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Apr 19

Warm and Dry - Summer 2010 Weather Prediction Thus Far

Posted by Geoff Jones in Water

Geoff Jones

After two years of wet, cool and grey summer (2008 and 2009), senior climatologist David Phillips with Environment Canada has said that the region should be returning to seasonably hot, hazy, humid and dry days this June, July and August.

The official forecast doesn't come out until June 1st but indications at this time are that it will be a dry summer compared to the last 2 years.

Apr 14

ECOShift and the Ontario Green Home Competition

Posted by Geoff Jones in General

Geoff Jones

If you haven't heard about the Home Sweet Home or Ontario Green Home competition in Ontario you need to check it out.  ECOShift made donations to the project and is happy to be a participant in the water conservation solutions incorporated into the Founding Production Home.    As a result of our support this home includes a greywater recycling system which re-uses bath/shower water for flushing toilets, and a rainwater harvesting system for outdoor irrigation.

For more information about the Home Sweet Home competition read the press release below or visit:  http://www.ontariogreenhome.com or http://www.hshcompetition.ca

New Ontario Green Building Awards Presented before Capacity Crowd

For Immediate Release
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apr 01

ecoENERGY Retrofit Program Stops Abruptly

Posted by Geoff Jones in Energy

Geoff Jones

Out of the blue, with no forewarning, the ecoENERGY Retrofit program announced that it is no longer accepting pre-retrofit applications as of March 31, 2010.   Where did that come from?

So what does this mean?

If you have already booked or had your pre-retrofit audit you can still qualify for grants providing you make the updates to your home and have your follow-up audit by March 31, 2011.  However, for anyone who was planning to have a pre-retrofit audit it seems the federal government has closed the door on you as of yesterday.  Thanks for the heads up!

Mar 26

Earth Hour 2010

Posted by Geoff Jones in General , Energy

Geoff Jones

Tomorrow (March 27, 2010) is Earth Hour day, a chance for people around the world to make a statement of support regarding the importance of the health of our planet.  Every hour, people all aroudn the world are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment and our resources. Whether you walk or ride your bike to work, lower the temperature in your house at night,  or hang your laundry out to dry, each little step makes a difference.   Share your story, inspire others and leave a comment about what you're doing to change your impact on our environment.


Below is some more informtion about Earth Hour as provided by the Earth Hour website (http://www.earthhour.org/):

Nov 04

Repair or Replace - What do you think?

Posted by Geoff Jones in General

Geoff Jones

In today's society a lot of items are just to expensive to get fixed, or are just as cheap to buy new so it creates a bit of a tough decision for many people who are faced with considering to repair something or replace it.  I think the area that this is most common is with electronics.  This blog post is a little different from most of my posts but i've been in this situation several times and wanted to share my experience and get your thoughts too. 
Recently our microwave stopped working.  Let me tell you, when your microwave stops working, only then do you realize how often you actually use it.  It certainly is convenient.  So, to replace the microwave with an equivalent unit, or the same unit (which I happen to like) is about $200-$250 plus taxes.  I decided to look at what it would cost to have it repaired instead.   The repair costs for it were $130 including taxes.   This is certainly cheaper than buying a new one but the tough part of the decision is that the thing that was wrong with my microwave was not one of the more common failure points for microwaves according to the people at the electronics repair shop.  If the more common failure occurs in the future it would cost an additional $60-$100 to repair that as well.  So, it's a little bit of a gamble.  The repair place indicated there are no tests that can be done to determine life expectancy of the parts that more commonly fail (i.e. magnatron and invertor) so I would have to take a chance. 
Well, I decided to have the unit fixed since there was no way I would send it off to landfill, and I figured that even though electronics recycling is great, it's still better if you don't have to use energy to recycle something at all.  It cost me $130 (incl. tax) to fix the unit and it's running great. I hope that it will still be running great in 3-5 years from now as well.

I think that the decision would have been very different if the replacement microwave was only $100 or less.  It's hard to justify repair when replacement costs are the same or possibly even less.

I had a similar decision to make a few years ago when my expensive coffee maker ($200) started leaking after 3 years.  The aluminum burner had a small rust spot and was leaking (apparently it is possible for aluminum to rust although not very common).    I employed the help of a local metal worker I had used before to get some fabrication work done and he was able to weld the burner for me and plug the hole for $20.   So far it's been over 2 years since I did that and the coffee maker, although aging in other areas, is still working fine and doesn't leak.  That decision was certainly a good one.

So, the point of my rambling is mearly to generate some discussion from you, our readers.  Leave some comments, let us know about your experiences and tell us what you think.  If this is an interesting topic for people we can start a discussion group in the community for it.

thanks for listening.

Sep 04

Ontario Tire Stewardship (OTS) Program

Posted by Geoff Jones in General

Geoff Jones

A new program just launched this month in Ontario.  Previously when you purchased a new set of tires for your vehicle (on or off road) you had to pay a disposal fee for the old tires you were getting rid of.   However, with the launch of the new Ontario Tire Stewardship (OTS) Program that is no longer necessary as long as your old tires are dropped off at a registered collector.   Registered collectors can include tire retailers (maybe even the place you get your tires changed), municipalities and other registered drop off points.    Under the new program residents of Ontario can drop off up to 4 used tires per person at no charge to be collected and recycled.  I’m not sure yet if this is an annual limit, once every 2 years, 5 years, or a one time thing but it certainly seems like a good initiative.  It would appear, however, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, that there is a new fee called the Tires Stewardship Fee (TSF), which is to be remitted to the OTS by Brand owners for every tire supplied into the Ontario market.  If this is handled in a similar way to the electronics handling fee under the Waste Electrical & Electronics Equipment recycling program it is very possible that when you purchase a new set of tires, although there may no longer be a disposal fee, there may be a new TSF fee that is passed on to the consumer on the purchase of the new tires which helps fund the program that deals with recycling of old tires.  I don’t know for sure how this will work but I’m making an assumption here that it might work similar to the WEEE program.


Currently, of the approximately 11-12 million scrap tires generated in Ontario annually, about 50% are sent to the US to be burned each year.  Yep, burned.  Under the new program this number should be significantly reduced and I would hope completely eliminated.  In addition the program is intended to help eliminate the unauthorized disposal of old tires as people can drop them off free of charge.  I for one would certainly prefer that people drop their tires off than throw them at the side of the road or try to dump them illegally and in an environmentally irresponsible way.  In addition the used tire program is expected to inject about $23 million into the scrap tire recycling industry in the first year and hopefully help create new jobs and economic growth within the province.

What Are The Tires Used For?

Scrap tires can be used for many different things.  Some of the recycled end uses include aggregates instead of stone,  crumb rubber for use in sports fields, hockey rinks, quieter roads, and finished goods like floor mats, soaker hoses, mouse pads, and rubber components for car engines.  You can imagine that this is just a very small list of possible uses of this recycled rubber so it can certainly be put to good use.

For more information about the program please visit the Ontario Tire Stewardship (OTS) website at: http://www.ontariots.ca/

Aug 26

New Greywater Standards For California

Posted by Geoff Jones in Greywater Recycling

Geoff Jones

Earlier this month California, often known for leading the way in pioneering legislative change to help protect the environment, released new updated greywater standards.  I thought it would be worthwhile to give you a quick update on what has happened in California as more and more states and provinces are looking at each other to see what to do as we realize more and more each day the importance of water conservation and re-use and the need to make changes.

The California Building Standards Commission’s new greywater standards went into effect on Tuesday Aug 4, 2009.  Dozens of people crowded into the Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Public Library to learn about the new standards and participate in a city-sponsored workshop led by Art Ludwig, a resident of Santa Barbara and a well known greywater expert.

Tuesday, or “California greywater liberation day,” as Ludwig calls it, came about as a result of many years of work and promotion by greywater systems advocates. Ludwig himself worked with the city of Santa Barbara as an expert in the field of greywater reuse and spoke at the Building Standards Commission meeting that passed the changes to the greywater standards in California.

Aug 12

Count Me In Ontario Challenge

Posted by Geoff Jones in General , Energy

Geoff Jones

It's on ...!

The Count Me In! Community Challenge, taking place between now and August 14, the anniversary of the North American blackout in 2003, is now underway.

The Count Me In! Community Challenge is comprised of two challenges:

  • The highest percentage drop in electricity consumption on August 14, and
  • The highest per capita participation in the Count Me In! pledge drive between now and August 14.

Results will be announced at the AMO Annual Conference in Ottawa in August.

Aug 04

Wind Turbine Power Generation Basics

Posted by Geoff Jones in Wind , Energy

Geoff Jones

If you read the papers or keep on top of alternative energy news I’m sure that you have seen at least one article, if not many, in the past months about wind farms and/or wind turbine technology being installed in residential applications or in large scale power generation projects.  Either way, wind turbines are rapidly being installed in many parts of the world to generate clean electricity.  Let’s take a look at the basic principles of Wind Turbines and how they work.


Wind Turbines make use of the kinetic energy contained within the wind itself to turn a propeller of some kind (there are many different styles) which then turns a generator to create electricity.  Electricity created by a wind turbine is typically Direct Current (DC) electricity and is either used to charge batteries and then converted, via an inverter, into Alternating Current (AC) electricity for operation of appliances within a home or business or it is sent directly to an inverter to generate AC electricity for immediate use with no backup storage.

Jul 21

Bottled Water - Share Your Thoughts

Posted by Geoff Jones in Water , General

Geoff Jones

The discussion on bottled water certainly generates a lot of different and very strong opinions.  I think the best way to form an opinion is to gather as much information and as many viewpoints as possible.  Only after we have shared our views and listened objectively to the opinions and views of others can we truly work toward a better solution.


Let’s talk about it a bit today and get some more input.

Jul 12

Waste Electrical & Electronics Equipment (WEEE) Recycling

Posted by Geoff Jones in General

Geoff Jones
Recently, someone I know purchased an LCD TV at a local electronics shop and was charged an Electronic Handling Fee.  I haven't purchased any electronics for a while so I wasn't aware what this was.  So, I decided to look into it a little more and thought that maybe I'm not the only one who wasn't aware of the WEEE program that Ontario launched on April 1, 2009.  Did you know about it?  I have to admit that even reading the local paper almost daily for the past year and being pretty in tune with environmental initiatives, this one somehow escaped me.  So here's a quick overview of what it's all about for anyone else that might not have read, or heard, about it before.

On June 11, 2007, the Minister of the Environment requested the development of an industry funded diversion program for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) under the Waste Diversion Act, 2002. The request required the program to be implemented in 2 phases. Phase 1 includes desktop and portable computers, monitors, printers, computer peripherals and televisions and was approved in July 2008.  The actual phase 1 program itself took effect in Ontario on April 1, 2009.  This might be why I didn't notice it earlier because if you haven't purchased an electronic product recently that falls under the WEE program you wouldn't have noticed the new fee.  The WEEE program is being managed by a not-for-profit organization known as the Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES).

In the first year of the program, which began April 1, 2009, the target is to divert 17,000 new tonnes (34,000,000 lbs) of computers, monitors, printers, disk drives, keyboards, mice, fax machines and televisions from landfill. At the end of five years, the diversion target is 75,000 tonnes or 60% of available materials.

What Does This All Mean?

Well, it means that Ontario is getting serious about reducing and recycling electronic waste and has developed a program by which fee's are charged to electronics manufacturers (Ontario based) or importers etc. who sell electronics within the province.  The fees collected are to be used to run the WEEE program(s) and provide further awareness and access to recycling options for electronics equipment.  The fees that are charged to the stewards (the manufacturer, importer, brand owner) are often (if not always) passed on directly or indirectly to the consumer as some type of electronic waste handling fee. 

Jul 10

Greywater Recycling Benefits in Rural Applications

Posted by Geoff Jones in Greywater Recycling

Geoff Jones

Many people think of greywater recycling as something that is only for people who live in the city and pay water and wastewater charges to their municipality.  However, there are several benefits that can also be realised for those who live in rural settings. 

Let's take a quick look at some of the potential benefits in rural applications that I've come across from speaking with rural homeowners who are dealing with issues and concerns and looking at greywater recycling as part of the solution to some of their issues.

Well Water Levels

Conservation of water reduces demand on your well. I have spoken to many people who in certain areas struggle with water supply during the summer season. The fear, and reality, in some areas is that sometimes they actually run dry during longer periods of drought. By reducing your demand on the water supply by using a greywater system to flush your toilets you may be able to avoid, or lessen the likely hood of this situation. There are a number of factors that affect this, and not all of them are totally within a single homeowner's control, but if we all use less today, there is generally more available for tomorrow.

Jul 02

Green Roof Overview

Posted by Geoff Jones in General , Energy

Geoff Jones
With continued growth and interest in green building technologies, green roofs have been gaining more interest and exposure as a result of the benefits they can provide. A green roof is essentially the roof of a building/structure that has vegetation covering a portion or the entire roof surface. Green roofs can be designed as a part of new buildings or retrofit to existing buildings as well. The vegetation type can vary significantly depending on the design of the green roof, the structural integrity of the existing roof and the varying product options selected. Vegetation may even include some types of edible crops. That's pretty cool.

Types of Green Roofs

There are 2 primary types of green roofs; 1) Extensive and 2) Intensive. An extensive green roof generally has a more shallow growing depth and is therefore suitable for smaller vegetation and/or plants/shrubs. Extensive green roofs, due to their more shallow soil, are lighter than intensive roofs, may require less maintenance and are generally cheaper. Intensive green roofs have more soil depth and therefore can accommodate larger plants, shrubs and even trees. Intensive roofs, due to the deeper soil and larger plant life, require a much higher structural loading capability than an extensive roof does and may require periodic maintenance and trimming. Green roofs offer several benefits ranging from aesthetic, environmental and practical benefits.

Urban Heat Island Effect

One of the benefits of green roofs is in helping to reduce the impacts of something known as Urban Heat Island (UHI) Effect. The UHI effect basically identifies that the temperature in developed urban areas can be warmer than the surround rural areas due to the lack of vegetation, and resulting evapotranspiration, as well as the increased amount of concrete and asphalt that absorb the suns energy and release it as heat. There are many other factors and details associated with Heat Island Effect but I just wanted to touch on the very basics. According to the EPA "the annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8-5.4°F (1-3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C). Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality."

By installing green roofs on buildings instead of asphalt roofs the heat island effect can be reduced as the vegetation absorbs the suns energy and reduces the heat that would normally be radiated from traditional roof surface. Green roofs also promote evapotranspiration in which plants release moisture into the air which helps to cool the surrounding area.

Jun 25

Solar Space Heating Overview

Posted by Geoff Jones in Solar

Geoff Jones
There are basically two key types of solar heating systems; solar passive and solar active.  Solar passive systems are typically less complex as they make use of solar energy without the need for additional electrical components and technology.  This typically makes them less costly but in many cases passive solar heating may not be effective for existing buildings if the current orientation of the building cannot take advantage of solar energy.  Solar active systems are a little more complex, although still relatively simple in comparison to some other environmental technologies, and are effective in both new and existing buildings.  Buildings don't have to use only one or the other.  It is certainly possible for a building to make use of both solar passive and solar active systems.  Let's take a quick look at the basics of both passive and active solar heating systems (even though you might not be thinking about heat today since it has been scorching hot outside this week).

Passive Solar Space Heating

Passive solar space heating takes advantage of the suns energy and warmth through features like large south facing windows and materials within the building that can absorb the suns energy in the form of heat during the day and release it at a later time.  These surfaces that collect this heat are often referred to as thermal mass, but we won't get into a big discussion on thermal mass right now other than to say they are a mass of some material that can effectively collect, and later release, thermal energy.

There are generally 3 design approaches used in Passive solar systems:

Direct gain - This is the simplest system.  It involves the collection of the suns energy in the form of heat by allowing the sun to shine directly on surfaces such as tile or concrete, directly within the room to be heated.  The surface absorbs the heat energy from the sun and later releases the heat into the room to help maintain the temperature.

Jun 21

Rain Barrel Basics - Part 2

Posted by Geoff Jones in Rainwater Harvesting

Geoff Jones

Let's continue with some ideas that may be helpful in putting together a very simple rainwater system using rainbarrels.

Multiple Barrels for Additional Capacity

Keep in mind that most homes typically have at least 1 downspout (or more) on each side depending on the home design. A single 50-60 gallon (190-225 liter) is effective for light irrigation but often is insufficient for larger gardens or homes with extensive plant life. The addition of more barrels, however, is a relatively straight forward task. One approach that is often taken is to locate a rain barrel under each downspout. This may also be desirable if you have more than one garden, or plants that require watering on opposite sides of the house. If you don't have multiple downspouts you can join multiple barrels together such that they fill simultaneously (connected by hose at the bottom) or so that one overflows into the next and so on.

Make sure your rainbarrel is also positioned appropriately so that you can fill your watering can from the spigot or attach a short hose to the spigot which will allow for filling of watering cans if you are unable to get the can underneath the spigot.

Jun 19

Rain Barrel Basics - Part 1

Posted by Geoff Jones in Rainwater Harvesting

Geoff Jones

One of the most basic and common forms of rainwater harvesting is the Rain Barrel. All over North America ever increasing water demands are putting more and more stress on our water systems. In the summer months the additional demand for water due to irrigation and other outdoor uses is pushing some water treatment facilities, and ground water sources, to their limits.

One very simple, yet effective approach to helping reduce the demand for water is to use a rain barrel. Rain barrels can eliminate the need to use municipal water to maintain a healthy and flourishing garden. Many people invest a significant amount of money and time into shrubs, plants, flowers, vegetables, trees etc. around their homes. Each may have a different purpose (i.e. food, visual appeal, privacy etc.) but to the homeowner they are important parts of their home and lifestyle. By using rain barrels to collect rainwater for irrigation these plants, in most cases, can be sustained with little or no potable water demand depending on the rainfall patterns in your area.

This isn't some new technology or a complicated system. Our parents, grandparents and past civilizations used rainwater. A rainbarrel is a great way to start learning about rainwater harvesting and learning how you can reduce your water demand.

Jun 12

Solar Pool Heating - Part 2

Posted by Geoff Jones in Solar

Geoff Jones

In Part 1 of the Solar Pool Heating series we provided an overview of the basic operation of a solar pool heating system. In Part 2 we are now going to focus on why a Solar Pool Heating system might be a good choice for you.

Solar pool heating is a great way to get off of fossil fuels and save money while keeping your pool warm during the summer months. According to Natural Resources Canada the cost of a Solar Pool Heating system is very competitive with that of a natural gas heating system and may be even less than that of a heat pump based system. The average cost of a solar pool heating system is around $3000 (based on a 16ft x 32ft in-ground pool). Now if you consider you may pay a similar amount, or a little less, for a natural gas or electric system the benefits of a solar based pool heating system are many. Let's take a look at some of these benefits:

No Fuel Costs

Your solar pool heating system doesn't require any fuel for heating. Heat from the sun is transferred directly to your pool water as it circulates (typically using your existing pool pump) through the solar collectors on your roof. Energy from the sun is free. According to NRCAN data a typical 16ft x 32ft in-ground pool cost between $300 and $600 (using gas rate of ~$0.34 m3) to heat with natural gas each year (if you use a pool cover) with a heater efficiency rating of 68. If you don't use a pool cover your heating costs can almost double. A solar pool heating system would cost $0 in fuel if you don't need to supplement your pool heating during the season with natural gas. That's a potential savings of $3000-$6000 over 10 years just on fuel costs alone. If you need to replace an old existing system or are installing new it's certainly worth considering solar. In Canada, and particularly Ontario, many people might not realize it but we actually have some great solar energy potential. This graph from NRCAN shows the typical temperature for a solar heated pool in Ontario:

Jun 10

Solar Pool Heating - Part 1

Posted by Geoff Jones in Solar

Geoff Jones

Solar pool heating systems are becoming more and more popular due to their simple design and since they are very cheap to operate as the suns energy is free.  In addition, since they don't use fossil fuels for heating and have a fairly long life expectancy due simple design.  In Part 1 of the Solar Pool Heating series we are going to discuss the basics of how these systems work. 

Open Loop Heating System

The simplest and most common system for seasonal pool heating or for heating in climates with high year round temperatures is an open loop system.  In an open loop system your pool water, as needed for heating, is pumped through unglazed solar panels where the suns energy, in the form of heat, is transferred to the pool water being pumped through the panel.  Below is a basic diagram of an open loop system.

Jun 04

Rainwater Harvesting Can Help Protect Our Water

Posted by Geoff Jones in Water

Geoff Jones

Many people look to Rainwater Harvesting primarily due to the benefits it provides in helping to meet irrigation demand and reduce dependency on municipal or well water supplies primarly during the summer months when outdoor water use increases. It also allows people to continue to irrigate there plants, shrubs, gardens, vegetables etc. during drought when watering bans are in place. These are all great benefits that we can all realize by using rainwater harvesting but there is another benefit that is often overlooked that I want to touch on today just to make you aware of it.

Rainwater Harvesting can help to reduce and manage stormwater flows.

What is Stormwater?

Stormwater is basically the water that flows from parking lots, roof tops, driveways, roads, lawns, fields etc. that is not absorbed into the ground during a rainfall event. This stormwater is typically redirected through storm sewers back out to lakes and rivers. Although some people might assume it is, stormwater is not treated before it is discharged into these surface water areas.

Jun 02

Save Water & Money with a Low-Flow Showerhead

Posted by Geoff Jones in Water

Geoff Jones

We often talk about many more advanced technologies in the water conservation area but it is certainly worth repeating that there are some simple solutions that can also have a significant impact on how much water we use.   The low-flow showerhead is one of those technologies. 


Shower heads before 1992 used approximately 5gpm (19 L/m) or more.  In 1992 laws were passed (like the Federal Energy Policy Act in the US) which restricted all faucet fixtures manufactured in the US to a maximum flow rate at or below 2.5gpm at 80psi or 2.2gpm at 60psi.  So along came the low flow showerhead.  The maximum flow of a low-flow showerhead should be 2.5gpm (9.5L/m) and they have been around for almost 2 decades in N.A.  Surprisingly, however, there are still hundreds of thousands of homes that are still using the older water wasting showerheads. 

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