Why we’re shamelessly pleased with ourselves


Our monthly bill from Ontario Hydro arrived on Christmas Eve, and contrary to what you might expect, we celebrated.

It was for $86.25. According to the bill, we had consumed a grand total of 800 kilowatt hours of electricity. That’s 43 per cent lower than the 1,415 kilowatt hours of electricity that we used during the identical period in 1996, four years ago, when we started thinking about a scheme to save energy.

We translate this success as a 43-per-cent reduction in our reliance on nuclear power and power from steam generating plants with their destructive emissions of greenhouse gases and waste heat.

It has taken a while to get our scheme working, but work it does, and I think it might be of interest to people who live in the country and heat with wood, and to city people who have a cottage with a wood stove.

To begin with, you have to understand that our needs are fairly high. We have an electric pump supplying well water; a sump pump that’s always running when late fall rains waterlog everything; a barn for the horses which requires electric heating cables to keep the water line open; a large freezer holding produce from the garden that, together with what we store in a cold room, will keep us going until spring; and the usual household utilities, such as refrigerators, for two families.

We live in a one-and-a-half-storey farmhouse, with a granny suite attached that we rent to a young couple. So there are a lot of showers. A lot of baths. A lot of calls for hot water.

By 1996, we were already experiencing energy savings. We had equipped most of the house with compact fluorescent light bulbs. And we had a solar panel that preheats water before it enters the electric water heater.

At this time of the year, however, a solar panel doesn’t help much because the sky is overcast most of the time. No sun, no preheating.

It pushed us into wondering if our airtight stove could do double duty — preheat water, as well as heat the house. We discovered it could do both.

We connected a waterline to run slightly downhill from the bottom of our electric heater, to the top of the stove. There it loops through an aluminum block that’s about the size of a large coffee table book, about 5 cm. thick.

As the waterline loops along one side of the block, and back out the other, it rises slightly. Since hot water rises, this allows water in the line to begin moving upward as it heats. From the stovetop, the line goes to the top of the hot water heater.

There is only about 76 cm. of the waterline embedded in the aluminum block, but that’s enough to get water in the line hot enough to set up a convection current that moves hot water up to the top of the hot water tank.

So, with no mechanical aids, we have a system that takes cold water from the bottom of our hot water tank, and dumps hot water into the top of the tank. When the stove is on full, the line from the stove to the tank is too hot to touch.

Because of the amount of hot water we use, we still need a boost from the electric heater in the tank. But we’ve disconnected one of its two elements.

The aluminum block was purchased for about $50 from Renewable Energy of Plum Hollow in Kingston. If you need more information, you can call the firm at (613) 544-5575. The block was manufactured by Valley Comfort of Penticton, B.C.

We’re shamelessly pleased with ourselves, but we realize that we’re only one couple among a multitude that are doing what they can to ease their impact on the planet. So when we celebrated the arrival of the new millennium last night, we toasted all of us. « Together we can make a difference,’’ we said, and raised our glasses.

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