Doing Your Part: Energy Efficiency in the Home

Doing Your Part: Energy Efficiency in the Home

This past Wednesday night, we had the fourth instalment in the library’s Doing Your Part series of eco-themed talks. This week’s discussion was about how to use energy more efficiently at home. Wendy Pollard, our speaker for the evening, gave an excellent and engaging lecture with a great and eye-catching Powerpoint presentation, complete with virtual tours of green homes.

She did a fantastic job of explaining how energy works in a home and how to maximize energy with minimal consumption. She drew examples from newer home projects that featured award-winning green homes. She also explained the culprits for energy loss in some older homes and how to prevent those energy leaks.

Among the topics she covered were: operating energy, passive solar energy, plug loads, and efficient mechanical systems in the home. She provided us a good stack of brochures that outlined many of the points she covered in the lecture and even left us with some nice bookmarks.

The next talk in the series will be Breathe Easy: The Importance of Trees, and will be taking place on July 4th at 7:00 pm. We hope to see you there!





Green Travel: HelpX and WWOOF

In 2011, I (Kayleigh) was lucky enough to spend eight months living in Ireland.

I went over there with a year-long working visa, and because I went with the SWAP program, I had access to an office in Dublin complete with computers, fliers for jobs and apartments, travel brochures and advice, and two lovely ladies who were there to help us with anything and everything to do with living in Ireland. I worked for a little while as an office temp, though by April or so I was tired of Dublin and wanted to find a way to see the rest of the country – but I wanted something more involved and more stable than trudging from hostel to hostel for months on end. One of the women at the USIT office (SWAP’s Irish equivalent) suggested that I look into WWOOF or HelpX as a way to travel a bit, meet more people (especially Irish people as opposed to other travellers) and save on rent and food expenses.

Basically, you sign up for one of the websites (or both, if you’re really keen) and connect with people in your country of choice who are looking to have people work on their farms, in their gardens, on in their homes in exchange for room and board. Some of you probably think this is really sketchy – I know I did at first. But there is plenty of opportunity to email and talk to your potential hosts before you go, and HelpX provides reviews for its hosts from previous helpers, so you can get an idea of the place before you go.

I signed up for HelpX and not WWOOF because (at the time, anyway) I had very little experience with gardening, especially with organic gardening, and HelpX seemed to include more of a variety of work, including hostels, animal rescues, and at least one island-based bookstore (which, sadly, I did not get to visit).

All in all, I stayed with three families – one in the Wicklow Hills south of Dublin, one on the outskirts of a tiny village in County Kerry, and one near Belfast. I stayed for about two weeks at each place, and went back to two of the families for another two weeks, because our schedules permitted it and I had really enjoyed my time with them.

It was truly an incredible experience. Each family was different, and while I mainly worked in the gardens of all three, each had different needs and different goals. I went in as a slightly shy, mostly inexperienced first-time traveller and came out someone who knew how to prune tomatoes, how to plant leeks and hedges, how to corral wayward ducks, how to make slug traps with beer, how to talk to people and find common ground and how to be comfortable making friends out of strangers… a whole host of things I never thought I would be any good at. And stepping for a little while into someone else’s life taught me things about how I myself want to live (for example, dogs are great; four dogs is too much). I learned that I value gardening, growing my own food, and all manner of DIY. I learned that I really, really love to weed (you can turn me loose in an unruly patch of nettles and mint with only a pair of gloves and a few podcasts for company and I will be happy for hours, as one of my hosts discovered). I learned that I can help build a set of stone garden steps which will not experience a catastrophic loss of structural integrity and which will be utterly recognizable as a set of steps.

And what makes it all relevant to this blog is that everywhere I stayed, the people there had a deep interest in sustainable living. They grew some (if not most) of their own food, they raised their own ducks and chickens for eggs and meat, they recycled things and made do with things and got truly excited about the ways in which they could have a satisfying and sustainable lifestyle. And I really appreciated the chance to travel in a way which supported that. It also made me feel like I was giving back to the country I was exploring, and getting to experience Irish life in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. I would likely not have stayed overnight in a Wicklow beach house, or gone shopping for school uniforms in Downpatrick, or watched a weekly music practice at a tiny lakeside pub, had I been only trudging from hostel to hostel.

In the end, I came away with new skills, new experiences, and new but treasured friends. So if you’re planning to do mid-to-long-term travel, and want to do it a little differently, these two sites are definitely resources worth checking out.

Doing Your Part: Where has all the water gone?

On June 6th, Professor George McCourt from McGill University’s School of the Environment gave an interesting presentation on water conservation in the Library’s Eco-Cafe urging the audience to start conserving water.  When one thinks of Canada, one thinks of an endless supply of water, but this is not the case.  Even in Canada, resources are increasingly limited.   Fresh water sources are becoming increasingly stressed, a problem compounded by the effects of climate change. According to Professor McCourt, Canada is the biggest water consumer per capita, around 350,000 litres per person per year.   

Quebec and Montreal in particular are huge consumers of water. Quebecers use an average 795 litres per person per day compared to 491 litres consumed by people in Ontario.  Montreal’s aging infrastructure loses up to 50% of treated water in pipeline leaks .  As a result, Montreal’s water consumption is substantially higher than any other similar-sized North American city, earning the city the title of “Capital of Water Waste in North America.”

In many cities, residents have water meters and are charged for the water that they use.  This enables one to have an idea of how much one consumes and make adjustments saving the consumer money but also reducing overall consumption.  If you pay for what you use, consumption will go down. 

Here are some tips from Environment Canada to help conserve our water so that it will be sustained for future generations. Kitchen Tips

  • Kitchen TipsInstall a low-flow faucet aerator, which can cut water use in half.
  • Soak pots and pans before washing. When washing dishes by hand, fill one sink or basin with soapy water.
  • Fill the basin or a pan with water to wash fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator rather than running tap water until it is cool enough to drink.
  • When buying a new dishwasher, consider purchasing a water-saving model. Newer models can cut water use by 25 percent and are no more expensive than non-conserving models.
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher.

 Bathroom Tips

  • Bathroom TipsBathroom use accounts for about 65 percent of the water used inside the home.
  • Check regularly for any leaks and fix them. Most common bathroom leaks are found in faucets and in and around toilets.
  • Replace older, larger-use toilets with the newer ultra-low flush models. Standard toilets manufactured prior to the 1980s usually require 15 to 20 litres per flush. Toilets sold during the 80s and early 90s use 13 litres per flush.
  • Do NOT use the toilet to dispose of paper, facial tissues, or cigarettes.
  • Take a five-minute shower.
  • Use the minimum amount of water needed for a bath by closing the drain and the filling the tub only 1/3 full.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead. It can save about half the amount of water you typically use in the shower, while still providing a refreshing, cleansing shower.
  • Turn the tap water off while brushing your teeth,  shaving, or washing your face.
  • If the toilet flush handle frequently sticks in the flush position, letting water run constantly, replace or adjust it.
  • Laundry Room Tips 

    • Laundry Room TipsWhen buying a new clothes washer, consider purchasing a water-saving model. New horizontal axis models can save up to 40 percent of the water used by a conventional model. Check with your municipality to see if they provide rebates on the purchase of water-saving clothes washers.
    • Wash only full loads in the clothes washer.
    • Insulate your water pipes. You’ll get hot water faster plus avoid wasting water while it heats up.

     Outdoor Tips

    • In the summer, lawn watering and other outdoor uses can account for up to 50 percent of home water use. Studies show that as much as half of this outdoor use is wasteful. As a general rule, 2 to 3 cm  of water per week is adequate.
    • Don’t overwater your landscape. It can cause yellowing leaves or poor plant health. Give plants only the amount of water that they need.
    • Use low-angle or pulsating sprinklers that produce large fat droplets of water. Sprinklers that spray the water high into the air or produce a mist or fine spray lose much of the water through evaporation.
    • Set sprinklers to water the lawn, not sidewalks and driveways.
    • Check your sprinkler or irrigation systems regularly for any leaks, and fix them.
    • Be sure your hose has an automatic shutoff nozzle to ensure water is not wasted when the hose is left unattended.


    • Add two to four inches of organic material, such as peat or compost, to the soil. Greater soil depth will increase the ability of the soil to retain moisture.
    • Use water-wise plants. Native and adaptive plants will use less water and be resistant to local plant diseases and pests.

     Car Washing

    • Using a running hose to wash your car can waste about 400 litres of water. Using a bucket with a sponge plus a trigger nozzle on the hose will save you about 300 of those litres.


    • If you own a pool, be sure to use a pool cover when it’s not in use. This will cut down on evaporation losses and will keep it cleaner and warmer. Check equipment such as filtration systems and water inlets on a regular basis for signs of leaks.

    Rain Barrel

    • Collect rain water in an old barrel or other large container that is outfitted with a spigot and a suitable cover, and use the water on your garden. Use this water as an alternative to turning on the hose for newly transplanted material, window boxes, flower pots and container gardens. Rain water is actually better for your plants as it does not contain any chlorine and is at ambient temperature. Keep your rain barrel covered to prevent mosquitos breeding and for safety reasons.

    Recycling: Top 5 Tips to Avoid a Missed Collection

    blue-bin-silhouette1. Keep your bin free of garbage bags and other non-recyclables.
    Not only are garbage bags not recyclable (in Quebec), but they are also a red flag to waste collectors since they often contain MORE non-recyclable waste! Other non-recyclables often found in blue bins include kitchen scraps and pizza boxes (leftover food and soiled cardboard should go in your brown bin),  and garbage items such as Styrofoam packaging/containers and dirty diapers. Yuck!


    2. Place your bin where it’s accessible.
    Make sure you place your bin so that its wheels face your home, and that it’s placed on the edge of your property and the curb. Ensure the bin is clear of debris and not blocked by other bins or bags. No vehicles should impede access to the bin. Make sure neighbors/contractors are advised in case their vehicles cause any issues with your collection.


    3. Keep your bin’s lid shut.
    A bin stuffed beyond capacity, even if it is full of perfectly recyclable material, will likely passed over by collection services. Reason? The bin’s contents will spill to the pavement before your collection truck’s mechanical arms can pick up the bin, lift, and flip the bin’s contents into the collection truck! If you are having regular overflow issues because your bin is too small for your home’s needs, contact the Public Works and ask about switching your current bin for a larger one.


    4. Make sure your bin is placed outside on time.
    Recycling collection starts at 7am every Tuesday morning in CSL. Collection trucks can change their schedules/routes from week-to-week, so just because you usually have your bin collected at 2pm, doesn’t mean you can count on that to be same case for every week. If you’re not an early riser, you are also allowed to put your bin out the night before after 10pm.


    5. If you’re having any difficulties, call for help!
    Whether there’s construction work impeding access to your street for collection services, or you’re totally lost about what kind of trash goes where, the good folks at Public Works (514-485-6800) will be sure to help solve your problems as quickly and conveniently as possible.