How to Prep Your Condo for Fall: Saving Energy Tips

Energy saving tips

Saving energy is great.  It keeps your condo fees—and your rent!—low, slows environmental damage, and helps you do your bit to keep the power on next time there’s a major storm.  When you’re living in a condo—and especially a rental condo—there’s only so much about your energy consumption you can alter.  But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless, pun intended.

Here are five energy-saving tips to try out as the weather cools that can help you keep fighting the good fight.

Know when off-peak hours are, and use them

Toronto Hydro rolled out smart meters specifically to move energy usage to off-peak hours—the times when businesses shut up shop and the city’s power usage goes down—so the infrastructure that delivers our power lasts longer.  As the incentive, power companies offer significantly lower rates per kilowatt during off-peak hours, and penalize peak time usage a little with higher hydro prices.

As a condo resident, you’re much less likely to be affected by the day-to-day cost of the power you use; that’s all included in your condo fees or the rent you pay.  But doing your laundry, running your dishwasher, or doing other energy-intensive tasks during off-peak hours—traditionally, evenings after 7pm and weekends—will reduce system stress, save your condo building money on its power bill, and get you into good habits well in advance of moving on to an individually metred unit, townhouse, or detached house.

While off-peak hours shift a little throughout the year, mostly according to when the sun rises and sets, Toronto Hydro always posts the hours for peak and off-peak times on their website and keeps them well up to date.

Embrace the magic of insulating curtains

Most of the heat in a condo unit bleeds out through the windows—an effect that’s palpable during the depths of winter, when just sitting near a large window can mean feeling the cold radiate in.  You can’t insulate that wall of windows.  If you’re renting, you can’t even personally reinforce them.  But you can hang curtains that’ll do the job for you.

Curtains with white backing—which most condo boards love to mandate—help out in the summer, by reflecting the sun’s heat out of your unit and keeping AC costs low, but for winter the sweet spot is thermal insulating curtains.  They have an extra layer of foam lining, a vapour barrier, and heat-reflective coating to keep warm air from making its way out through your windows, vastly reducing the amount of heat your heater needs to produce to keep your unit warm.

What’s more, on sunny days, you can just pull them open—and save energy by using the free light and heat the sun’s just handing out.

The benefits?  You’ll save a bunch of energy as your heater has an easier time keeping your condo’s temperature stable.  Your condo’s power usage will go way down in the winter—heat is the biggest electricity expense during those months.  And if you’re prone to dry skin, chapped lips, or stuffy noses, you’ll have an easier time of it this winter as using less constant heating means having less dry air forced through your living space.

Insulating curtains are available at most hardware stores and big-box retailers, and they’re not expensive by the standards of curtain-buying.  Check ‘em out online or in the home section most convenient to you.

Clean your filters

The cleaner the filters in your home are, the more efficient they are—and the less energy your fans and ventilation need to do their jobs.  Since fans and vents can be passive systems, triggered by temperature changes, it’s extra important to keep them working away at their full potential when it comes to saving power.

Most condo buildings will schedule a heating/cooling filter change regularly, and seasonally, but if your building doesn’t provide that service, find out how to access your filter panel and make sure it’s clean and replaced seasonally.  If you have fans in your bathrooms, find out from your property manager or landlord what kind of maintenance they need, and keep their vents dust-free and clean.

The filter most people don’t consider, however, is the one in their stove hood.  If your stove has a fan attached to keep smoke from smelling up the place, that fan’s filter needs regular TLC.  Your stove may actually have instructions attached on how to clean the hood filter—especially if it’s part of a floating microwave installation—but if not, check out the make and model online and fold filter cleaning into your tidying routine.  Frequently it’s just a good soak, and the end result is getting to run your stove fan lower, or for a few minutes less, and get the same great results.

Choose your light bulbs carefully

As fall starts and winter approaches, the days get shorter and shorter, and the need to use lamps and your light fixtures goes up hard.  It’s the time when most of us find we need to replace the light bulbs we’ve barely used all summer, as the increased usage makes them burn out relatively quicker.

The next time you head out for replacement bulbs, check out the energy-saving options first.  Yes, they’re more expensive, but that’s not a lifestyle markup: Energy-saving bulbs last longer, work harder, and give you more hours of light than the old incandescent kind for 25% of the energy cost.  LED bulbs are the optimum, lasting six times as long as incandescent bulbs, but experiment with the types of light each throws and see what works with your space as well as your budget.

Ditch the heating and grab the blankets

The standard advice is to turn down the thermostat as low as comfortable during the winter months, saving money on that big expense, home heating.  If you’re not sure that’s a way you want to live—or if you’re very sensitive to cold—try small compensations to find your workable comfort zone.

Take your thermostat temperature down three degrees and add an extra blanket to your bed, or just don’t take off that sweater and change into a tee-shirt when you get home.  It’s an approach that’s worked for years in Japan, where central heating is sidelined for dressing more warmly, inside and out, during the winter months.  The bonuses?  You’ll sweat less in bed, keeping your sheets cleaner; you won’t need to run as much laundry, saving more power, because you’ll make better use of clothes that are built for both your indoor and outdoor temperature; and you’ll put yourself at a lower risk of sniffles, as your body stops having to react to drastic temperature changes every day.

These are all small changes, but they make big differences.  Try one or two at a time, leave time for your habits to adjust, and see the difference it makes in your landlord’s condo fees—and your next year’s rent.

Five Energy Conserving Tips for Your Toronto Condo

Energy Conserving Tips

Green building design is one of the best trends to hit Toronto in the last two decades.  Whether it’s solar panels on the roof, the Green Bin program branching out to high-rises, or current plans to expand the Deep Lake Water Cooling System, it’s getting easier and easier to keep your carbon footprint small in the GTA.

But with so many tips for the energy-conscious being directed to that rarest of Toronto creatures, the detached home you own (and can renovate!)—and many condominium units in Toronto’s newer developments allowing owners and tenants to meter their hydro separately—we’re hoping to present a few tips to conserve energy in your condo.  Whether you’re thinking of your own utility bill, keeping your overall condo fees low, or keeping things green, here are a few energy conserving tips to make an impact in your space.

1) Not using it? Don’t plug it in

It’s what they told us in grade school—if you’re not using it, turn it off—and it’s still the cornerstone of good energy conservation.  Getting into good habits with your light switches, television, radio, computers, and other appliances saves not just power, but the wear and tear on your electronics.

Get into the habit of shutting off light switches as you leave a room, using “task lighting”—a desk lamp in your work space, or a table lamp in your reading nook—instead of lighting up the whole room.  This is a habit where condo living has a real advantage: Big, beautiful windows on many recent Toronto condominium buildings mean great access to natural light and, depending on which direction your unit faces, potentially not having to turn a light on all day from May to October.

If you’re already doing that—and waiting for the real energy savings—unplug small electronics that draw power even when you’re not using them, such as your printer, Playstation or cellphone charger.  Only plug those in when you’re charging your phone (or leveling up, or printing those movie tickets) and you’ll see a small but steady impact on your hydro use.

2) Think fluorescent, not incandescent

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are pretty neat stuff—they’re those twisty ones you see in your local hardware store.  For a little more cost upfront, they give off much less heat, last eight to fifteen times longer, and use one third to one fifth the electricity that your old-school incandescent bulb eats up.  Since your lights are a major source of power usage, that’s a big deal when it comes to your environmental impact—and your hydro bill.

Switching to fluorescent or LED does mean a bit of an investment—they go for about five bucks a bulb at most big-box stores—but it’s an investment that pays off in the long, long time they take to burn out.  Pop ‘em in and enjoy not changing the light bulb for, oh, most of a year.

 3) Wash big—and in the evening

That condo washer-dryer unit can be one of the best parts of condominium life: liberating hours a week from babysitting loads at the laundromat (and making sure you have enough quarters).  It’s easy to go a little cigars-and-caviar nuts with your own tiny laundry room.  But it’s also a major contributor to your hydro usage.

Using your washer-dryer efficiently—full loads, washed during off-peak hours on the Toronto Hydro time-of-use system—cuts down on not just your electricity use, but how much money you’re spending on laundry detergent and time you’re spending sorting those socks.  Doing laundry on the cold water setting saves even more power, and let’s face it: that’s what your mother said to do with your bright colours anyway.

A clothesline or heavy clothes rack on your balcony can also do wonders on those warm spring and summer days, and give your clean laundry that fresh smell that dryer sheet companies pay to fake.

The same logic applies to your dishwasher (cigars, caviar, champagne cork): run it absolutely full, in the evenings or weekends when power is plentiful and cheap, and save time, money, and your little piece of the planet.  If your dishwasher takes pods, President’s Choice and other brands make a great selection of dishwasher pods designed for the lightest cycle going.  At seven bucks for 25 cycles, they’re both affordable and a great way to get the most out of the most power-friendly cycle your dish robot has.

4) End-run the AC problem

So that gorgeous glass-walled condo that’s letting you keep the lights off all spring and summer?  Problem with that: The heat it lets in, all summer long, means blasting the AC and using tons of power. Or does it?

There are reasons your condo corporation probably tells you to buy curtains that are white on the outside, and that’s because they reflect heat like nothing else.  A good set of curtains, kept drawn during the day when you’re out doing your thing, will keep the summer heat out of your condo unit and make sure it’s nice and cool when you get home—without running the AC.  If you’re renting your unit, and installing curtains isn’t an option, paper folding screens placed in front of windows do a similar trick—and create a really nice look besides.  Both these additions are easy, cheap, and also act as great insulation in the winter, when it’s the cold outside—and keeping the heat on inside—you’re worrying about.

If you get a nice cross-breeze, there are ways to use those windows in your favour, too: Forgo the AC on all but the hottest days in favour of keeping air in your unit moving.  Cracking a few windows is a free, environmentally friendly solution to beating the heat.

Sometimes, using less AC is as simple as making sure your air circulation vents aren’t blocked by furniture. Your AC will have to run that much harder if it’s mostly air-conditioning the back of a bookshelf.

5) Stay out of hot water

We might not normally think of water use when considering electricity conservation, but heating up water is one of the major ways our electricity goes to waste—making up 14% on average of a condo building’s hydro bill—and this goes double for high-rise condo units, where the water has to be brought up to the 20th floor by an electrical pump.  So if your hydro usage is too high for comfort, it’s worth thinking about hot water and how you use it.

Those 45-minute hot showers contribute to your hydro bill; so does thawing that chicken out for dinner under continuously-running warm water, instead of putting it in the fridge to thaw the night before.  Keeping your kitchen faucet in good repair, not running the water during your morning shave, and other small water conservation hacks also take you most of the way to reducing your electricity usage.

Like most of life, conserving energy in your condo is about the little things.  Phase one or two in every week, slowly, and before you know it your hydro usage will be down—and your hydro bill or condo fees will follow.