Radon Gas Testing : Do It! I did!

You may have seen that there is a push to get Canadians to test their homes for Radon Gas. And for good reason.

Radon Gas is an inert, colourless, odourless, radioactive gas that comes from the ground. I understand that every home and building has some Radon Gas in it.

I decided to test for how much Radon Gas is in my 4-level split style home in St Albert. I ordered the test kit in January 2014, and started the test January 29th, 2014.

The test is best if done for at least 90 days. I tested for 91 days, until May 1st, 2014. I then mailed the testing device back to the company and they emailed me the results.

Very easy and only cost me about $70 all in, including shipping.  (There are several companies in Canada that can send you a test kit)

The results showed that my home had 90 bq/m3 (becerels per cubic meter) of Radon Gas, well below the Canadian limit of 200 bq/m3, and even of the U.S. standard of 150 bq/m3.

The experts do say that all homes are different, and its important to test to know the results for your house. If you have high readings, then there are steps you can complete to reduce the levels in your home.

Here are my results of my Radon Gas test (click to enlarge):

Radon Report - B Officer

 

Here is what Health Canada says about Radon Gas:

Radon is an inert, radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium (radium) in the soil. It is estimated to cause approximately 3,200 deaths each year from lung cancer in Canada, and in fact, is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
The concentration of radon in a home is measured in Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). The higher a home’s radon level, the greater the risk to you and your family.

The Health Canada recommends mitigating homes that test 200Bq/m3 or higher. If your average radon level is less than 200Bq/m3, no action is required. However, radon levels less than 200Bq/m3 can still pose some health risk, and in many cases can be reduced. Reducing your radon levels can be done easily, effectively, and relatively inexpensively. If you smoke, and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is even greater. Please refer to the Health Canada’s web site at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca for further information to assist you in evaluating your results or deciding if further action is needed.

Ben Officer

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Energy-Efficient Retrofits for Your Home

Make Sure Your Home is Airtight

In Canada, space heating can account for up to 60 per cent of most homeowners’ energy bills. This is especially true with older homes, which can often be drafty, lightly insulated and may still have older, less energy-efficient windows, doors and heating systems. This can add up to substantially higher home heating costs.

One of the best ways to cut down on your bills and keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer is by making sure your home is well sealed. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers the following tips on how to improve the airtightness of your home, to help you save money, reduce your environmental footprint and make your house more comfortable to live in:

Air sealing not only cuts heat losses and gains, it also improves comfort by reducing drafts, helps improve the performance of the insulation in your walls and attic by stopping cold winter wind from washing through it, and, it can help prevent moisture build-up in your walls and attic.
Finding air leaks can often be a challenge. Sometimes they are detectable by feeling for cold drafts in suspect locations. Other times, you may be able to see daylight shining in through unwanted openings. Blackened insulation is often another sign. For a more thorough assessment, consider hiring a qualified residential energy service provider to perform a “blower door” test of your house. During this test, your house is forced to leak, making it easier to find air leakage locations with smoke emitting devices or a special thermographic scanner.
A blower door test can also tell you the size of the hole all the leakage areas would add up to if they were all located on one location. This is helpful when you want to know how leaky your house is relative to other houses. If a blower door test is done before and after air sealing, you can also find out how much you have reduced the air leakage of your home.
Some of the more common air-leakage points can include ceiling pot light fixtures installed through ceilings into attic spaces, electrical boxes in ceiling and exterior walls; inside to outside wiring, plumbing and duct penetrations; bathroom exhaust fans installed in attic ceilings; older windows and doors; the joint between windows and the surrounding walls; and floor-wall joints.
Once you have located the leaks, you can use a variety of different approaches to seal them. For instance, leaky windows and doors can be sealed with gaskets or new weatherstripping. Gaps around wiring, pipes and ducts can be sealed with caulking or spray foam. Electrical boxes can be sealed with special gaskets that fit behind the box plate covers. Joints between walls and floors and around the top of your foundation may be sealed with caulking or spray foam depending on the size of the gap. To find out the right options for your home, be sure to consult a contractor with expertise in air leakage control.
If you are replacing your exterior siding, it’s a good time to add an exterior air barrier (and more insulation) that wraps your house in a draft proof cover from the basement to attic.
While air sealing is always a good idea, you might have to add mechanical ventilation in the form of a bathroom fan, a range hood, or better yet, a heat recovery ventilation system, to help maintain healthy indoor conditions. Air sealing can also adversely affect the ability of some fuel-fired furnaces, boilers and hot water tanks to safely vent combustion products so an additional source of outdoor air may be needed. Consult a qualified mechanical contractor for guidance on ventilation system options and combustion air needs for your home before you start.

http://www.cmhc.ca

Renovating your home? Make some choices before you start.

There are different reasons for renovating our homes. To finish the unfinished basement, modernize the kitchen, or to convert that living space into something more useful?

Whatever the reason, do your research and homework well before you start.  Ask yourself, “Am I renovating for me or am I renovating to sell?”

I have had some sellers who go about renovating to sell, only to find out that the money they spent was not completely realized when the home sold.

I advise sellers and prospective sellers to check with me for my experience and to also consult a Home Renovation Guide, like the one published by Jackson Appraisals.

The guide takes a good look at home renovation costs and projected pay-backs, when you sell your home.

The link to the guide is: Reno Guide

Call us at 780-701-9090, if you have any questions.

 

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Energy and Water-Saving Tips

Here’s a great post from CMHC on things you can do to reduce energy and water wasting in your home. Let us know if you use any of these tips!

Energy- and Water-Saving Tips

Rising energy costs and growing concerns about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution and the security of our future supplies of natural gas and electricity make energy efficiency a concern for all Canadians. This is true whether you rent or own your unit and whether you pay your utilities directly or through your rent or condominium fees.

This About Your Apartment has energy- and water-saving tips that can save you money and make your apartment more comfortable. It lists things you can do yourself (identified by “DIY”) and things you can do in co-operation with your building’s management. Some are simple and low cost; others may mean hiring a contractor (identified by “Contractor”). You can buy most of the materials and tools at any hardware store.

In many cases, water-conserving measures reduce water consumption in apartment buildings and also decrease energy use for pumping and water heating. Reducing energy and water use reduces your utility bills if you pay them directly. If your utilities are included in your rent or condo fees, these tips will help to control rent and condo fee increases. As well, most of the energy-saving tips result in more comfortable, healthier apartment living.

These tips do not distinguish between renters and condominium owners, nor do they give advice on who should pay for improvements, or say who will benefit from them. These are important issues but they have to be thought through for each building. These tips are limited to identifying the full range of possibilities available to reduce energy and water consumption. It is recommended that you consult with your building manager on any maintenance, repairs or improvements you may wish to undertake to your unit.

Common Energy- and Water-Wasting Problems

Air Leakage

Cracks and holes in walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors permit drafts to enter. A drafty apartment is cold and uncomfortable in the winter and hot and humid in the summer. Drafty apartments require more heating during the winter and more cooling during the summer to make them comfortable — making them more expensive to live in. Drafty apartments also tend to suffer from outside noise problems.

Air leakage is not just an exterior wall problem. Holes and cracks in the interior partition walls, ceilings and floors of your apartment allow air to flow between your apartment, your neighbours’ apartments and the corridor.

Even very small gaps allow odours, tobacco smoke, noise and pests to move between units and also allow heated (or cooled) air to move in an uncontrolled way and eventually escape the building.

For these reasons, follow the tips provided throughout this fact sheet to seal cracks and holes in both interior and exterior wall, floor and ceiling locations. Reducing air leakage also helps you achieve more comfortable air temperature and humidity in your apartment.

Poor Maintenance of Systems

Well-maintained heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems not only use less energy — they keep you more comfortable and need less service and fewer repairs. As described in this About Your Apartment, you can take steps to keep them operating efficiently.

Windows and Doors

Use Free Heat from the Sun

On sunny winter days, take advantage of the sun’s heat.

  • Open the curtains and blinds on south-, west- and east-facing windows to warm your apartment. If necessary, close radiator valves, turn down thermostats to keep rooms from getting too hot — remember to reset the thermostat when the sun is no longer shining into the room.
  • Close your curtains and blinds at night to help keep the heat in your apartment.

Warning: Closing curtains and blinds may cause condensation (water) to form on windows. The condensation may wet and damage window frames and surrounding surfaces. This, in turn, can allow mold to grow and, if unchecked, can threaten occupant health. If condensation forms on windows, wipe up any water as soon as possible and do not keep curtains closed for extended periods. Try running your bathroom and kitchen fans longer. Do not close curtains if condensation becomes a persistent problem.

Keep the Heat in During the Winter

Avoid opening your windows if it gets too hot in your apartment in the winter. This wastes energy and money. When you open a window, you lose the heat you have already paid for and you make the heating system work harder to heat the room. If it’s too hot, turn down the thermostat.

If overheating from the sun seems to be the problem, use your drapes and blinds to shade the affected rooms. If your building is heated with a central boiler, tell your building management that your apartment is too warm. The management may be able to adjust the boiler controls to make your apartment more comfortable or provide information on adjusting the heating system to reduce the heat.

Keep the Heat out During the Summer

In the summer, keep the heat out of your apartment during the day by keeping the curtains and blinds closed. It’s even helpful to keep the windows themselves closed to keep hot humid air from blowing into your apartment. In the evening, night and early morning, open windows to allow cooler air in.

Do not leave windows open if security is a concern.

Reduce Air Leakage

Window and door joints: DIY

  • Caulk open joints between window and door frames and trim and adjacent walls.

Window and door weatherstripping gaskets: DIY

  • Ensure that window and door weatherstripping gaskets are intact and in good condition. If they are not, replace them. Worn or flattened gaskets, windows that rattle in the wind, drafts and moving drapes or blinds are good indicators of leaky windows and doors.

Always consult with your building management and obtain approval before you proceed with air-sealing work. Use paintable latex caulking when caulking painted surfaces. This will allow you to hide the caulk joint with paint, if necessary. Be careful when using spray foam — some foams expand rapidly and can damage adjacent surfaces and make a mess.

Floors and Walls

Reduce Air Leakage

Floor-wall baseboard joints: DIY/Contractor

  • Caulk visible cracks along the exterior wall-floor joints. This is only possible where the baseboard trim, or wall, can be caulked to a rigid floor surface, such as concrete, tile or wood. Although somewhat difficult to do, it may be more worthwhile to do this during renovations — especially if baseboard or quarter-round trim is to be removed and replaced. In this case, caulking can be applied between the wall surface and floor and would then be covered by the baseboard. If caulking the joint between the baseboard or quarter-roundd trim and the floor, first apply a strip of masking tape on the floor about 3 mm (1⁄8 in.) from the wall along the wall-floor joint to be caulked. Remove the tape when you have finished applying the caulking. This will help to produce a clean caulked joint.

Electric wire penetrations: DIY/Contractor

  • Seal wiring penetrations behind electric baseboard heaters. You will need a contractor to disconnect the power and temporarily remove the baseboard heating units. Often, the electric wire serving the heater is run through a rough hole in the exterior wall. The hole can be foamed, or caulked, depending on its size.
  • Take this opportunity to clean any dust or debris from behind the baseboard and to vacuum the baseboard heating elements to improve heat transfer.

Electric switch and outlet cover plates: DIY

  • Shut off electricity at your electrical panel to all outlets you plan to work on. Install CSA-approved air-sealing gaskets behind the cover plates of light switches and electrical outlets — particularly those on exterior walls. Made specifically for use under electric cover plates, these foam gaskets are available at most hardware stores.
  • Insert child safety plugs into electric outlets to stop drafts through the holes in outlets. The foam knockouts from the outlet foam gaskets can be inserted over the safety plug prongs to provide a better seal.

Pipes, wires and ducts: DIY

  • Caulk and seal around pipes in the walls and floor, under sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms and behind toilet fixtures.
  • Seal around pipe, duct and wiring penetrations in utility closets and other common area spaces.
  • Seal these areas with caulking or spray-in foam. Fibreglass insulation, tape, rags and other porous materials are not effective.

Exterior vent and conduit penetrations: DIY/Contractor

  • Caulk openings around exhaust- and supply-air grills, electric boxes (outside lights and plugs on balconies and so on) and plumbing penetrations that are accessible from your balcony area.
  • Check to ensure that hinged dampers within exterior vent hoods close completely when the exhaust fan is off.

For safety, do not attempt to work on areas that are not easily accessible from your balcony or that are too high to reach safely.

Bathroom and Kitchen

Make Sure Exhaust Fans are Working Efficiently

  • Clean the housing and grill covering of bathroom fans and range hoods and the range hood filters. Where accessible, make sure the fan blades are also clean and dust free. If your exhaust fans duct directly through the exterior wall of your apartment (rather than through a rooftop fan) and you can easily see and safely access it from your balcony, ensure that the exterior hoods are clear and the dampers close fully when the fans are off and open fully when the fans are running. If a damper does not move freely, it may restrict airflow, causing the fan to run longer and use more energy to properly ventilate the bathroom or kitchen. Contact your building manager if repairs are required. A clean and properly functioning ventilation system will do its job more efficiently.
  • Use a timer for the bathroom exhaust fan to ensure that the fan runs long enough to remove moisture and odours but is not left on to needlessly exhaust heated indoor air. The timer should be installed by a contractor.

Reduce Air Leakage

Bathroom and exhaust fans: DIY

  • For an exhaust fan in the bathroom, remove the ceiling grill and caulk or seal the gap between the fan and surrounding ceiling area with foil duct tape. The sealed joint will be hidden when you replace the grill. If you have an exhaust grill connected to a central exhaust system in your bathroom, it may be possible to remove the grill and seal the exhaust duct to the surrounding wall. Otherwise, seal the gap between the grill and the wall with paintable caulking.

Bathtub surrounds: DIY

  • Caulk a bathtub and its surrounding enclosure to adjacent wall and ceiling areas with paintable, mold-resistant caulking.

Remember, if you are renting, get permission from the building management or owner before carrying out any of these measures.

Fix Leaky Faucets and Toilets

Leaky faucets waste water. If your faucet drips at a rate of one drop per second, you can expect to waste up to 200 L (44 gal.) of water per week.

A leaky faucet is easy to spot, but a leaky toilet can be more difficult to identify. One way to spot a problem is to place a few drops of food colouring in the water storage tank.

Let the toilet sit for at least half an hour and then check the colour of the water in the bowl. If the water in your bowl has become tinted with the colour, the toilet’s flapper valve may need to be replaced. Make sure you flush the coloured water down the drain to avoid colouring your tank and bowl.

If you have a leaky faucet or toilet, you may be able to repair it yourself by purchasing a replacement flapper that is compatible with the make and model of your toilet. Don’t substitute with non-compatible flappers as they may leak. Alternatively, you can hire a plumber or ask your building manager to make the repair.

Install Low-Flow Shower Heads and Other Water-Conserving Devices

Low-flow showerheads (9.5 L/minute [2 gal.] or less) and faucet aerators reduce the amount of water flowing through these fixtures while maintaining acceptable water pressure. Users feel that they are receiving the same amount of water while the devices actually conserve water and save money. On-Off valves can also be installed at the shower head to allow you to easily shut off the water while you are using soap or shampoo. This saves water, energy and soap. In some cases, a knowledgeable do-it-yourselfer can install these devices. Not only do these devices save water, they save energy when they help reduce the amount of hot water you use.

Install Low-Flush Toilets

Toilets are the biggest water user in an apartment, especially toilets that are more than a decade old. Most of these older toilets use between 20 and 26 L (4 ½ and 5 ¾ gal.) per flush while most modern toilets use six litres (1 ⅓ gal.) per flush to effectively do the same job.

Consider installing a low-flush model (6 L) when replacing your toilet or upgrading your bathroom. Better yet, install a dual-flush toilet — one that flushes a very small amount of water for liquid waste or the full 6 L for solid waste. The performance of 6 L and dual flush toilets has greatly improved and the flush can be superior to older models.

There is information on flush performance of many 6 L and dual flush toilets on the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association’s website at www.cwwa.ca (retrieved August 2008).

Lighting

Use Energy-Efficient Lighting

Fluorescent tubes and energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) provide high-quality, energy-efficient lighting. Fluorescent lamps are 75 to 80 per cent more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last six to 10 times longer. CFLs are available in a range of lighting levels and colours and some are manufactured in the same size and shape as traditional incandescent bulbs. Use these in fixtures throughout your apartment.

Although fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps are more expensive than regular incandescent bulbs, they save energy and money over their much longer lifetime. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label when purchasing these products. Make sure you dispose of fluorescent lighting products properly as the tubes contain mercury — contact your building management and local municipality for disposal instructions.

Appliances

Use Energy-Efficient Appliances

Appliances account for about 20 per cent of your household energy consumption, with refrigerators and clothes dryers at the top of the consumption list. When replacing or purchasing new appliances or electronic equipment, consider energy consumption along with the purchase price and other features you are looking for. Check the EnerGuide labelling on large appliances and the ENERGY STAR® ratings for electronics, office products and small appliances. These labels provide information on the amount of energy consumed by the device while it is in use.

When purchasing a new clothes washing machine, consider a front-loading type. They use up to 40 per cent less water and 60 per cent less energy than top-loading machines. They also use less detergent. Front loading washing machines are able to remove more water from the laundry, which reduces the amount of time your clothes have to stay in the dryer, which further reduces your energy use.

Keep Your Refrigerator in Good Condition

Older refrigerators can use more energy than necessary if they are not looked after.

  • Clean the evaporator coils on the back of, or under, the refrigerator once a year if accessible. Refer to your refrigerator owner’s manual for cleaning information.
  • Ensure that the door gasket fits properly and the door closes firmly against the gasket. Clean the gasket with soap and water and if it is damaged, replace it.
  • Let food cool before storing it in the refrigerator.
  • Avoid opening the door for prolonged periods and ensure that the door is properly closed when finished.
  • Defrost freezers regularly to keep them working their best and don’t let freezers build up more than 6 mm — about ¼  in. — of frost.

Use Your Clothes Washer and Dryer Efficiently

1 — Reduce the number of loads

This can be done by filling the washer to save both energy and water. Sort and organize your laundry into full loads. Avoid overloading the washer and dryer — your clothes may not get fully clean and will take longer to dry. Refer to the washing instructions on the clothing labels or washing machine.

2 — Use cold water for clothes washing

There are detergents formulated specifically for cold water use. Only use hot water for very dirty clothes. If hot water washing is required, sort the laundry to separate clothes into hot water and cold water loads to reduce hot water energy use.

3 — Group similar fabric types together before drying them

For example, dry permanent press shirts in one load using a lower dryer temperature. See the owner’s manual for your dryer for more information.

4 — Air-dry outdoors

Save electricity when drying clothes by using a drying rack on your balcony to air-dry clothes. Air drying clothes indoors is not recommended, as this may cause moisture problems.

5 — Keep your clothes dryer lint-free

Clean the lint from the dryer’s filter after every load. There may be another lint trap located along the dryer duct that may have to be cleaned as well. Lint-clogged filters increase clothes drying times and energy use and can be a serious fire hazard.

Increased drying times also increase your air-conditioning requirements in the summer — resulting in higher electricity use. If your dryer vent hood is visible and accessible from your balcony, check to make sure the vent damper is lint-free and opens and shuts easily when the dryer is turned on and off. If the vent hood is clogged with lint, this could be a sign your dryer’s ducts need to be cleaned by a duct-cleaning contractor.

Heating System

Clean and Service Your Heating System

Fan-coil units: DIY/Contractor

Keep fan-coil filters clean, otherwise your system will have to work harder and use more energy to provide comfort in your apartment.

  • Change or clean filters every one to three months — depending on the type installed and how quickly they get dirty.
  • Vacuum the supply- and return-air grills to remove dust build up. If the grills have adjustable louvres, make sure they are open.
  • Have the coils in the fan-coil unit cleaned and vacuumed annually (don’t do it yourself — the coils are easy to damage).
  • Repair water leaks or noisy fan motors.

Hot water/steam radiators and convectors: DIY

  • Vacuum around and behind radiators several times a year. If possible, remove the radiator cover and gently vacuum the coils or heating elements.
  • Avoid placing furniture and heavy drapes where they block the movement of room air around the radiators.
  • If your system has thermostatic zone valves to control the heat output from the radiators, confirm that the system works properly by resetting the thermostat and observing changes in the temperature of the radiator. If, over the course of an hour, no changes are noted, consult with the building management.

Furnaces: DIY/Contractor

  • Change or clean furnace filters every one to three months (depending on the type installed and how quickly they get dirty).
  • Vacuum the supply- and return-air grills to remove dust build up. If the grills have adjustable louvres, make sure they are open.
  • Report noisy fan motors to the building management or contact a service contractor.
  • Have the furnace serviced. This should be done every year to ensure that they are in good working order.

Electric baseboards: DIY

  • Ensure that room air can move freely around all electric baseboard units and that curtains or furniture do not block them.
  • Clean electric baseboard heaters at least once a year. Deactivate the heater by switching off the electricity at the circuit breaker in your apartment’s electrical panel. If possible, remove the cover panels to access and clean the fins. Vacuum around and in the baseboard unit to remove dust build up. Be careful not to damage the electrical element or fins. Replace the panel. Reactivate the electricity to the heater.
  • Ensure the thermostat works by setting it high and then low and listen for a click. The baseboard unit should warm up and cool down depending on the setting of the thermostat. If there are no changes contact the building management or a service contractor.

Set Your Thermostat Back

Lowering your thermostat can lower your heating bill. During the winter, set the thermostat at 22°C (72°F) or less when people are home. Many people find 20°C (68°F) quite comfortable.

During the heating season, set your heating system to a lower temperature for overnight or when you are away. Some people turn their thermostats down to 15.5°C (60°F) or 13°C (55°F) at night and when they’re away during the day.

For your comfort and convenience, a programmable thermostat can be used for many types of heating and cooling equipment to automatically turn up the heat before you get up each morning or return from work. These thermostats automatically lower and raise the temperature at preset times during the day and week. However, programmable thermostats only save energy if they are used — become familiar with how to set your thermostat to get the most cost savings from it. See CMHC’s About Your House fact sheet Setback Thermostats.

The extent to which you can safely set back your thermostat depends on the number of people in the apartment, how much moisture you produce from bathing, showering, laundry and cooking, your use of bathroom fans and the kitchen range hood to control moisture, and the window and wall insulation values. Making good use of your bathroom fans and range hood helps to prevent condensation and maximize how far you can set back the thermostat.

Warning: One note of caution before you turn down the heat. As you reduce the temperature in your apartment, you may find more condensation (the appearance of water) on your windows. Prolonged condensation can lead to water pooling on windowsills and forming in concealed spaces within the exterior walls or roof spaces — particularly if you close drapes and blinds at night. This, in turn, can damage surfaces, finishes, carpets, draperies and lead to mold growth. If you set back your thermostat, closely monitor your windows and other exterior wall surfaces for condensation. Ensure that mold does not develop by wiping up water as it forms and increasing your setback temperature setting to warmer levels.

Air-Conditioning System

Buy an Energy-Efficient Air Conditioner

Air conditioners use energy to cool your apartment and reduce humidity levels. A correctly sized, energy-efficient model saves energy and money. Air conditioners have an energy efficiency rating — EER for short. Buy an air conditioner with an EER of at least 11 and an ENERGY STAR® symbol on the product. Although they usually cost a little more, you will use less electricity. Higher-efficiency air conditioners are usually higher quality, less noisy and better performing.

Ensure the air conditioner has the correct amount of cooling for your apartment. An air conditioner with too much cooling capacity will not operate efficiently, can cause your apartment to feel cold and humid, will use more energy and will cost more to operate. For air conditioners, smaller is always better as it will run more efficiently and provide superior temperature and humidity control.

Use Your Air Conditioner Efficiently

Some apartments are cooled by central air-conditioning systems, while others rely on window-mount units or more permanent through-wall systems. Regardless of the type of air conditioner installed, the following guidelines will help reduce air-conditioning electricity use.

  • Set your thermostat higher or deactivate the air-conditioning system when you are out. Remove and clean the window air conditioner filters every month. If there is a “fresh air” vent on the window-mount or through-wall air conditioner, make sure that it is closed so you’re not cooling outside air. If your apartment becomes stuffy, open the vent while you are in the apartment.
  • If possible, install window air conditioners in north-facing or shaded windows. Shading helps to improve air conditioner efficiency and reduce energy use.
  • Keep windows, curtains and blinds closed to keep out heat and humidity.
  • Install ceiling fans and use them to supplement air conditioners — or as an alternative to air conditioning. ENERGY STAR® – rated ceiling fans generally use very little electricity.
  • For window-mount air conditioners, remove and store the air conditioner during the winter to help reduce space-heating energy use. Replace the window pane or install and seal an insulated panel in place of the air conditioner.

Reduce Air Leakage

Window and through-wall air-conditioning units: DIY/Contractors

  • Seal joints around through-wall or window-mount air-conditioning units. Use caulking or spray-in foam. If the joint is wider than 3 mm (1⁄8 in.), a foam backer-rod may be inserted in the joint first to prevent the caulking from flowing into the joint. Be careful not to block pipes or openings intended to drain condensation from the air conditioner outdoors.
  • Apply plastic sheets over top of the through-wall or window air-conditioning units in the winter to stop drafts through the units themselves. Be careful to use a removable tape. Try to find a surrounding surface to tape the plastic sheet to that will not be damaged when the tape is removed in the spring.

Water Heaters

Turn Down the Water Tank Temperature

If you have a gas- or oil-fired hot water tank in your apartment, adjust the temperature to deliver hot water at each faucet that is between 46°C (115°F) and 49°C (120°F).

Electric hot water tanks should not be set below 60°C (140°F). However, thermostatic mixing valves are recommended to ensure water temperature delivered to faucets, tubs and showers does not exceed 49°C (120°F) as scalding can result.

Add an insulated cover over the hot water tank to keep the water warm. You can do this yourself if you have an electric tank. A qualified contractor should handle gas- and oil-fired tanks.

If your hot water is provided by a central system and it’s hotter than 49°C (120°F), ask your building manager if the temperature can be safely reduced.

Turn Your Water Heater Down When You’re Away

If you have a hot water tank in your apartment, turn the water heater down or off when you plan to be away for more than a few days. There’s no need to reheat the same water over and over again if it is not going to be used. When you return, the water heater will heat the water in the tank in a few hours.

Change your Habits

Turn Down the Heat Before a Party

People generate heat. Before people arrive for a party, turn down your thermostat and save some energy. Use the heat given off by the party guests to help keep your apartment warm instead of opening a window to cool down the apartment once they arrive. Turn the thermostat back up when they leave.

Turn Off Lights, Electronics and Appliances

Turn off lights, appliances and electrical equipment when you’re not using them to save energy. Note that many of today’s electronic products incorporate an “instant on” feature and use electricity whether they are “turned on” or not.

Most televisions, for example, constantly draw a small amount of power so they turn on instantly. Any household appliance with a clock, timer, memory, remote control power switch or a transformer is drawing power even if it’s turned off. The energy consumed when these devices are off is called a “phantom load.” Although each device consumes only a small amount of electricity to be at the ready, the amount of phantom load in an apartment building can be significant when all such loads are added up.

Use power bars to power clusters of electronics such as audio systems, video systems and computers and computer peripherals. This lets you deactivate all of the equipment with one flick of a switch and reduce phantom electricity use.

Use Your Appliances Efficiently

When cooking, use pot lids to keep the heat in the pot and use lower heat settings. This reduces cooking-related energy use and helps reduce air-conditioning energy use in the summer (while keeping your apartment more comfortable).

Use full loads in the clothes washer and dishwasher. You will save water and energy if you wait until your dishwasher is full (but not overfilled) and you have a full load of laundry to do before doing the washing. If you only run your dishwasher when it is full, it takes less water and energy to wash the dishes than if you do them by hand. Scrape dirty dishes and store them in the dishwasher until you have a full load. You can save more energy by using the energy-efficient drying cycle on the dishwasher and letting the dishes air-dry.

Take the Stairs

If you live near the ground floor, consider taking the stairs. It reduces elevator energy consumption and gets you in shape.

Other Things You Can Do

Report Energy Hogs

If you notice equipment or systems that do not seem to be running properly, report them to the building management for repairs. Also report exterior doors and windows with worn or missing weatherstripping, overheated parking garages and other common rooms and areas, and unnecessary 24-hour lighting.

Use a Timer on Your Block Heater

Block heaters only need to heat your car’s engine block for an hour or so before you drive to be effective. Plugging your car into a timer set to start the block heater an hour before your departure you can save a significant amount of energy.

Organize a Car Pool

While this does not save building energy, it reduces transportation energy required to move you, and your neighbours, from your building to work or other destinations.

Encourage and Support Cycling

Cycling also saves on transportation-related energy use. By getting the building management to providing well-lit, accessible and safe storage areas for bicycles, you can get more people to consider cycling as a healthy alternative to the daily commute.

Explore Opportunities for Alternative Landscaping

Alternative landscaping replaces water-intensive grass areas with community gardens and trees to help provide natural shading. This helps to control local outdoor air temperatures — a green space is always cooler than a parking lot. Look for opportunities to catch and retain rainwater for community gardens to save on the use of treated municipal water.

Organize a Building Environmental Committee

Bring together others who share your enthusiasm for saving energy and money. An environment committee can be a powerful way to help identify energy and water savings in the building and to start other environmental initiatives such as recycling, composting and waste management. Environment committees can help building management in its efforts to keep the building running efficiently.

 

Related CMHC Information

What is a Real Property Report? Is it important?

As a home-owner, or prospective home-owner you have a lot of information to sort through. One item is the Real Property Report (RPR). It can also be called the Survey.

The Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association defines it as: “A Real Property Report is a legal document that clearly illustrates the location of significant visible improvements relative to property boundaries.” When you are purchasing or selling a home or bareland condo you need to understand what an RPR is and how it can affect the transaction.

Basically, its a report on the location of any structures, decks, sheds, and land locations of your property. Once the report is completed by a survey company, it is sent to the city or county to make sure all of the information complies with their regulations. A current RPR is normally required in most cases for the sale of a home.

When you are looking to purchase or sell a home it’s important to talk to your REALTOR® early about the RPR, so you get advice on how to handle the situation and who to consult with further, to ensure a smooth purchase or sale. We have the experience to handle issues like the RPR.

You can find out more from the brochure at the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association website at:

http://www.alsa.ab.ca/Portals/0/PDF/Public/Real_Property_Reports/ALSA_RPR_Brochure.pdf

 

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Daylight Savings Home Maintenance Checklist

Twice a year we change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time. It’s also a fantastic memory trigger to check the mechanical systems in your home and do some simple maintenance to keep things running smoothly.

Here are a few ideas. We’d love to hear your suggestions on things to add to this list! Add your items in the comments at the bottom of this post.

Smoke Detectors

Twice a year you should change the batteries in your smoke detector, no matter if they’re dead or not. This is definitely a safety system you don’t want failing in the next 6 months! Most smoke detectors run on 9V batteries, unless they’re hard wired into the home. (Building Code in Edmonton requires a hard wired smoke detector.)

It’s also a good idea to test the function of your smoke detector. Take a small piece of paper or kleenex, and put it into a deep bowl. Light it on fire and put it under your smoke detector. If the smoke detector doesn’t go off, get a new one!

 

Sump Pump

Test that your sump pump is working properly by either plugging both power cords directly into the wall, or by lifting the arm up until it goes off. If it doesn’t work, service it immediately.

 

Doors And Windows

Now’s a great time to check for drafts. Using a BBQ lighter, check for drafts at all of the windows and doors around your home. Use spray foam, ribbin insulation, or whatever you think is best to fill the gaps. Doing this can save you a bundle in heating costs through the cold Edmonton winter!

 

Locks and Security

Are your locks set properly? Do they slide into place easily and securely? Is that deadbolt handle starting to give and jiggle? Now is a good time to check them, make sure your home is safe, and replace locks that aren’t working properly. Rusty locks where the key is hard to insert can use a dose of WD-40 or oil to make life easier for you.

Check the exterior of your home. Make sure there’s nothing under your windows to give would-be burglars easy access to the windows. Trim back any plants for trees that give them a hiding place while trying to get into the home.

 

Test Your Alarm System

It works, right? Are you sure? Why not take a few minutes to test the various connections and processes of your security alarm.

 

Furnace Filter

When was the last time you changed it? Be honest…

A neat trick is to buy a cheap filter and spray it with PAM. This catches more dust particles than just a cheap filter, and is as good as a top quality filter. But much less expensive. And why not buy several filters at once? It’s best to have them on hand.

 

Tighten Everything

Take a multihead screw driver and go tighten every door handle, toilet seat, and electrical outlet. If there’s something that can be tightened, do it. You’d be amazed how much longer these things last when they’re snugly fit into place.

 

Anything else? Got some suggestions on things people can do to maintain their home on this Daylight Savings Time? We’d love to hear from you…

And enjoy the extra hour of sleep tonight!!

Homes with Attached Garages and their Indoor Air Quality

Canadians can spend an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors. Having clean indoor air is therefore critical for respiratory health.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and others have published material on how to provide good indoor air quality (IAQ). However, there is one source of pollutants that we are just discovering: automotive pollution from attached garages. This About Your House discusses the risks of attached garages and how to keep car-based pollutants out of your house.

Attached garages are convenient, and are a common part of suburban houses. The attachment could be to the side of the house, with a room over top of the garage, or even as a part of what traditionally is the basement (see figures 1, 2 and 3).

Garage attached at the side of the house
Figure 1 — Garage attached at the side of the house
Room over top of the garage
Figure 2 — Room over top of the garage
Garage as part of the basement
Figure 3 — Garage as part of the basement

Automobiles give off pollution. Starting a car in a garage, even with the garage door wide open, can result in a higher concentration of combustion pollutants (for example, carbon monoxide) in the garage and house.

Driving a car into the garage and closing the door results in emissions of various chemicals over the next several hours as the engine and its fluids cool down. The pollutants in the garage air can be drawn into the house over time.

This is not just a theoretical problem. In a survey done by Health Canada in more than 100 houses in Windsor, Ontario, the results were very clear.

Houses with attached garages had measurable concentrations of benzene (a gasoline related pollutant) in their indoor air. Houses with no garages or detached garages had little or no benzene. This is true of a host of other airborne chemicals. The study revealed that pollutants in attached garages can find their way into the house.

There are also secondary sources of pollutants in garages, apart from car-based emissions. There are many gas-powered appliances, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and edging tools whose emission systems are not as good as those found in cars. Chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are also sources of pollutants.

One disconcerting fact is that garage-to-house air movement is not obvious or straightforward. In the 1990s, when the first inexpensive carbon monoxide (CO) sensors became commercially available, many started going off without an evident source of carbon monoxide. Responders such as utilities and fire departments often wrote off the incidents as false alarms, prompted by over-sensitive CO detectors. However, research in Minnesota (Wilber & Klossner, 1997) showed that the time delay of CO entry to the house from the garage could be a factor. When a cold car engine starts up in the garage, even with the main garage door open, it can generate up to several hundred parts per million of carbon monoxide gas in the garage. Once the car has left and the garage door is closed, the garage may still hold a relatively high CO concentration for hours. Air leaking from the garage to the house can cause the CO level in the house to start climbing. After several hours, the house CO level is high enough to set off the CO alarm, but by then the garage is low in CO and is not recognized as a source.

How Garage Air Gets Into Your House

It can be difficult to understand how and why garage air moves into the house. After all, there is at least one layer of drywall between the house and the garage, and a significant amount of insulation. The door from the attached garage to the house typically has weatherstripping and a spring to hold the door closed. So how does air enter?

Air can move through small cracks in the walls between the house and the garage, and through the top floor ceiling. There are many tiny holes and cracks that permit this air exchange to take place and they exist in all houses. It takes a sophisticated test with specialized tools, such as a blower door and leakage detection equipment, to find infiltration and exfiltration points.

Field tests by CMHC have discovered that the walls (and perhaps ceilings) between garages and the house can be as air leaky as the rest of the house. Some houses get most of their “fresh air” through the garage. One or two of those tested had so little leakage that there was no measurable air movement through the walls between house and garage. However, most garages have some air leaks, roughly in proportion to the size of the exterior wall.

But air movement into a house requires both a hole and a pressure difference. Does a pressure difference exist? Yes. CMHC measured the pressure difference across the house-garage wall and the house pressures are often lower than garage pressures, especially in winter. This is quite common in colder weather. Having exhaust fans or vented heating appliances also creates lower pressures inside the house, and garage air is drawn in through the leaks.

Preventing Garage-to-House Transfer in New Houses

The best way to prevent garage air entry into the house is to make sure that there are no leaks between the garage and the house. In new construction, this should be easy. The builder should make the interface walls and ceilings as airtight as possible. This is more readily done if the builder knows that reducing pollution transfer from the garage is a priority.

The builder should:

  1. Ensure the airtightness of the garage ceiling and walls that are next to the house, before the insulation is installed and before installing drywall on the garage side.
  2. Check all wall-to-wall junctions or wall-to-floor junctions and seal them. If the top of the basement wall is exposed in the garage, that header space can be notoriously leaky.
  3. Diligently seal all penetrations from the house to the garage (wiring, central vacuum exhaust and so on).
  4. Keep mechanical systems (furnaces, water heaters and so on) out of the garage. While most Canadian builders would not consider putting mechanical systems in the garage, it is common practice in parts of the U.S. The few Canadian houses that CMHC has tested (in B.C.) with heating systems located in the garage showed high levels of garage pollutants in house air.

Preventing Garage-to-House Pollution Transfer in Existing Houses

It is much harder to prevent air movement from a garage to a house in an existing house. In a house already built, there will be leakage areas but they are usually hidden. They are not easy to locate and not easy to seal.

However, air-sealing the garage-to-house walls and ceilings may still prove worthwhile. If the garage side has no drywall, sealing air leaks may be simple. If the drywall is simply screwed on the wall and is otherwise unfinished, removing the drywall gives access to the interior spaces. Finishing the drywall itself with drywall compound and paint, as well as caulking all visible cracks and joints, may improve airtightness.

Another approach involves installing an exhaust fan to vent garage air outside. A good bathroom fan could be used. By operating the fan, the garage becomes depressurized relative to the house thereby preventing air movement from the garage to the house. This will not impact to any great extent on house heating costs but there will be an electrical cost to run a fan.

The use of a garage exhaust fan may lower the garage pressure enough for airflow through the holes to go from the house to the garage, rather than the garage to the house. Check the pressure difference by opening the door to the house just a crack and feeling for air movement from the house to the garage. A smouldering string can also be used to detect air movement. If air is moving into the garage, the pressure is in the right direction. This will assure that garage pollutants do not enter house air.

To avoid high electrical costs, choose an exhaust fan with low energy consumption. To further reduce fan usage, have the fan activated for a period (for example, one hour) after the garage door is used.

Continuous use of the exhaust fan is recommended if:

  • There are a lot of noxious chemicals in the garage. Better yet, consider sending them to a hazardous waste disposal site.
  • The garage is used to store or maintain older vehicles with higher emissions.
  • There is a lot of coming to and going from the garage through the main garage door.

What to do

All buyers of new houses should confirm that their builder is aware of this issue and takes measures to do a good job of sealing air leakage paths. It is the only easy time to seal the air leakage points. An effective air sealing approach is far better than installing an exhaust fan after the fact.

Owners of existing houses have harder choices. If there is evident and annoying transfer of odours and drafts from the garage to the rooms next to the garage, the leaks should be located and sealed. If that task is too onerous or expensive, the garage exhaust fan solution could be considered.

Finally, if the attached garage is not used for vehicles (as is often true) and there are no other major chemical sources in that space, garage-to-house air movement should not be a significant problem.

Home ownership forces you to save like no other investment vehicle

What else is one to make of a country where about half of Canadians said they didn’t make a contribution to a registered retirement savings plan this year but close to 70% of households now own their home.

“Your money grows tax free,” says Jason Heath, a fee-based certified financial planner with Objective Financial Partners Inc. “Even in your RRSP, there are forced withdrawals and it’s fully taxable [when taken out].”

The main advantage of home ownership is the forced savings it generates. The real estate industry has its tired lines like “you can’t live in your investment” or “you have to live somewhere” but it’s the discipline of payments a mortgage forces that makes it a decent investment for most Canadians.

For the rest of the story: Financial Post – Why cash rests in your home

You also can’t ignore the tax benefits that come from home ownership because of the exemption you get from any gains on your principal residence. Put in sweat equity by fixing your house to raise the value and that’s about the only legal way not to pay tax in this country.

Then there’s the leverage. Nobody will let you leverage any other investment with 95% debt to 5% equity. If you are borrowing money at 3% and your investment is going up 5% every year, you can’t lose.

Phil Soper, chief executive of Royal LePage Real Estate Services, said “In a typical price appreciating environment you get the leverage effect on borrowed money which works best when the interest costs are low which is what it is today.”

The divide has widened between renting and owning but he adds many families end up turning to buying because they can’t find what they are looking for in the rental market.

Source can be looked at for more information on this topic.

One change can help a few issues – Garbage/Compost Bins for example.

Plastic garbage and compost bins.

 

Garbage and compost bins like these have been introduced in several communities around Edmonton, and I never gave them much thought. Now, I have been thinking more and more that they have some definite advantages to home-owners and cities alike.

 

Some that I see are:

1. They allow you to fill them up with heavy loads and they are emptied by a hydraulic lift, not by person power.

2. The garbage and compostables are contained, so dogs/cats and birds (especially crows and magpies) are not attracted by easy food. I have noticed a big decrease in crows and magpies in those cities.

3. The bins have wheels so they should be easier to transport to and from the curb, for the home-owners.

4. We now have the ability to save our compostables before they enter the general garbage stream. Better for the environment too.

As well, everyone should be blue bagging their recyclable cans, bottles, paper, and containers.

 

I am not sure if Edmonton is looking at possibly moving to this system in the future, but it may be a good idea.

 

I think these bins are a commonsense approach to getting our garbage and compostables to where they need to be safely and efficiently. Please let me know if you see any other advantages or disadvantages to these bins.

Ben

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Estate Planning- Its a fact of life. (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last edition in my personal take on Estate Planning: Estate real estate and other assets.

Estate real estate and other assets

When you pass away as a home or property owner then there are certain things that might happen, depending on where you live. Each province can be different.

If you have a Will (I hope you do!) then the real estate might be:

a) retained by your spouse (hopefully they are on the title)

b) given to your children/beneficiary/beneficiaries to be kept or sold.

If you don’t have a Will (or a surviving spouse) and its not clear who are the children or beneficiaries, then likely a court will have to decide. I am not a lawyer but I know that without a Will things can get messy and expensive. Each case has its issues.

Now, from my personal experience it takes awhile for you to be able to deal with a deceased persons assets. Wills often have to be probated, so items like a home, car(s), cottages etc.. may have to sit vacant/unused for extended periods of time ie: months.

When that is the case I suggest:

1. Turn off the water and have the home winterized professionally. Leaks cause big money damage to vacant properties.

2. Switch the home insurance to vacant insurance but check how often the home must be visited (daily, every 2 days etc..). Insurance companies differ on their requirements. Note: I ran into one that said if its vacant then they won’t cover it, it had to be occupied. I asked about what happens when you go on vacation? They said that’s different… so after some negotiation the insurance company changed its tune.

3. If no one lives in the area, hire a company to check on the property as required by the insurance policy. (In one case I paid, as the Executor, a RE/MAX agent a monthly fee to provide that service for me in another province.) Have them provide a written report on their visits in case the insurance company asks.

3. Store the vehicles in a garage and have them serviced properly.

4. When it comes time to sell the home or condo, hire a real estate agent. Especially if you live outside that area and/or did not live in the home, because you need to do several extra things and they will help you navigate the issues. They should provide you with Comparative Market Value report on how much the home might sell for too.  Also, they will give you advice on home staging, repairs etc…

These are just a few items to think about. Please consult a lawyer for any legal aspects of Estate Planning.

Please feel free to add a comment or suggestion.

All the best,

Ben