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Utilities » Our Sustainable Home
Browsing Topic: Utilities

NOW we’re getting toasty

October 13th, 2009

Jerry’s Insulating Co. paid us an unexpected but very welcome visit on Monday. Up until now the roof has been uninsulated and our second floor dropped to 15’C at night (we’ve been bundling the baby in 4 layers at night as he’s not one to keep his covers on).

From what I’ve read on HomeStars, Jerry’s Insulation seems to have a real problem with their spray-foam division, but like others on that site, we were very happy with the guys who came to do our loose-fill insulation for the attic. Professional, friendly, and accommodating. Because our baby needed to get down for his nap at the time they showed up, they rushed in, got the attic done and cleaned up in just 30 minutes.

They did show up without notice, though and we’ll leave that as our one gripe (someone couldn’t have called?). I don’t want to get the story too complicated but someone else was booking the insulation and we were trying for over a week to both rush the job (because it was getting colder at night) and find out when they were coming.

But at least we’re all cozy now (and the baby had no trouble getting down for his nap as soon as they left -whew)!

It’s worth mentioning Foam Comfort again, who are the excellent folks who put in the spray foam in our loft area. It seems they also have been reviewed positively on HomeStars, if interested.

Posted by Colin
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Power on. Gas on the way!

September 10th, 2009

With one day to spare the power is finally on at that house. The gas is ready to be turned on and Enbridge is scheduled to turn it on today!

The house is still being painted, the front porch still being completed, and there are a few critical taps that need to be installed but it all appears to be unfolding well at the end!

Posted by Colin
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Much Ado About Windows

June 19th, 2009

Generally, I’m not someone who takes any satisfaction from the acquisition of things (a car, new stereo, TV, etc. — they’re mostly just functional, to me).  The arrival of these windows, however, I find deeply satisfying. I feel really good about our windows.

Some background explanation is probably required here.

Rewind about 2 months and you’ll find us talking to the builder about ordering the windows. As with each new product being introduced to the house there were decisions to be made about colour, style, features, etc.  Because of budget restrictions Greg had (at our request) changed from fiberglass to vinyl windows, and had sourced some good quality vinyl windows.

There are areas where reasonable arguments could be made that vinyl is actually the best product for a particular purpose, despite the ecologically unfriendly consequences of manufacturing.

I’m sure you can do your own in depth research so just to hit the highlights: windows seem like an unwise area to be using vinyl because:

  • Seasonal expansion and contraction of the vinyl frame reduces the efficiency of the seals.
  • Vinyl is not a strong material. There are some amazing efficiencies to be gained by using a triple glazed pane, but over time, vinyl will struggle to support even a moderately sized triple-glaze pane.
  • Vinyl has a relatively short warranty period which makes it pretty safe to say, we’d be going through the expense of replacing all our windows much sooner than we’d like.
  • If it must be used, Vinyl is better as an outdoor material because of off-gassing issues. Most of the off-gassing is in the first month or so, but the idea that I’d, say, only be poisoning my 1 year old ‘a little’ isn’t in the least bit reassuring.

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt something wasn’t quite right, that’s exactly how we were feeling. Despite the pressure to get the window order in to keep the house build on schedule (which is critically important — construction schedules are the slippiest slopes you’ll come across) we started pushing for more time to do some last minute research.

The research felt somewhat pointless at first because we knew the reality was our project was already over budget. The philosophy used for of every other major component of the house was to select the highest quality product, as long as it paid back in time. Fiberglass windows are exactly such a product… but still have to be paid for in the present.

But then the alternative was to settle for vinyl and that seemed… unsettling.

We went back and reviewed who were the big/established companies in Fiberglass Windows, quality of the products they make, what sort of warranties they offered, etc.

One of our calls found us talking with the very amiable and excellently accented Steven Hall at Fibertec. He had reviewed the window plan I had sent over and prepared a quote for us that was, as we expected, astronomically out of our budget.

He then said something quite interesting: “I know you’re under a time constraint and if this window plan can’t change then there’s not much more I can do for you. But if you’re able spend some time working on this with me, I think we can do much better.”

This is already a long post so I’ll summarize by saying: there was about a week long process of discussion, revision, evaluation, hand-wringing, re-revision, more hand wringing and ultimately the stunning realization that together we had developed a window plan for the house that was:

  • far more sensible than our original design
  • would create a home that was far more comfortable to live in
  • maintained our home’s somewhat stringent ventilation plan (for cooling the house without AC)
  • and was now only “significantly more than we had planned to spend”

But we *could* do it! We could actually get these unbelievable triple-glazed, krypton filled fiberglass windows for our home! We wouldn’t have to poison the planet or ourselves (even if only ‘a little’) and our house would be a much more comfortable place to nestle down in, while the windows ever-so-gradually returned their purchase price (and more) to our pockets.

Fibertec Fiberglass Windows installed in the back windows.

From the moment we committed to buying the windows we felt great about the change. And now seeing them in place I have no doubt it was the right way to go.

Posted by Colin
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How to shut off your utilities

December 29th, 2008

Chronologically, this post should have appeared a few months ago but I thought it would just get confusing if posts started appearing behind latest post.

The most important thing to know about shutting off your utilities is that you will want to start the process early.

> ON1CALL / LOCATES / LOCATE BURIED SERVICES (Estimated time to complete: 5 business days)

First you’ll want to either visit the (terribly designed) On1Call web site or call them at 1-800-400-2255, so they can mark the location of your underground services.

I was told that my demolition company / builder should make the call for reasons of liability, but I called anyway. (They can always call a second time if they need to, and I really wanted to get the process under way.)

> ENBRIDGE GAS / NATURAL GAS (Estimated time to complete: 44 days)

When we first called Enbridge in November to get our gas cut off we were told (or for legal reasons perhaps I’ll say: “what I remember being told was”) that before we could even schedule an appointment to have someone come and give us an estimate on what it will cost to get our gas shut off at the street, we had to have the gas meter shut off at the house.

I remember being agog at this policy and asking clarifying questions like “Doesn’t that mean we’re going to effectively need to move out of the house before we can even book the appointment?” and being told “Yes, I guess so.”

NOTE: If it seems like you know more than the phone-monkey you’re talking to, don’t be shy about calling back for a second opinion. You probably do know more.

To make a long story short, I think the implied conclusion that legal action was imminent for their mistake (they cost us rent we didn’t need to pay because we didn’t need to move out so early) got them to act very quickly and we got our gas cut off in a timely manner, for the minimum charge of $1200.

Surprise! Yes that’s right: A gas line is free to be hooked up (in most cases) but they’ll charge you $1200 (at least) to disconnect them. (Surely our government’s Consumer Protection Branch should be looking into this, no?)

Enbridge had another surprise in store for us (or rather: for our neighbours). It seems on some streets in Toronto, the gas connections are either ‘short’ or ‘long.’ ‘Long’ means (without any warning) they dig up the driveway of your neighbours across the street to get to the buried cut-off valve for your house. (Surprise!)

They were pretty good about refilling the hole and tidily paving over it within 24 hours, but when our neighbours drove over the ~16″ square hole, their wheel fell into it about 1 foot! (Thankfully, all Suburus have all-wheel drive and they were out of it in a jiffy.)

My complaints to remedy the situation seemed to fall on deaf ears and when they did come back to patch it (~5 days later), it looked to me like a drive-by paving. Perhaps someone just heaved a tar-laden ball of stones out the back of a truck?  It wasn’t smooth like the first job, just a sloppy patch of tar & rubble. I’m working on getting them to come back again.

But then, they’ll be back in the spring once the roof is on to dig it out again so they can turn the gas back on. (Brilliant system guys. “Ground-level cut-offs.” Look into it!)

> TORONTO HYDRO / ELECTRICITY (Estimated time to complete: 2 weeks)

Dealing with Toronto Hydro, while it did have its share of paperwork, was pretty much the opposite experience of dealing with Enbridge.

To have the power disconnected from your house you’ll need to fill out a form and return it to them. Bizarrely, this form cannot be downloaded or emailed. It must be faxed or letter-mailed. Once they have the form they can generally accommodate requested shut off dates that are more than 1-2 weeks out.

We happen to have a power pole in our front yard and our insanely knowledgeable Civil Engineer had told us (correctly it turned out) that if the power lines for neighbouring houses cross into your property’s air space, you can ask Toronto Hydro to move them so they run perpendicular to the street’s power lines.

There were no charges for shutting off power to the house or for moving the lines. There will be a fee of around $800 (I think) when they need to hook up power and inspect the house to make sure all is in order.

Also worth noting: If your builder needs a temporary power box on site during the initial phase of construction, the cost associated with this after installation and inspection is around $2000.

Instead, our kind neighbours have graciously agreed to to let our builder borrow power from their outdoor outlets during the first few weeks of construction. Once the roof is on the new house we can install the permanent breaker box and the builder can use that power.

When we were trying to figure out how to calculate the amount of power consumed, the easiest thing to do seemed to be to make the calcuation simple and steeply in their favour. Since power bills come every two months, we’ll probably do something like pay half the total bill. (A bargain compared with the options and sure to be more than we used so they aren’t out of pocket.)

> TORONTO WATER / WATER (Estimated time to complete: 2-3 weeks)

Water shut-off is the most straightforward of all the utilities. I think it only took 1 week, but since we had our first snow fall, they had trouble finding the shut-off valve. If you’re planning on getting the cut off done in winter, you might want to make a mental note of where your cut-off is before the snow arrives.

In our neighbourhood, just about everyone’s water cut-offs are in the sidewalk, but ours was up at the property line. The shut-off guys thought this meant the previous owners must have upgraded the water service already, in which case we would save ourselves the $2,175 (for 3/4″ service, $2,450 for 1″ service) connection charge.

Because we’re changing the elevation of the basement we will still have to put in a new sewer service for $6750. (*coughwheeeeeze*)  And that only takes us as far as the property line. We can either contract with the city’s contractors to bring the line the rest of the way to the house or find someone else to do it for us. (They city’s contractors are usually quite reasonably priced I’m told, since they are on site with all the equipment already.)

Posted by Colin
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Demolition Starts Tomorrow

December 28th, 2008

There has again been a lot of activity with the house but no time to blog about it with the continued need to work to pay for all this. 🙂

We’ve shut off all utilities (that was quite an adventure) and hired a great demolition company. They are one of very few who offered manual demoltion of the house. Apparently they recycle 95% of the materials in the home (which seems staggering to me). They are also happy to reclaim any materials we want.

We’ve already removed or are in the process of removing the main power panel (seems to be worth about $400 with breakers), electrical outlets, light switches, kitchen cabinets and the bathroom sink. We’ll be asking them to reclain the 100 year-old 2×6 wood joists, the brick from the foundation, the front and back doors, etc.

More details on all this in the future but since I have 14 hours until they arrive, I better get back to the house to finish moving things out!

Posted by Colin
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OPG removes annual fee for Home Power Generators

March 1st, 2008

I had previously noted that in order to put power onto the grid, one had to be registered as an official Ontario Power Generator at a cost of $800 up front, and $800 per year.

This fee has since been amended to a one-time fee of just $100! In coming weeks I’ll be putting together a new comparison contrasting traditional power, green power, common solar power, and Nanosolar power.

Should be intersting!

Posted by Colin
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Batteries for Solar Powered homes by 2009

February 26th, 2008

The sharp minds as Sharp are developing a battery system designed just for home power generators. While some mentioned in this article seem to feel most will not have any interest in the batteries, I think they are underestimating how much people like the idea of living off the grid, and sustaining themselves as much as possible.

In addition (and as mentioned here previously) the power inversion process of converting solar DC power to AC for the grid absorbs about 20-25% of the power generated. By keeping the power at home, one has the option of installing DC power appliances and light fixtures (though some AC conversion would obviously still be needed periodically until the marketplace gets used to people having DC power in the home).

Posted by Colin
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Another step forward for solar power

January 30th, 2008

While just in the laboratory stage of development, the creation of an 80% efficient photovotaic material at Idaho National Laboratories is fantastic news. (Currently photovotaics top out at 40% efficiency.)

The major hitch for this technology at the moment is that there is no way to capture the energy from the cells. The developers do have a theoretical path forward to solve this problem, and it is their next task.

Posted by Colin
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Enormous price drop for solar panels

December 18th, 2007

Today, Nanosolar announced the availability of solar panels at a cost of just $1 per watt.

Apparently while everyone else in the industry was off finding ways to make solar panels more efficient (an essential task, for sure), Nanosolar decided to see what breakthroughs they could make in the areas of manufacturing. The results are stunning.

To put this one-dollar-per-watt announcement into perspective, the current cost of solar panels is, at best, over $4 per watt. So an array that formerly would have cost $50,000 might now run just $15,000 (there is equipment involved beyond just the panels) and pay for itself in 15 years. This beats the pants of the old payback period, which was: never.

Unfortunately, their production capacity is already allocated out for the next 18 months, but we’re going to have to take a more serious look at incorporating this type of technology into our home sooner rather than later, me thinks.

Let the revolution begin!

[Update 2007.12.24: I’ve heard an unsubstantiated rumor that the cost of panels will now be 90 cents/watt. (No mention of this on the Nanosolar site.) Here’s a good overview video of Nanosolar’s thin-film technology.]

Posted by Colin
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More progress for LEDs

November 28th, 2007

A press release from LED Lighting Fixtures today announced they had received confirmation from NIST that their prototype “PAR 38 self-ballasted lamp” produces as much light as standard 65-watt incandescent bulb (658 lumens) while consuming just 5.8 watts of power.

As pricing is still unavailable it’s hard to say if this is finally the bulb that will make LEDs practical for the general public.

I continue to be quite confident LEDs are the future of lighting and dearly wish we had just skipped development of mercury-laden compact-fluorescent bulbs and had put that effort behind LED technology.

Since we hope/plan to have solar panels one day (which produce DC voltage) and since LEDs operate most efficiently on DC power, we’re hoping to run DC wiring to our outlets and ceiling fixture in anticipation of one day making the switch to more DC powered fixtures and appliances.

Posted by Colin
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