Tips for Green Living

Consumers are increasingly interested in using more eco-friendly and efficient products, reducing energy use, and helping to protect the environment, often while saving money.

There are many ways in which you can reduce the amount of products and resources you use on a day-to-day basis. Below are some tips you can use to help reduce energy consumption and save on the costs of things like household chores and shopping, or when making larger expenditures like new appliances or starting home renovations.

Tip 1: Reduce and Reuse

  • Reducing or eliminating the use of plastic shopping bags will lessen the amount that ultimately ends up in landfills. Plastic bags can be reused to pack groceries, for disposing household waste, and some biodegradable bags can even be recycled. Using cloth or fabric reusable bags is an eco-friendly option for carrying groceries. Make sure to wash reusable cloth or fabric bags to keep them clean.
  • Making a grocery list before you go to the grocery store will help you stay on track while shopping, stop you from forgetting items and help you avoid buying more than you need. Planning shopping trips will also reduce the energy you use travelling to and from the grocery store.
  • You may consider sharing larger outdoor equipment like a snow blower or a lawn mower with neighbours or relatives, and donating older equipment that is in fair working condition.
  • Many types of paper products can be recycled or reused. Items like scrap printer paper can be reused for note pads and cardboard boxes can be reused, or recycled in your recycling or compost bin.
  • It’s important to dispose of old electronics responsibly — many are made from materials that can be harmful to the environment. If you are thinking of purchasing an electronic device, such as a smart phone or TV, consider buying it second hand, or selling your old device instead of throwing it away. For more information on e-waste and tips on proper disposal, visit the E-waste section of the Consumer Handbook.
  • Many clothing items can be reused as rags after they have worn out. You may also consider donating used clothing items that are in fair condition to local charities or non-profit organizations. To reduce and save on costs, you can also consider buying clothing or textiles second-hand.

Tip 2: Watch Your Water Consumption

  • Using less water around the house will reduce the strain on renewable water sources in Canada and save you money. There are many ways in which you can limit water consumption around the house through daily chores.
  • Showers account for 35% of household water consumption. Install low-flow shower heads and try to restrict how long you spend in the shower – 5 minutes, if you can manage it.
  • Laundry makes up 20% of household water consumption. Save water by only running your laundry machine or dishwasher when you have a full load.
  • Tip 3: Small Steps Matter

    • Reducing electricity use has environmental benefits and helps cut down on monthly bills. For example, unplugging small appliances when they’re not in use, and unplugging larger appliances, like personal computers or TVs when you leave your home for an extended period of time will reduce your energy use and save you money. You may also consider putting outdoor lights on a timer, and turning off lights in rooms that are not in use. Raising the temperature on refrigerators and freezers can save money over time, but make sure that perishable items are kept at safe temperatures so they don’t spoil. See the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Environmental Temperature Conditions for more information.
    • You can save 2 per cent on your energy bills for every 1 degree Celsius you lower your thermostat overnight. Using a programmable thermostat will allow you to regulate temperatures in your home year round and save money on heating and cooling costs.
    • Washing and drying clothes uses a lot of energy. You can reduce your energy costs, and preserve the quality of your clothes by drying your clothing on a clothesline. Using your washing machine’s cold water cycle will also help to reduce energy and costs. There are many types of detergents now available that are designed specifically for cold water washing. To ensure your dryer is working efficiently, empty the lint trap often. If you are buying new appliances, look for energy efficiency labels like ENERGY STAR and EnerGuide. For more information on energy labels, see the Consumers and the Environment section of the Consumer Handbook.
    • The Energy Savings Calculator for Lighting Products will help you figure out which light bulb will give you the most savings over time in your home.
    • Plastic water bottles may seem convenient, but they can quickly pile up in landfills and harm the environment. You might find it more cost effective to purchase a reusable water container to carry water with you. Make sure to wash the containers often to keep them clean.
    • Paint products, including latex, oil, spray paint, stain, varnish, and lacquer can contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are made up of chemicals like benzene and toluene, and are toxic in high amounts. There are many paint products available on the market that are either low in VOCs, or contain none at all. If you choose to use paint that contains VOCs, make sure the area you’re working in is well-ventilated and that you dispose of the remains in a safe manner.
    • When, where and how you drive influences your vehicle’s fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. Applying five basic fuel-efficient driving techniques can potentially save you hundreds of dollars a year in fuel and prevent more than one thousand kilograms of carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere:
      • accelerate gently,
      • maintain a steady speed,
      • anticipate traffic,
      • coast to decelerate, and
      • avoid speeding.
    • Plan your routes, calculate your fuel consumption and adopt other fuel-efficient driving habits to save even more. Explore Natural Resources Canada’s website for other helpful tips.

    Tip 4: Pay Attention to Packaging

    • Before you buy, look at the type of packaging that products come in. Many items come wrapped in paper and plastic, which can later be recycled, repurposed, or composted. Packaging marked as biodegradable will naturally break down in the earth with the help of animals, insects, and microorganisms over time, however certain materials can take years to break down. Many types of plastic are not compostable or recyclable, so be aware of the types of products you’re purchasing and disposing. Consider buying products with little to no packaging to reduce the amount of waste you produce, such as bulk food.

    Tip 5: Planning for Larger Purchases

    • A home is a complex system that works as a whole, where everything – from an energy viewpoint - is connected. Making smart decisions means looking at the impact on the whole house first.
    • When buying a new home and making this large investment, consider energy efficiency when making your selection so you can get most for your money. You can choose to buy new energy-efficient ENERGY STAR and R-2000 homes that can help you reduce your energy use and save you money on monthly energy bills. For more information on energy-efficient new homes visit Natural Resources Canada.
    • With a trusted, internationally recognized ENERGY STAR brand, you get a home that is 20% more energy efficient than a typical home. R-2000-certified new homes are best-in-class energy-efficient homes that are 50% more energy efficient than typical homes. These homes typically feature efficient heating and cooling systems, high insulation levels in walls, ceilings and basements, high-efficiency windows and doors and whole-house mechanical ventilation. These features translate into energy savings, increased comfort, and a healthier environment for the homeowner. To learn more, visit http://nrcan.gc.ca/homes.
    • If you are planning major investments or renovations in your home, start with an EnerGuide home evaluation as a first step in smart home improvements. A professional energy evaluation service is the best way to assess a home’s energy improvement potential. An energy advisor evaluates a home from the attic down to the foundation, taking the guesswork out of which improvement would work best for your home. The evaluation will provide you with customized information about the home’s energy performance and the personalized report you receive identifies key energy wasting issues in the home, such as unwanted air leakage or major heat loss areas. You also receive a plan of action when renovating to make the best investments in the home and get the most value for your money. Visit nrcan.gc.ca/homes to book a home evaluation with a licensed service organization who works with energy advisors in your area.
    • There are a few things to consider before purchasing new household appliances. Do your research before you buy, as some appliances are more energy efficient than others. ENERGY STAR is the mark of high-efficiency products in Canada. The familiar symbol makes it easy to identify the best energy performers on the market. ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict technical specifications for energy performance—tested and certified. They save energy without compromising performance in any way. Typically, an ENERGY STAR qualified product is in the top 15 to 30 percent of its class for energy performance. Saving energy saves you money and reduces your impact on the environment. The EnerGuide label will show you how much energy a product uses and how that compares to similar models.
    • When purchasing a vehicle, consider energy efficiency as a factor in your buying decision. No matter what your needs may be, there are options for better fuel consumption and lower emissions. For a list of fuel consumption ratings by vehicle year, make and model, visit Natural Resources Canada. If you’re thinking of buying a new hybrid, plug-in hybrid electric or battery electric car, some provinces and territories offer incentives to drivers who purchase these types of vehicles. Transport Canada has an Electric Vehicle Primer that explains the differences between different types of electric vehicles and estimated savings.

    Tip 6: Consider Your Energy Solutions

    In 2010, households accounted for 16 percent of total energy use in Canada1. Although the energy sources may differ across the country, you can still choose green energy solutions that are environmentally friendly, and can help cut down on your home heating costs over the long run.

    • Look for EnerGuide labels on heating, cooling and ventilation equipment to determine their level of energy efficiency. You can reduce your space cooling and heating costs in several ways: installing more efficient equipment, especially ENERGY STAR® qualified models; improving the performance of your existing equipment; better managing humidity levels; or using programmable thermostats.
    • A heating system’s first price tag—the sticker price—is obvious. Smart consumers also consider the “second price tag”, that is, the cost of operating the product over its lifetime. Operating costs can be higher over the long term than purchase and installation costs. Natural Resources Canada has an online tool that will help you figure out the costs of heating your home using electricity, natural gas, oil, propane, and wood.

    A few technology tips:

    • Forced-air furnaces are by far the most commonly used central heating systems in Canada. Today’s furnaces are more energy-efficient than ever. Manufacturers are making units with fuel efficiency ratings of 90 percent—and more. Also consider buying a furnace with a high-efficiency motor. If you use your furnace fan to circulate air continuously, a brushless DC furnace motor can reduce annual electricity consumption up to 70 percent compared to a standard model. In Canada, furnaces (gas, propane or oil-fired):
      • are regulated for minimum energy performance standards
      • may have a voluntary EnerGuide label
      • may be ENERGY STAR qualified (when properly installed, ENERGY STAR qualified heating equipment can save you more on heating bills each year compared to standard models)
      • For more information on heating equipment, visit Natural Resources Canada.
    • Many Canadian homes, especially in certain locales, use electric baseboard heaters as a primary heating system or as a supplement. In this case, there is typically no central forced air system. With baseboard heaters, each room can be controlled by an independent thermostat, which allows for turning down the heat in spaces that are not occupied for extended period of times during the day or night.
    • Add up all the cracks, gaps, and other openings in your home and chances are that it has a total air leakage area that’s about the size of a beach ball! Windows and doors can account for up to 25 percent of total house heat loss. There are a number of simple options for upgrading the energy efficiency of your windows. Windows can be repaired by servicing hardware such as latches, cranks and locks or retrofitted with caulking and weatherstripping or adding glazing and storm windows. Sometimes, if your windows and doors are in very poor condition, the best choice is total window and frame replacement with new, high-performance ENERGY STAR® qualified windows or inserts. Replacing older windows and doors with energy efficient models can help you save up to 7% on monthly home heating costs2. Higher insulation levels in walls, ceilings and basements can improve comfort, help save money on heating and cooling bills, and can also help reduce air leakage. Air leakage control is the single most important retrofit activity, and it should be considered first in any retrofit strategy.
    • You may consider renewable energy sources such as power from sun or wind. When these resources are used, they can be converted into electricity with a wind turbine or photovoltaics panels, or heat with solar collectors. Professional assistance will help you determine whether this is a viable option for you. For more information about renewable energy, please visit Natural Resources Canada.

    Tip 7: Day-to-Day Living

    • There are many ways you can reduce food waste, and save on food costs. Growing your own fruit and vegetables in a garden at home, or getting involved with a community garden in your neighbourhood will give you control over some of your food costs.
    • Meal planning will help you buy only what you need when you go to the store. Saving leftovers and composting scraps will help lessen the amount of food waste you create.
    • If you’re concerned about how far food travels before it gets to your plate, consider eating and buying locally or regionally grown foods. Check the food labels or grocery store signage to determine where the food was grown. Consider buying from a local farmers’ market. You can apply these same concepts when dining in a restaurant. Many local restaurants will use locally grown products, so don’t be afraid to ask.
    • When not properly used, some household cleaning products can be harmful to people and animals. There are many products available on the market to clean specific items or rooms. They can add up in cost, and disposal. Look for effective all-purpose cleaners that will help lessen the need for multiple cleaning products, some of which are eco-friendly. Check labels on products that claim to be eco-friendly for a list of ingredients.

    Tip 8: Be Mindful of Household Waste

    • When possible, recycle or use alternate waste solutions such as green bin and compost. Most household waste can go in the garbage, recycling, or compost bin (if your municipality has adopted this program) that is picked up on a weekly or biweekly basis. Your municipality should be able to provide you with a list of what items can be included. You may also consider starting a personal compost bin. Contents from the bin can be used as fertilizer for plants and outdoor gardens, and offers an eco-friendly way to dispose of many types of food and yard waste. For more information on ways to reduce household waste, visit the Responsible Product Disposal section of the Consumer Handbook.

    Tip 9: Consider Your Transportation Options

    Public Transit: Public transit is an environmentally friendly option for travel. Depending on where you live, you may have several options for commuting including the bus, train, streetcar or subway. Some cities also offer park-and-ride services.

    Car-Pooling: Car-pooling saves on gas and helps to reduce city traffic congestion and air pollution. Many cities have adopted high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for those who have two or more people travelling in a car. These lanes are often less congested than non-HOV lanes, and may provide a quicker route when commuting.

    Car Sharing: Car sharing allows drivers access to a vehicle when they need it, without having to purchase a car or maintain it. This may be more environmentally friendly, and is an option for people who don’t drive frequently. For more information on car sharing, see the Car Sharing Association’s website at http://carsharing.org. The CSA represents car sharing organizations (CSOs) interested in improving the credibility, quality of service and public knowledge of the car sharing industry.

    Cycling & Walking: When travelling shorter distances, consider cycling or walking as your primary mode of transportation. This will cut out fuel and parking costs and it is also good form of exercise. Many Canadian cities are expanding bike paths and bike lanes on major roads to help those who choose to cycle as a means for transportation and recreation.

    Travel: When planning a vacation or long-distance travel, consider how you plan on getting there and the potential impact on the environment. If you are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions when travelling by plane, book a direct route instead of one with stopovers. If travelling by car, carpooling for long distance trips will help save on energy as well as fuel costs.

    Interested in knowing more?

    For more information on how to save money by living greener, as well as information on labelling, visit the Consumers and the Environment section of the Consumer Handbook.

    Footnotes

    Canada. Natural Resources Canada. Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada: 1990 to 2010. Ottawa: NRCAN, 2011. Print.

    Canada. Natural Resources Canada. Energy-Efficient Residential Windows, Doors and Skylights. Ottawa: NRCAN, 2012. Web.

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