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Brian Webber
High Energy Prices And Climate Change

Winnipeg - "On January 10, 2001 the Climate Change in Manitoba Conference - 'The Beginning Dialogue' was held at the Winnipeg Convention Center, sponsored by the Manitoba Clean Air Commission and the International Institute for Sustainable Development" said Brian Baker, President of Custom Vac Limited. This conference was a serious look into future climate changes from a Manitoba perspective.

Speakers outlined how the Public, Industry and Business must and can work to a common end to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. During the presentations and for about day or two after, it became clear that there are many ways for the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) Industry to participate. The biggest role is by educating the Public about energy audit programs and offering new and advanced systems that will have the least environmental impact.

The Impact of Climate Change

What do high-energy prices have to do with climate change? Emissions from fossil fuel energy sources add to the total GHG emissions and wasteful use of electricity adds to a greater demand (load). The net result will likely mean more dams and generating facilities will be built in the future, unless we make wiser choices in the selection of HVACR equipment and reducing or eliminating our wasteful practices thus decreasing our dependency.

Building more dams will further decrease sinks ("sinks" is the term used to describe land). While natural gas emissions are lower than the other forms of fossil fuels and less costly per unit of energy than electricity, there are many things that can be done to reduce demand and emissions. Sinks play a vital role in absorbing heat, we all know that it's cooler in the country than in concrete cities. A major shift or change that is underway in large cities throughout the world and in a few North American cities is the development of rooftop gardens. This is designed to dramatically reduce the buildings requirements for air conditioning and energy use.

Making Informed Decisions

"There has been a lot of press recently regarding the higher costs of natural gas and projections are for even higher prices yet. Many consumers have had thoughts of replacing their natural gas furnaces with electric ones. Not so fast, while in some cases it makes sense there has to be a balance", said Baker. What are we saving if we replace a natural gas furnace with an electric one in a retrofit application? Not very much as a rule, why? In order to truly cut energy usage and reduce GHG emissions, air leakage must be addressed. Recent statistics released from Natural Resources Canada reports that up to 40% of the heating bill can be charged to air leakage. Combine this with the fact that people can reduce GHG emissions by 30% by making changes in lifestyle and better choices.

New homes are different than older homes as the proper electrical service is typically in place, building envelopes are sealed tightly and some form of mechanical ventilation is installed. The other issues that weigh on the decision are maintenance, availability of service technicians if a problem arises and life expectancy.

The Right Program and the Right Contractor

Baker's company has been working with independent energy evaluators since 1998, under the EnerGuide for Houses Program operated by the Federal Governments, Office of Energy Efficiency. The program identified many areas where consumers could reduce their energy costs, air leakage was just one of those. The audit takes approximately three hours ending with a detailed report, as well as handbooks on how the recommendations can be completed are left. Not all the corrective measures can be done by oneself and will have to be done by a professional but there are a number of things that can be done at little cost with substantial paybacks.

Companies such as Bakers, have been in business for a considerable amount of time and identified the need to not only provide the consumer with better more accurate information regarding their home but also, to allow them to make the choices that make sense based on not just the cost, but also comfort, maintenance, life expectancy, and environmental impact.

It's important for consumers to have the facts. One item that continues to frustrate Baker is that whenever energy costs get attention in the media, consumers call to get a price over the phone to have a furnace installed. It is impossible for anyone to quote a price on the phone. What size of furnace would you need? What efficiency? Is Combustion air required? Baker recommends that if you get a price hang up and call another company.

Getting the Right Information

The results from the EnerGuide testing have shown that one 1100 sq. ft. house can have an air leakage of 100 sq. in. and -10pascals depressurization while the same house two blocks over has only 41 sq. in. and -2pascals of depressurization. If these two consumers were to call a contractor, they may both be told that they need a 75,000 Btu furnace when in fact one may require a 60,000 and the other a 40,000 Btu. Now, it is true the cost of the equipment is not really that much different, but the lack of true comfort and fact that the efficiency will be lower means that the monies spent to get lower energy costs will never be fully realized. With all the furnaces, options, home construction types, and higher energy costs on the way, why, would anyone want to guess is unclear to me.

The facts are that most homes that Baker has had tested have a heating appliance that is anywhere from 75% to 180% oversized for the home. Some of these homes had appliances installed within the last 5 years by someone. These same homes have shown to have serious depressurization problems ranging from -2pascals to -23 pascals and greater. Many consumers have real opportunities to have air sealing measures, windows and added insulation retrofits done. One customer that Baker can think of is having these items done first and the last item will be the new sealed combustion high-efficient furnace that will likely be 2 sizes smaller due to the increased efficiency of the building envelope

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not professing that consumers all run out and purchase insulation, windows and doors either. What I am saying, is that the EnerGuide for Houses Program details items that allow the Consumer and Contractor factual information as a base for decisions and/or recommendations.

Natural Gas and Electric Furnace Options

Since there has been so much talk about natural gas prices, what is available in natural gas equipment to reduce the energy? Two-stage high efficient sealed combustion natural gas furnaces. It's like having two furnaces in one. The first stage or low fire operates approximately 70% of the season at the lower energy use. When the temperature gets colder and the furnace has to run more frequently the thermostat senses this and brings on the second stage or high fire which will maintain the indoor comfort. This automatic switching ensures that the furnace maintains the minimum use of the energy while maximizing the comfort and energy savings.

What about electric furnaces? Electric furnaces have always had staging of the elements that have allowed a managed approach to energy use. Electrical in the past had been substantially higher; this is not the case today. Outdoor thermostats can be wired into the electric furnace circuitry that will allow for automatic staging. Take a 25 KW electric furnace as an example, 10 KW is wired to operate at any outdoor temperature at anytime. At approx. 0°F another 5kw is energized, at -10°F another 5 KW and finally at -20°F the final 5 KW is energized.

The reason for these staged appliances is that the home does not require the full output of heat until the homes heat loss = the homes requirement for that heat. In Manitoba the heating design temperature is -28°F) so for all days when the weather is warmer than the design the furnace is oversized. Just think about that for a moment, earlier I said that some home were as much as 180% oversized, this is at design so what amount are they oversized at 0°F?

Options for Rural Manitobans

What do you do when you live beyond a natural gas line? Well electric is an option, ground source heat pumps, fuel oil, wood, wood electric, wood oil, all of which have environmental impacts and special installation configurations. Increased air pollution, harmful chemical emissions, higher risk of fire, insects and increased decorating costs in the home and being tied to a wood stove, when everyone is time poor, does not make sense. In addition, the homeowners insurance will increase with the introduction of a wood-burning appliance. Who will service the equipment, how long will it last, what maintenance is required, does the company provide the maintenance, can you buy 10 years parts and labour extended warranty, etc. These are some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration and should be apart of the decision-making.

There are many reasons to choose one energy source over another if you are building a new home, underway with a major home renovation, you need to sit down with a knowledgeable contractor and utilize the programs and information that is available. The decisions that you make with regards to HVACR equipment and systems will impact your energy costs and GHG emissions for the next 20 years. Working with a good reputable contractor will assist your decision-making and hopefully result in the least negative impact to the environment.

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