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.