heat pump system. Although more expensive than gas to purchase, running a gas line can be very costly.

A solar blanket costs $100-200 and can save 50-75% of pool heating costs – about $750 saved annually. It will also reduce water loss, save on chemicals, cut down smog emissions, and reduce CO2 emissions by 3 tonnes.

If you really want to save energy, install a solar heating system.  These cost around $2000-5000 but can save you up to $1000 per year. There is a 2-4 year payback for these systems in Canada.  If you are already using a conventional heater, you can add a solar heater to work with it. Many people who do this find it provides ample heat, so they can turn off the conventional heater altogether. For more information

Installing a darker-coloured pool liner also saves heating costs. Trimming back trees that shade the pool saves energy and reduces leaves in the pool. For more tips on saving money and energy,

Dr. Richard Ehrlich

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Garbage- it pollutes the air as well!

Most of us know that generating electricity and burning fuel in cars produce gases that contribute to climate change and smog.  Did you know that the garbage we carry out to the curb each week is also a culprit? In fact, the waste sector is responsible for 3.5% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In Canada recycling and composting programs currently divert about 29% of solid waste from disposal. (In Caledon we do better, diverting 45%) The remaining waste is typically dumped at landfill sites or burned. Both of these options result in the release of GHGs such as methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.

Landfills are responsible for most of these emissions, including nearly one quarter of Canada’s total methane emissions. Organic material like paper, food or yard waste buried deep under layers of waste and earth does not sit there harmlessly, but decomposes without oxygen (anaerobically) and creates methane. Waste incineration (burning) pumps out nearly 1% of the nation’s total CO2 and nitrous oxide (smog) emissions.

Reusing and Reducing are the most effective ways to avoid emissions from garbage, as well as diverting waste from disposal, at least temporarily.   Reuse is better than recycling.  For example, glass containers are created in huge furnaces at very high temperatures, using considerable energy and generating GHG and smog emissions.  When recycled in Caledon, coloured glass is broken up and used as clean fill instead of sand, which means that new coloured glass needs to be made, causing further GHG emissions. Our clear glass is recycled, reducing the amount of new glass that has to be made, but the recycling process still requires a lot of energy. Reusing glass containers is the best way to save GHG emissions, since the glass doesn’t have to be melted.

Recycling reduces the large amount of GHG and smog emissions produced by the extraction of raw materials and the manufacturing process. For materials like steel, plastic and aluminium, recycling can reduce GHG emissions by about two tonnes per tonne of product produced. Recycling paper has a double benefit, as it leaves the trees standing and absorbing more CO2, in addition to reducing the GHG emissions caused by making new paper.

Composting food scraps and yard waste does not generate any methane emissions and only releases a small amount of CO2. Since the material is plant derived, this is simply considered part of the natural carbon cycle. Backyard composting is best of all since there are no emissions from the Region collecting and processing the waste.

Incineration results in emissions of both CO2 and nitrous oxide (smog). In Caledon, half our non-recycled waste is burned.  However, Peel Region uses the heat to generate electricity, which means that less electricity needs to be produced by coal-burning power plants.

Landfilling is the most common waste disposal method and, in many cases, the one that produces the most GHG emissions, primarily methane. Although 41 landfills in Canada recover the methane and burn it off, most methane is simply released into the atmosphere. Some landfills in Toronto and other cities use this methane as a great source of clean electricity.  Unfortunately, when the Ontario government artificially capped the hydro rate at 4.3 cents per kilowatt-Hour, at least one planned waste methane power plant was cancelled in Toronto.   Peel Region captures and burns off methane from some of our landfills, and there are plans to generate clean electricity from the methane at the Brittania landfill  by 2004.

Reduction, reuse and recycling are the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Diverting 75% of waste from landfills or incinerators would reduce Canada’s GHG emissions by 6.9 million tonnes per year.  In Caledon this would prevent of 11,500 tonnes of GHG emissions annually, or ¼ tonne per person. Waste diversion also improves air quality and reduces water pollution, toxin leakage, garbage truck emissions, land use issues, and disposal costs.

What you can do to reduce air pollution from garbage:

1)       Reduce – buy fewer things and choose products with less packaging.

2)       Reuse – as much as you can.  Reusing glass and paper makes the biggest difference.

3)       Recycle – Peel Region has one of the best recycling programs around.  In particular, paper should never be landfilled.

4)       Compost or use curbside organics collection if available in your area – Kitchen and yard waste should never be landfilled.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Idle Threat to the Environment?

When a vehicle idles, it gets zero miles per gallon.  People comment on all the vehicles left idling outside my office while their owners run errands down the street. This is unnecessary, expensive and damaging to the vehicle as well as the environment. Police advise that it’s also an invitation to theft.

I’m not an expert on vehicles, so I spoke with Frank Hansen, senior electronic engine control technician for Ford.  Idling is surprisingly hard on your engine. It isn’t operating at its peak temperature, so fuel doesn’t burn completely. This leaves residues that contaminate engine oil. During idling, spark plug temperature drops, which makes the plugs get dirty more quickly, and increases fuel consumption by up to 5 %.  Hansen commented, “I can tell when I see a car that has been idled a lot, because the plugs foul up prematurely. Idling reduces spark plug life by 40-50%.”

Excessive idling also lets water condense in the vehicle’s exhaust, which can lead to corrosion. Coolants and lubricants don’t work properly and there is far more wear and tear than normal driving.  “If your vehicle has a diesel engine, shutting it off for brief stops keeps the engine warmer than idling. The coolant dissipates heat very slowly when stopped, but it’s faster when idling”, says Hansen.

Many people are concerned about the fuel used to restart the car. Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it – even less time for a diesel. If you’re stopping for more than 10 seconds, except in traffic, turn off the engine. It’s better to park and walk inside than to sit in line at a drive-through too.

Decades ago, vehicles needed long warm-up times.  With computer-controlled, fuel-injected engines, 30 seconds of idling before driving is plenty, even in winter. “Catalytic converters have to be at ‘light-off’ temperature to work – around 700 degrees F.  It can take 10 times as long to reach this temperature if the car is left idling rather than driving it during the warm-up. Until then, the exhaust is completely unprocessed – the catalytic converter is doing nothing”, warns Hansen.  This means that when a car is left idling in the driveway after a cold start, the air immediately around the driver’s home is being polluted by exhaust that is much dirtier than when the vehicle is driving.

Driving a vehicle rather than idling it cuts the warm-up time in half, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving parts don’t warm up until you drive the vehicle.  Avoid high speeds and rapid acceleration for the first 5 km.  Using a block heater to pre-warm the engine and lubricants is even better. The engine starts more easily and warms up sooner, and the car will warm up faster inside too.   Use an automatic timer to switch the heater on 2 hours before you need to drive.  Parking in a garage or shelter also reduces warm-up and saves on windshield scraping.

The cost: Virtually nothing, just a habit to break.  The annual cost of wear on parts from starting the engine more frequently averages around $10.

The payback:  Ten minutes of idling uses up to 0.4 litres of fuel. The average Canadian could save $70 per year by reducing excessive idling.  Your vehicle is less likely to get stolen and gets less wear and tear.

The environmental bonus:  On a cold day, Canadians idle their vehicles unnecessarily for more than 75 million minutes ­ equal to one vehicle idling for 144 years. We idle 40% less in summer – still too much.  If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada reduced idling by just 5 minutes a week, we would save 700 million litres of fuel yearly, reduce smog emissions and prevent more than 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For more information see the Natural Resources Canada website:

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Energy Efficient Light Bulbs- Rebates and recycling programs

You might think that a rural town like Caledon would have excellent air quality but on many days, we don’t.  We contribute to smog through the electricity we use, thanks to Ontario’s massive coal-burning power generators – the biggest air polluters in Canada, major sources of mercury and climate change-causing greenhouse gases.

A household lighting tune-up is an easy way to reduce smog and greenhouse gases.  Incandescent bulbs are popular, cheap and work in almost any fixture – but they are also short-lived energy pigs!  If you’ve touched a burning incandescent bulb, you know that they generate far more heat than light. In summer this is double trouble, since your air conditioning works hard to remove this extra heat. Pot lights are huge power hogs.  Incandescents are old technology, best suited to areas that get rare use.

Compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs are excellent when used in the right places. They run cool, fit in most fixtures, have a pleasant light, and are 90% more efficient than incandescents, lasting years longer.  They are fantastic for porch or driveway lights that are on all night, and will pay for themselves quickly in such places. Newer designs are smaller and fit reflector and pot lights.  They light up faster and are available in warmer colours than before, and prices have dropped significantly.  Until Dec 19, you can get $4 off Energy Star qualified CF floodlights and spotlights with a coupon from the Ontario Power Authority.

CF bulbs can’t be used everywhere.  They don’t work with dimmers and aren’t cost effective for lights that are turned on and off frequently, such as bathrooms and cupboards.  CF bulbs will work with certain timers, but not all electronic ones.  At my dental office, I use CF bulbs in waiting room, halls and all outdoor lights, using mechanical timers.

These bulbs contain a tiny amount of mercury, but using a CF bulb reduces mercury emissions far more than the amount contained in the bulb.  When they eventually fail, drop them off in Home Depots new CF recycling bin or take them to Caledon’s Hazardous Waste drop-off sites.

The lights of the future are high power LEDs. Most traffic lights have been changed to LEDs.  They run even cooler than CF bulbs, last longer, can be dimmed or turned on and off frequently, and contain no mercury. LEDs are fantastic for Christmas tree lights and pathway lighting – an upgrade everyone can make now.  There are trade-in programs for old Christmas lights.  High-powered reflector LED lights are now available to fit regular sockets or track lights, but they are not yet cheap or common- yet. They are ideal for cosmetic outdoor lights on houses, although it is far more environmentally friendly to just use motion detector lights for security.

If you want to take one green step this week, look for an incandescent bulb in your home that is on more than six hours a day, and change it to a compact fluorescent.  Recycle it at Home Depot when it’s spent.

Cost:  $3-10.

Payback:  You’ll save $15 on your hydro bill annually for a bulb that runs ten hours a day.

Environmental Bonus:  If every household and business in Caledon replaced one high-usage incandescent bulb with a CF, the power saved could run four hundred households.  Over a year, we’d prevent 3500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and reduce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury pollution.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Fresh Air, Fresh Coffee

Coffee makers. We all have them, and many of us use them daily. These handy gadgets quietly use a surprising amount of energy, drawing 900 to 1200 Watts while making the coffee, and 100-200W while keeping the coffee warm. Many households and businesses run these machines for hours at a time to keep coffee ready to go. Imagine leaving a room full of lights on: your coffee maker warmer uses about the same power!  And remember: the biggest contribution we make to smog and global warming is through our electricity usage.

The simple solution: Once the coffee is ready, pour it into a thermal carafe and turn the machine off. If you need a new coffee maker, some manufacturers such as Sunbeam have models that include a thermal carafe instead of a coffee pot, and the coffee maker turns off automatically once the coffee is brewed.

The Cost:  $10-20 for a thermal carafe, or $55 for the coffee maker.

The Payback:  You will save about $5- $10 per year.

The Bonus:  Better tasting coffee that hasn’t been simmering for hours.

The Environmental Bonus:  If one of every 10 households and businesses in Caledon used a thermal carafe instead of simmering their coffee, we would save enough power to run 10-12 households, and prevent 117 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide emissions, as well as significant Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide and Mercury pollution.

What if you’re a tea drinker?  If you want to make only one small cup of tea, the most efficient way is to use a small electric kettle.  If you don’t have one, put your cup in the microwave for several minutes to boil the water. If you have to boil more than 1 cup of water, it’s more than twice as efficient to use an electric kettle – even a full-sized one. If your kettle is the type that boils water on a stove burner, you are farther ahead to use the microwave, even for several cups of water.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Reduce sash window drafts- and air pollution

If your sash windows are sweating, letting in draughts, frosting during cold winter days, and developing mould, chances are your weather-stripping needs replacement.  Instead of replacing wooden-framed windows with vinyl, renewing the window weather-stripping is an affordable solution to a typical Canadian problem.

How can you tell if your weather-stripping is causing you problems? With the window closed, check to see if there are any gaps between the glass frame and the box frame. Aging weather-stripping will shrink and develop gaps that allow airflow through the window. Next, open the window and inspect the inner and outer weather-stripping. If they are painted over, cracked, non-pliable, or broken, they’re ruined. If they are missing altogether, soon your window will be ruined and replacing it will be your only option.

Heat exchange results from the transfer of air between the inside and outside of the house. Some air exchange is needed, primarily to feed the furnace oxygen and to reduce indoor humidity, which can produce harmful bacteria and mould growth. Too much air exchange, however, can lead to draughts and wasted energy, resulting in higher bills and needless emissions of air pollutants.

According to the National Research Council of Canada, 30% of the total heat loss from a well-insulated bungalow comes from loose-fitting windows and doors. This drops to 5% with tight-fitting weather-stripping. In other words, poor-fitting weather-stripping can result in a 33% higher heating bill!

Sash windows should all have two independent sets of weather-stripping. The inner sash frame (the immovable frame of the window attached to the house) should have a “silicone bulb” type stripping around the perimeter of the opening. The sash window itself will have a “v-strip” molding around the outer edges of the glass frame. These two styles of weather-stripping create a sealed core of space, which is called “the thermal jump”.

The wider the thermal jump, the less likely heat transfer will occur. The thermal jump-gap, when unsealed (‘cracked’), creates both heat transfer (loss in winter, gain in summer) and unwanted air exchange. Broken seals between the glass panes, which cause windows to “sweat”, occur when the inner sash frame weather seal ceases to function, and allows the high-pressure outdoor air to work against the low-pressure indoor air (winter conditions).

Homeowners, when confronted with draughty wooden windows peeling with years of painterly neglect, may throw up their arms and give in to the ‘replace with vinyl’ argument. And guess what? After another 15-20 years, when the weather-stripping on these windows cracks and dries up, they’ll need replacement too.

If, rather than taking the big leap to replacement, homeowners apply “peel and stick-on” weather-stripping, they will be frustrated after a few months of humidity causes the glue to detach from the window frames. All good weather-stripping fits into a narrow slot in the sash, secured by a press fit. This prevents moisture from seeping into the inner window area.

When properly painted and caulked, and with fresh weather-stripping, wooden sash windows will offer all the benefits of vinyl windows, with two added bonuses – your house will have the natural beauty of wood, and you will be able to change the exterior colour scheme to suit your style.

A further benefit is, of course, the ecological one. One less vinyl window manufactured leads to our making a smaller ‘footprint’ on the planet. By not needlessly replacing your wooden windows you’ll save money, save on your heating and air-conditioning costs, and reduce greenhouse gas and smog emissions from unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels and electricity.

For more information on replacing your weather-stripping, contact Jeff Hladun or 905 880-9851.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Solar Water Heating

Imagine this. It’s a scorching, smoggy day, and the sun is beating down mercilessly. Now think about lighting a propane or gas fire inside your house – or running a huge electric heater – to heat water.  All that extra heat warms your house, and generators must burn dirty coal to produce the electricity you need. It would make so much more sense to use the sun to heat the water directly.

Interest in clean energy has surged following our summer of smog and hydro brownouts. Wind turbines and photovoltaic (solar electric) cells produce clean electricity, but typical payback periods can range from 15-20 years. Household solar water heating offers one of the fastest paybacks, along with easy installation.

I spoke with John Gilbert, one of Caledon’s first residents to install a solar hot water system. According to Gilbert, the simplest system uses solar energy to preheat water going into a conventional water heater operated by electricity, gas, propane, or oil. Typically, water enters our homes at 10-12 degrees C. If the solar system preheats the incoming water to 35-40C, the conventional water heater only needs to use half as much energy.

Gilbert’s system consists of a black solar collector panel, about 4’ x 8,’ which contains a serpentine length of copper tubing through which the heat transfer fluid flows. The tube is contained within an insulated aluminum frame, and covered with glass to retain heat and protect it from the elements.

A pump driven by a smaller solar panel circulates heat transfer fluid through insulated tubing leading from the solar panel to a heat exchanger and back. The heat exchanger transfers the heat to water in a solar storage tank, which is similar to a standard water heater tank. This tank connects to the regular water heater tank.

The solar panel needs to be mounted and aimed as close to due south as possible. Ideally, the roof slope should be 35-55 degrees; otherwise, the panel can be mounted on a separate frame to give it the proper slope. The distance from the panel to the heat exchanger should be as short as possible to minimize heat loss in the transfer tubing, no more than 15 meters. Unfortunately, our house didn’t meet the requirements, so we were unable to install solar water heating.

Cost:  Total system cost including the photovoltaic cell, the heat exchanger/pump module, the solar storage tank and the copper lines is approximately $3500. Installation can be accomplished by someone who understands basic plumbing.

Payback: A typical payback period for these systems is four to seven years, depending on water usage. You can calculate your savings by clicking on the Solar Calculator at

Between now and June 30, 2006, you can receive a $700 rebate from the federal government on solar hot water systems and installation. There is no PST on solar panels until November 2007.

Environmental Bonus:  A solar water heater can prevent the emissions of 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, as well as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury pollution.

If every household in Caledon installed one of these heaters, we would save enough power to run 1800households for 1 year, and prevent 19,000 tonnes of C02 emissions. You can meet your share of Canada’s Kyoto target just by taking this single step.


Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Reduce Electricity Vampires in your Home

You already know that you can save energy and cut down on smog and greenhouse gases by switching to compact fluorescent lighting, buying energy-efficient appliances, reducing heat and air conditioning, putting your pool on a timer, buying clean energy and planting trees. The next step is to go after the invisible energy vampires in your home!

A surprising number of small household appliances use energy all the time, even when switched off. This is called a “phantom load”. If an appliance is warm, it’s wasting energy. These loads can add up to 10-20% of your energy bill. In the U.S. alone, phantom loads waste over $1 billion of power annually.

Most people don’t realize that when most electronics are turned off, they stay in standby mode, consuming power. Older TVs and VCRs can draw more power when turned off than some new ones use when turned on! When you add up the satellite receiver, DVD player and other items in your entertainment centre, you may be paying for 100 Watts, 24 hours a day, even if you only watch one TV program!

You can connect multiple devices to a power bar or surge protector, then turn one switch off when not in use. If you need to leave the VCR or satellite receiver on to record programs, put the other devices on a second power bar that you can turn off. The extra
investment in power bars will pay off quickly. New homes should be designed with a single switch to turn off the entire entertainment centre easily.

An older fridge or TV in the basement can be a real energy hog 24 hours a day. Pull the plug on anything you can live without! If you go on vacation, unplugging appliances will save energy and protect you from power surge damage. To save more money, think about everything that you could turn off at the breaker or unplug while away. Turning off your well pump can prevent floods if a pipe bursts, and there’s no sense keeping your water heater tank hot for a week. Unplugging appliances such as dryers can reduce your fire risk too.

Computers can be big energy vampires. Older models can draw over 100 watts when left on, and systems can have a significant phantom load when turned off due to the speakers, printers, modems, routers, wireless devices and hubs that may still be humming. A computer system can draw as much power as a modern refrigerator, and computer game systems can use considerable energy too. Both at home and at work, put your computer components on a surge protector power bar, and turn it off when not needed. This saves energy and money, and reduces the chance of damage due to power surges. By disconnecting yourself from the Internet, you also reduce the risk of viruses or remote hacking.

Another obvious energy vampire is anything with a clock. In our kitchen alone, there are clocks on the coffee maker, stove, radio, microwave and breadmaker. Transformers are more subtle vampires. These little black boxes have multiplied in the last few years as we plug in battery chargers for our cell phones, power tools, iPods, cordless phones and laptop computers. Most of these devices don’t need to be on 24 hours a day. I did a search in our house, and ended up unplugging the rarely-used basement cordless phone, four different battery chargers, the coffee maker and a radio, along with three other AC adapters.

You may also borrow a power meter kit and documentation from any Caledon library.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Save Water and Reduce Smog

Since the Walkerton tragedy, we’ve all been more aware of water pollution issues.  There is another aspect of water-related pollution that is often overlooked – the air pollution caused by heating and pumping water. This is a huge contributor to smog and the greenhouse gases that cause global warming!

Pumping water takes a lot of power. It usually happens quietly and remotely, so we are rarely aware of it. If your house is on a well, it has to be pumped up from deep below the ground.  Municipal water has to be pumped from Lake Ontario or town wells, then up water towers. On average, it takes about 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity to pump 1 tonne (1000 Litres) of water to a home in Caledon.  As we know, electricity generation is a major cause of smog and greenhouse gases in Ontario.

The average Canadian uses 127 tonnes of water a year. In comparison, the average American uses 155 tonnes of water annually; the average Briton uses 73 tonnes, and the average Kenyan 1 tonne.  In Caledon, the amount of electricity required to pump water to a home is equivalent to 2 weeks worth of the family’s annual electricity usage.  For a private well, the homeowner pays the bill; for a municipal system, the taxpayers bear the cost. On top of that, heating water uses a huge amount of energy – on average, 15-20% of total home energy use. To learn more, visit:

Here are some steps you can take to help reduce water use, and save energy and money:

1) Consider using cold water for quick hand washes, rinsing dishes and other tasks.  In our house, to get a splash of warm water from our upstairs bathroom faucet, we need to run the tap awhile. Four litres, or 16 cups, of cooled-down hot water comes out of the pipes before the fresh hot water comes out, and all of this must be replaced from the hot water tank.  Over 90% of the hot water is wasted.  Imagine how much time and energy it would take to heat this much water on your stove!

2) Install low-flow showerheads. These inexpensive devices save 51 tonnes of hot water per year for a family of four, which means saving 2000 kWh or $140 per year in energy. Taking an 8 minute daily shower instead of a bath can also save you $140 per year.

3) Change old inefficient toilets for new water-saving models. A family of four can save 114 tonnes of water annually.

4) Fix your leaks! A tap leaking 1 drop per second can waste 10 tonnes of water a year, and a toilet that keeps running due to a leaky flap can waste an astounding 200 tonnes a year! In places where water is metered, the homeowner pays directly for this waste – $160 a year in Toronto.

5) Use a rain barrel to water your garden. You can save 1 tonne of water a season. You can get 220 L rain barrels made from recycled materials by Citizens for a Clean Caledon. They are available at the Community Recycling Centre for $40 from April to October.

6) Lower the thermostat on your water heater. If you lower your thermostat from 60C to 50C, you reduce the chance of being scalded, and save 10% of your water-heating energy consumption, or $35 per year.  Some less efficient dishwashers may require a higher water temperature.

7) There are also large savings to be made in doing laundry, which I will cover in a future article.

The Bonus: You can save $175 per year on water heating if you turn your water heater thermostat down and change your showerheads, or trade a daily shower for a bath. You can save another $8 of electricity per year if you change to efficient toilets, and $15 if you fix a leaky one. (Note that these are just the electricity savings and do not consider the large potential water cost savings, if you are metered, nor the environmental benefits of water conservation.)

The Environmental Bonus: If one of every 10 households in Caledon changed these plumbing fixtures, we would save enough power to run 280 households and prevent 3,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide emissions, as well as significant Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide and Mercury pollution.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Geothermal Energy

In Canada, much of our ecological impact comes from heating and cooling our houses. In winter, the outdoor air temperature can be 40 Celsius degrees cooler than indoors; in summer, it can be 15 degrees warmer outside. Meanwhile, several meters underground, the temperature is a constant 10 C.

Conventional heating and cooling systems need to raise or lower the air temperature significantly to change the outdoor temperature to a comfortable room temperature. There is an efficient technology that makes use of the steady underground temperature: a geothermal or ground source heat pump.

During the heating season, a geothermal system works like a refrigerator in reverse. The system has a circuit of pipes buried in the ground. A refrigerant solution circulates through the pipes, extracting the heat from underground and bringing it into the home. About 70-90% of the energy needed to heat the home is transferred from the ground.

A properly designed geothermal system is able to provide enough heat for average winter temperatures. During extremely cold weather or when rapid heating is required, a back-up electric heater incorporated into the geothermal system is used as well. An existing furnace could also act as a more efficient backup. Geothermal heat is best for holding steady temperatures. If you set your thermostat back, the heat pump can still be set to raise the temperature slowly and efficiently without invoking the electrical backup.

A geothermal system can also use the same steady underground temperature to cool the house in summer. A geothermal system is more efficient than a traditional air conditioning system, which is particularly important at a time of year when electricity production and smog are at their peak.

A geothermal system can even pre-heat your domestic hot water. In summer the waste heat removed from the house helps to heat the water, with an energy saving of over 50%.

Geothermal is one of most efficient heating and cooling technologies available today.  Since the heat pump simply transfers energy instead of producing heat itself, it is 300 to 500% more efficient than traditional heating systems. Compared to a conventional electric heating and cooling system, a heat pump can cut energy costs by 40% to 70%.

Efficiency is important but the overall emissions from the system must also be considered. Many houses are heated with a relatively clean fuel like propane or natural gas, while in Ontario the electricity to run a heat pump comes partly from burning coal.  Even so, on average, geothermal systems still result in decreased emissions of 3 to 7 tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) per year.

The Cost: Geothermal systems would add about $8,000 to the cost of a new home.  The payback on this should be quick, a matter of 4-10 years. As Ron Denbo, the well known financial engineer and environmentalist states, “It’s a no brainer; it should be incorporated into the building code.” Installing a geothermal system in an existing average house would cost about $20,000. Subsidies of up to $4,375 are available from the provincial government.

The Payback: With the subsidy, a heat pump system would pay for itself in 11 years for a house heated by electricity, 17 years for natural gas, 7 years for oil and 8 years for propane.

The Environmental Bonus: If you currently heat and cool an average house with electricity, moving to geothermal heating and cooling will save 4 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and 1 tonne of CO2 for water heating – about the same as taking a car off the road.

If you currently heat with propane, gas or oil and have central air conditioning, you will save 3 to 6 tonnes of CO2 per year for heating, 1 to 2 tonnes of CO2 on the water heating and another 0.5 to 1 tonne of CO2 on the air conditioning.

The ideal solution would be to run a geothermal system on 100% clean energy from Bullfrog Power, saving an additional 2 to 3 tonnes of CO2 and making your heating and cooling system almost emission free!


Dr. Richard Ehrlich
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Strawbale Houses – not a fairy tale!

By Richard Griffith

Today’s guest author is Richard Griffith, an environmentalist, gardener and carpenter who lives in an energy-efficient house and earns his bacon in Grey County.

“The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” is an amusing account from the wolf’s point of view. The wolf readily admits that he ate the first two pigs, but claims he can hardly be blamed for logically following through on the rare opportunity for an easy meal. “Who”, asks the wolf, “would be silly enough to build his house out of straw?”

Well, actually, I would. In December 2001, I moved into my 1800 sq. ft. strawbale house on 9 acres southwest of Collingwood. Despite the premature passing of my much-lamented porcine predecessors, I love this house. It’s two storeys high with a full basement, lots of windows on the south side, and a gable roof of steel. Its only heat source, other than passive solar energy, is a masonry heater. More on that later.

The structural composition of the house is called “modified post-and-beam”. Each “post” is a strip of 3/4 inch plywood, 14″ wide and 10 feet high, with three 2 x 4’s nailed to it. These “bucks”, as they are known, form the vertical framework for the doors and windows. Similar bucks run horizontally along the top, holding the vertical bucks together. Each floor is supported by a long, heavy parallam beam, which is formed from glued-together wood chips. The huge roof beam is also made of parallam.

When the first white settlers arrived in Nebraska around 1880, there wasn’t much with which to build. The prairies aren’t noted for their towering pine forests. So they built their first houses with straw, and some of those early dwellings still stand. A load-bearing strawbale house is thus known as “Nebraska-style”. My house is not Nebraska – the straw’s primary purpose is insulation (commonly held to be about R40, compared to the R20 of average suburban walls). There are, however, some significant structural details involving the straw. These are ordinary rectangular bales, 18″ long, 14″ wide, and of varying lengths up to about 38″. We stacked them like bricks and laid them on edge (thus necessitating the 14″ wide bucks). After plugging gaps and holes with loose straw, we fastened 1″ galvanized wire to the walls, inside and out. The walls were then literally “sewn” together with long bale needles and binder twine. This process transformed each wall from a collection of random bales into an extremely strong, integral structure. In certain places, we also pounded wooden dowels into the walls. My engineer required heavy wire lath at all the wall and ceiling corners, thus substantially reinforcing the whole thing. Finally, the entire dwelling was coated with two layers of stucco. Eventually it will receive a third coat, the colour coat. Ain’t no big bad wolf gonna blow down this house, fella.

The wood-burning masonry heater is the focal point of the house, separating kitchen from living room. It heats by radiation, not, as a fireplace does, by convection. It’s a huge structure, built on top of cinder blocks, which are themselves laid on a reinforced concrete slab. The limestone itself is from a quarry near Wiarton. There is even a bake oven on the kitchen side of the heater.      Everyone wants to know if the house has been warm enough. Well, in the first winter, no. But I was using wet wood, which, as every country child knows, is a no-no. Since then, I’ve stacked my wood properly, insulated the basement ceiling and plugged a few other little gaps. The next year, despite many minus 30 nights, I had no trouble staying warm. Most mornings, I started a fire first thing, and sometimes a 3-4 hour burn would keep the house warm right through to the following day. I made it through the cold winter of 2002-2003 with five bush cords. Mind you, sunshine is always most welcome.I have to add that this house still isn’t finished. I’ve attached a mudroom, but it doesn’t have all its interior stucco yet. Solar panels were installed last November. Eventually I will attach a small greenhouse to the kitchen, and there are few carpets. To be sure, this is a long-term project.  It takes time to age good swine, don’t you know.


See the forest for the trees

In the previous eight articles, Dr. Richard Ehrlich touted the environmental and cost benefits of improving energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and switching to greener, renewable sources of energy. We should all be trying to do this, but there is another thing that you can easily do, that will have lasting effects for generations. Plant trees – plant lots of trees!

In the early 1800s, the Headwaters area was nearly all hardwood forest. Then, as the first Europeans arrived, the region was deforested for its natural resource and agriculture. Now, there is a move to reforestation once again. And it’s one of the best environmental things you can do!

A growing tree is a wonderful thing!

A growing tree provides shade in the summer and, if it’s a deciduous tree, lets the sunshine through in the winter – just when you need it most.

A growing tree provides a store of rainwater. It delays runoff and protects the soil. Before the area was deforested, the Credit River flowed at more than 100 times the current rate.

A growing tree provides natural soil conditioners. Leaves, once composted, are an excellent addition to your garden.

A growing tree provides habitat for beneficial animals and insects.

A growing tree cleans the air and removes contaminants from the soil. A process calledphotoremediation is now quite common for removing heavy metals and other nasties from the soil at large industrial sites.

A growing tree captures greenhouse gases. Trees are about 50% carbon. As they grow, through photosynthesis, trees remove CO2, the most significant greenhouse gas, and store it in their bark, boughs, leaves, roots and trunk as carbon. After the leaves fall to the forest floor, they rot and some of the carbon is stored in the soil. A large maple may weigh up to 1000 kg. That’s 500 kg of carbon that was once 1800 kg of CO2. That’s the amount of greenhouse gas your car emits every 7500 km.

A growing tree is Nature’s original solar energy system. It even has its own battery, itself. A cord of hardwood produces as much energy as 800 litres of oil[1]. What’s more, if properly managed, the woodlot, from whence the wood came, will grow by the same amount. As well, if the wood comes from deadfall, it would have rotted and returned to the atmosphere with time anyway. Wood is a renewable resource and that means no additional greenhouse gases – not like those 800 litres of oil!

Finally, a growing tree makes you feel good. Ever wonder why you like to take a walk in the wood?

The cost:

The cost of tree planting depends on the amount you want to plant.

If you’re planting a few trees in select places around your home, you can transplant them from your woodlot (or a neighbour’s – with permission). By removing a few trees, you reduce competition that allows other trees to grow in their place.

If you’re interested in planting a few hundred trees, you can buy them from the Town of Caledon. They are selling seedlings for $0.75 each. Alternatively seedlings are available from nurseries for $0.30 to $1.75 each depending on species, age and quality.

If you’re thinking about planting part of “the back forty”, I would recommend that you hire a professional forest manager. He will design a managed forest plan and suggest planting companies. The planting may cost $1500 to $1800 per hectare ($600 to $725 per acre) depending on the type of trees and the terrain. As well, the managed forest plan will qualify you for Ontario’s Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP)

The payback:

Selective planting around your home can reduce heating costs by 10 – 20 % and save cooling costs by 30 – 40%. Under Ontario’s Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) qualifying lands are taxed at 25% of the residential rate. Finally, in forty or so years, your forest will be a sustainable source of income for you, your children, or your grandchildren.

For more information on MFTIP visit:

The bonus:

As your trees grow, you can enjoy them for the non-tangible, esthetic beauty and enjoy the additional wildlife that they attract.

The environmental bonus:

Each year your trees sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. For more information on what your trees contribute visit the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s on-line calculator and guide at:

D. Neil Bird
Caledon Clean Air Clean Energy Program

[1] Wood has to be burnt properly. If burnt improperly, wood smoke can add to air pollution through increase particulates.

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