With the increase in Hydro rates many Boards of Directors and individuals are wondering what can be done to reduce that ever-growing burden – and fortunately there are ways to reduce hydro consumption and kill a watt (and more). Remember that every watt of electricity we save means less pollution at the power generation stage and that should make us all feel better!
The introduction of smart meters in Ontario has lead to every condominium suite being individually metered for hydro consumption. The idea being that if we can see how adjusting our use of lights, and changing the times of heavy appliance use, produces savings directly on our bill – we will pay more attention and reduce where we can.
It makes sense that the easiest way to save money on any utility is to use less of it, so how do we reduce our dependency on Hydro? Ideally energy conservation is the practice of reducing the amount of energy required while achieving a similar end result and quality of life.
Lighten The Load!
Things that used to be considered a luxury are now deemed to be the necessities of life and we are all reluctant to take even a tiny step back to those ‘dark ages’, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel! Advances in technologies and manufacturing techniques now provide lamps that produce equivalent amounts of light for much less electricity – savings without altering our quality of life.
In the early days the modern wonder was the incandescent light bulb where passing electric current through a fine metal filament created light, and a considerable amount of heat. By concentrating on removing the wasted electricity used in the heat process, and refining the actual light source using different materials, huge advances have been made in the efficient conversion of electricity to light.
The first fluorescent tube was touted as the answer to all the problems, but since then many improvements have been achieved by the use of different materials and gases resulting in less power use and a reduction in size. The old T12 fluorescent lamp (1.25” diameter) has been replaced by the T8 fluorescent tube (1” diameter) and that is slowly being replaced by the T5 tube (5/8” diameter). Sorry – I don’t know why the increments of diameter of the tube are 1/8”, but just read 1/8 for the letter T and you have the diameter.
Fluorescent lamps use a ‘ballast’ to convert the 110volt hydro to whatever higher voltage is required to create the electronic discharge in the tube that is then converted to visible light by the coating material inside the tube. For T12 lamps the original ballast was like a transformer with a heavy metal ‘core’ that had wire ‘windings’ wrapped around it encased in a material that may contain PCB’s. The new energy efficient T8 lamps use an electronic ‘ballast’ that provides the required voltages without wasted energy – saving about 24watts over the winding type.
New technologies have greatly changed the face of lighting used today by using high voltages to create an energy discharge through different mediums resulting in the compact fluorescent lamp that is a mini fluorescent tube with its own ballast system. This results in more visible light for less wattage and has the benefit of much longer life for the lamp since there is no heat energy wasted – energy efficient lighting.
Condominium Corporations should consider first the lamps that are on 24/7 such as hallways, stairwells and underground parking garages. Energy savings are generated at so-much-per-hour and if the light is only on for a short time it will take a longer time to create enough savings to ‘pay-back’ the cost of change. The longer the “on” time the bigger the savings.
A simple example of savings could be a two-lamp T12 fixture to be replaced by a single compact fluorescent fixture (depending upon the actual area). The T12 fixture uses 2x40watts for the lamps plus 24watts for the ballast for a total of 104 watts, the replacement uses 13watts for the lamp and 6watts for the ballast for a total of 19watts. The annual savings of 85watts at 8cents per kilowatt-hours can be calculated as about $60.00. This easily pays for the replacement fixture in the first year! In most cases of incandescent fixtures or T12 fixtures that are on 24/7 you can expect a pay-back period of under eighteen months for an energy efficient replacement – and then the savings just keep mounting!
Before you get too carried away, remember that there are codes and by-laws that require certain amounts of light in public areas such as stairwells, corridors and parking areas and any retrofit to energy efficient lighting must bring the area up to the existing code requirements. Even though you are trying to save money by reducing wattages and the number of fixtures, you still need to have enough light for the task at hand. Careful consideration of light levels, fixture glare, and colour rendering is required to achieve a well-balanced lighting layout for maximum energy savings. Also remember that there are requirements for emergency lighting in public areas and the location of the emergency system fixtures must be carefully considered.
If you decide upon a lighting retrofit program that results in significant costs you should engage the service of an engineering consultant to ensure that all contractors are bidding apples to apples. Don’t rely upon recommendations of a contractor or supplier as they may be promoting whatever it is they have in stock.
For individuals who want to do their part – changing any incandescent lamp to a compact fluorescent lamp will help. If everyone in your building did the same it would be a cumulative effect – not as noticeable as the public areas, but a contribution nonetheless. With the advent of “smart meters” and the subsequent sub-metering systems that will be installed as part of the governments Bill 21 “initiative” each individual will be able to see the effect of such changes on their periodic hydro bill. Surveys indicate that 12% of household energy consumption is attributable to lighting.
Be Cool – Not Cold
This summer we have been using air conditioners to combat the heat more than is usual – but why not nudge that thermostat up a degree or so? You will still feel cool when you come in and will save that precious hydro. Change to a programmable thermostat and the savings continue – you can set it to get the place cool for when you come home, offset at night and reset to comfort zone for when you get up. Each little area of saving will really add up over the summer season! There are often incentives from the power providers to install these devices – check out your local supplier for details.
I would think that it was fairly obvious that, if you close your drapes to keep the sun out during the summer, it would take less power to keep the room cool. You would be amazed at how many south-facing suites have no drapes, or don’t close the ones they have. Another benefit of closing the drapes is less UV radiation to fade the upholstery. Another way of making the air-conditioner work less is to seal up any drafts and to keep windows and doors closed. If you live in a house, make sure you have adequate insulation – heat loss through the ceiling and walls can be significant. Surveys have shown that we use approximately 50% of the household energy in space conditioning (heating and cooling).
Energy efficient air conditioning units are obviously the way to go for townhouses but for a highrise it is not that easy. Changing a central chiller unit is very costly and they are usually scheduled for 25 years or more before replacement from the reserve fund. Some things can be done however such as changing the cooling tower fan to a variable speed drive model, and changing the fans within the individual suite fan-coil units. The fan-coil fans are generally cheap shaded pole units that can be replaced with slightly more expensive ‘split capacitor’ fans that use about half the energy. If your condominium Declaration places the onus of fan-coil repair on the unit owner then you should probably make this change, as it will show dividends on your hydro bill year-round.
In all cases make sure that you replace the filter on a regular basis – as dirt builds up the fan motor works harder and uses more hydro – not to mention your air is not getting cleaned properly!
Waste Not, Want Not
Another energy saving tip is to use a microwave instead of a conventional oven wherever possible as microwave cooking is quicker and has no pre-heat time, resulting in significant savings on that hydro bill. Also use an electric (plug-in) kettle rather than boiling a kettle on the stove – that way all the power goes to heat your water rather than spreading wasted heat around the kitchen.
Other areas to look at in reducing hydro use would be the dishwasher (wash only when as full as possible) and the laundry – only wash or dry with a full load and use the exhaust system with the dryer. Always ensure that the lint trap is cleaned out before using that dryer – not only will the dryer work more efficiently it will also remove a possible fire hazard if lint is allowed to build up and clog the system.
Let’s see what we can do with a concerted effort on all parts – if we can reduce hydro use we should all be able to breathe easier and enjoy a cleaner environment.
For more information on how to reduce energy costs in your condo/strata please call us toll free at 1-888-348-8991, or: