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Energy-saving light bulbs are a great way to save money at home

Energy-saving lightbulbs (masterzphotois, iStockphoto)

STEM in Context

Energy Efficiency at Home

Dhanvini Gudi

Summary

If you understand heat transfer, you can make lots of little changes at home to help the environment and your household’s bank account!

How cool would it be to save money and help the planet with a few quick and easy fixes to our homes? 

You and the people you live with don’t need to do anything fancy or expensive. You also don’t have to make drastic changes to your lifestyle. Just a few easy steps can help the Earth and your family’s bank account. It’s a win-win!

Did you know?

Many households have to pay for electricity on top of their mortgage or rent. The cost of electricity varies across Canada, but the average is about 14¢/kWh. 

Why does the Earth need help?

What are some ways you use energy in your home? You might have a heater, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, and a stove. You probably have various other electronic gadgets. All of these things need energy to run. But where does the energy come from? It can come from renewable resources, such as hydropower. But it can also come from non-renewable resources, such as burning fossil fuels like coal. Non-renewable resources come with problems. First of all, they will eventually run out. Also, they are often a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

What is energy efficiency?

Making our homes more energy-efficient is a great way to help reduce how much energy we use. This can also help cut down on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Energy efficiency means using the least amount of energy required to do a task. In other words, it means not wasting energy.

Why should you care about not wasting energy?

Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides into the atmosphere. These harmful gases are changing our climate at an alarming rate. They affect living beings all over the world. Reports say that in 2018 almost 37.15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere!

That’s a pretty big number. Can you imagine it? Think of it this way: If you were to build a cube to represent one metric ton of carbon dioxide, it would measure approximately eight metres on each side. That adds up to a lot of carbon dioxide!

If you were to build a cube to represent one metric ton of carbon dioxide, it would measure approximately eight metres on each side
If you were to build a cube to represent one metric ton of carbon dioxide, it would measure approximately eight metres on each side (©2019 Let’s Talk Science).

What is heat transfer?

There’s an important connection between energy efficiency and thermal energy transfer. Thermal energy transfer is also called heat transfer. Heat flows in one direction: from a warmer area to a colder one. If you’re cooking and your kitchen gets too warm, you might open a door or window to “let the heat out.” What you are actually doing is letting the warm air inside move towards the colder air outside. 

But sometimes, heat transfer happens when you don’t want it to. Have you ever felt drafts of air coming in through a window? That’s an example of heat transfer, too. If your house is drafty, you might turn up the heat to warm it up. But that heat will continue to move towards the colder air outside. In other words, you’ll waste that energy. 

Why is insulation important

One way to make a home more energy-efficient is to insulate it properly. Insulation can trap heat. This prevents heat from moving from a warm area to a cooler one. If a house is not properly insulated, heat can escape through the walls, roof, and other places. Remember the draft from the window? Another common place for heat loss is around windows and doors. These little gaps can be filled with various materials. This process is often called weatherstripping

Man applying silicone to fill in the crack around a window to stop drafts
Man applying silicone to fill in the crack around a window to stop drafts (Source: AndreyPopov via iStockphoto).

Using insulated curtains can help, too. These curtains have several layers that block light, sound, and heat transfer. In the winter, they help keep warm air in and cold air out. In the warm months they help keep cool air in and warm air out. Of course, insulated curtains work best when the windows have been properly insulated, too. 

Heat can also escape from water pipes. Not only that, but if water pipes are exposed to an outside wall in cold weather, they can freeze and burst! This can cause a flood. Pipes can be insulated using insulation wraps

How can you help make your home more energy-efficient?

Does insulation sound like a big task that professionals should deal with? Don’t worry. There are easy things that you or the people in your home can do, too. For example, when it gets cold, wear warm sweaters indoors. This way, you can keep the thermostat down.

You can also turn off appliances and lights when you are not using them. Even better, unplug appliances when you’re not using them. Also, swap your regular light bulbs out for energy-efficient LED bulbs. 

You can also talk to the decision-makers in your home about some longer-term solutions. You can suggest they install programmable thermostats and smart power meters. 

As you can guess from the name, programmable thermostats can be programmed. This way, your thermostat can automatically lower the temperature when you don’t need as much heat. For example, it can lower the temperature at night and when people are out at work or school.  

Woman looking at the temperature on a smart power meter
Woman looking at the temperature on a smart power meter (Source: Halfpoint via iStockphoto).

 

Smart power meters can help adjust how much power your appliances use during peak power load times. A peak power load time is when people are at home and likely to be using lots of energy. For many people, the times right before and after school or work are peak power load times. This adjustment can help reduce your home’s overall energy consumption. Which means your family saves money!

The EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR®

The EnerGuide provides information about electronics, buildings, and now even cars! Reading the official EnerGuide can help people understand how they can help affect change. 

The EnerGuide recommends you use ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances and electronics in your home. ENERGY STAR® certifies that a product is energy-efficient. The system is recognized all over the world. There are ENERGY STAR®-certified LED bulbs, refrigerators, and other appliances. There are also ENERGY STAR®-certified windows and exhaust fans. ENERGY STAR® versions of these household items can help keep your energy use down. Ultimately, they can help reduce fossil fuel consumption.

So...what makes a home energy-efficient?

A cutaway of the house showing features that makes a home energy efficient
A cutaway of the house showing features that makes a home energy efficient (Source: Natural Resources Canada).
Graphic - Text version

From Natural Resources Canada: A cutaway of the house showing features that makes a home energy efficient: airtight construction pointing to the outside walls; high-performing ENERGY STAR certified windows pointing to the window in the bedroom; air sealing (e.g. around windows, doors, electrical outlets, vents) pointing to the door in the living room; LED or ENERGY STAR certified lighting pointing to the light in the kitchen; ENERGY STAR certified appliances (e.g. fridge, clothes washer and dryer) pointing to the fridge in the kitchen; high-performing or ENERGY STAR equipment (e.g, furnace, AC, water heater) pointing to the furnace in the basement; and better insulation (e.g. walls, attic, basement) pointing to the cutaway of the wall in the basement.

Below are some examples of how simple changes at home can save you money. 

  • You can cut your home’s energy costs by 10% if you turn back the thermostat by 5 degrees Celsius for 8 hours of the day. For example, you can do this overnight.

  • You can save $35 a year (and over 5 000 litres of water!) by fixing a leaky faucet. 

  • You can save up to $75 a year by replacing the light bulbs in the five most-used fixtures in your home with ENERGY STAR® light bulbs.

Remember, a lot of little savings can add up! Now you have the information you need to start making energy-efficient decisions. Do your bit to spark change by striking up a conversation. Let’s try to save the environment - all from the comfort of our homes. Who’s ready?  

Starting Points

Connecting and Relating
  • Are you or any of your family members concerned about the energy efficiency of your home? Why? 
  • Do you believe that small changes you make in your energy consumption at home can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Why or why not?  
  • Do any appliances at home have the ENERGY STAR® label on them? Which ones? Do you know what this means? 
  • Do you try to save energy at home? How?
Connecting and Relating
  • Are you or any of your family members concerned about the energy efficiency of your home? Why? 
  • Do you believe that small changes you make in your energy consumption at home can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Why or why not?  
  • Do any appliances at home have the ENERGY STAR® label on them? Which ones? Do you know what this means? 
  • Do you try to save energy at home? How?
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • Should governments support or subsidize the purchase of energy saving devices for home owners? What energy reduction programs are in place in your province? (Note: This question may require additional research.)
  • What motivates most people to take steps towards energy reduction at home? What other things are motivating the general population to be more energy-wise? 
  •  
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • Should governments support or subsidize the purchase of energy saving devices for home owners? What energy reduction programs are in place in your province? (Note: This question may require additional research.)
  • What motivates most people to take steps towards energy reduction at home? What other things are motivating the general population to be more energy-wise? 
  •  
Exploring Concepts
  • What is the key difference between a renewable and non-renewable resource? What are some examples of each of these resources? 
  • Why is insulation an important part of creating an energy-efficient home? 
  • What are some of the different ways that thermal energy transfer can be reduced in a house? 
  • What is EnerGuide and what is its purpose? 
  •  
Exploring Concepts
  • What is the key difference between a renewable and non-renewable resource? What are some examples of each of these resources? 
  • Why is insulation an important part of creating an energy-efficient home? 
  • What are some of the different ways that thermal energy transfer can be reduced in a house? 
  • What is EnerGuide and what is its purpose? 
  •  
Nature of Science/Nature of Technology
  • How is technology being used in home building technology to reduce thermal energy transfer? 
  • Is there still room for improvement in energy-efficient devices? Should technology firms continue to invest in developing high efficiency devices? 
  •  
Nature of Science/Nature of Technology
  • How is technology being used in home building technology to reduce thermal energy transfer? 
  • Is there still room for improvement in energy-efficient devices? Should technology firms continue to invest in developing high efficiency devices? 
  •  
Media Literacy

  • How would you motivate people your age and younger to think about energy efficiency? Develop an outline for an advertisement (or series of advertisements) for kids to show them how they can be more energy-efficient at home. 

Media Literacy

  • How would you motivate people your age and younger to think about energy efficiency? Develop an outline for an advertisement (or series of advertisements) for kids to show them how they can be more energy-efficient at home. 

Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used to support teaching and learning of Environmental Science, Physics, Climate Change and Heat and Energy related to greenhouse gases, energy efficiency and heat transfer. Concepts introduced include renewable resources, non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, greenhouse gas (GHG), atmosphere, energy-efficient, insulated and thermal energy.
  • To consolidate leaning form this article, teachers could have students complete a Concept Definition Map for the term energy efficiency. Ready-to-use Concept Definition Map reproducibles for this article are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 
  • In addition, teachers could have students consolidate understanding by considering the positive and negative aspects of increasing energy efficiency in the home,using a Pros & Cons Organizer learning strategy. Ready-to-use Pros & Cons reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 
  • For a hands on follow-up to  reading this article, teachers could have students conduct an energy survey at home. For example, students could identify the number of electrical devices used and/or charged in their home, the types of ENERGY STAR® appliances used, the number of low-energy light bulbs versus the total number of lightbulbs in the house and the types of energy-saving devices that exist in the house. Survey results could be organized and compared with others in the class.
  • In follow-up to the survey or as a standalone activity, teachers could have students develop a plan for reducing the energy consumption in their homes.
  •  
Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used to support teaching and learning of Environmental Science, Physics, Climate Change and Heat and Energy related to greenhouse gases, energy efficiency and heat transfer. Concepts introduced include renewable resources, non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, greenhouse gas (GHG), atmosphere, energy-efficient, insulated and thermal energy.
  • To consolidate leaning form this article, teachers could have students complete a Concept Definition Map for the term energy efficiency. Ready-to-use Concept Definition Map reproducibles for this article are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 
  • In addition, teachers could have students consolidate understanding by considering the positive and negative aspects of increasing energy efficiency in the home,using a Pros & Cons Organizer learning strategy. Ready-to-use Pros & Cons reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 
  • For a hands on follow-up to  reading this article, teachers could have students conduct an energy survey at home. For example, students could identify the number of electrical devices used and/or charged in their home, the types of ENERGY STAR® appliances used, the number of low-energy light bulbs versus the total number of lightbulbs in the house and the types of energy-saving devices that exist in the house. Survey results could be organized and compared with others in the class.
  • In follow-up to the survey or as a standalone activity, teachers could have students develop a plan for reducing the energy consumption in their homes.
  •  

Learn more

STELR Sustainable Housing (2016) 

Video (1:16 min.) from STELR Project discussing heat loss and gain in houses by describing the movement of heat energy and providing suggestions to prevent this movement of heat.

Energy Efficiency In The Summer (2017) 

Short article from the Alliance to Save Energy including an infographic suggesting some ways energy can be saved in your home during the summer.

Energy Efficiency for Homes (2019)

Information from Natural Resources Canada from about energy efficiency from the Canadian government

References

Government of Canada. (2019, April 17). Greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources Canada. (2019, June 11). What is an energy-efficient home?

Natural Resources Canada. (2018, December 9). Electricity facts.

Stickley, A. (19, July 7). How to insulate water supply pipes. The Spruce.

Sunshine, W. L. (2018, December 15). Pros and cons of smart electric meters. The Balance Small Business.