Tracking Our Home Energy Use

Electricity Meter - Reducing Home Energy Use

One of the largest contributors to our environmental footprint is our home. From the materials we use to construct it, the land we cover over with pavement, the species (both plant and animal) we displace, to the energy we use to operate it – our homes have a big impact on our world. If we are going to find a more sustainable balance between us and the eco-system in which we live, we are all going to have find ways to reduce the impact our homes have. Today I’m going to examine the energy we use in our home.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 the average two person household in Manitoba used 95GJ (gigajoules) of energy in their home for the year. That works out to .90 gigajoules per m2 in housing area (average home) for a two person family. That’s the energy a family of two would use to heat, cool and light your home; and power all of your appliances and devices for a year. That doesn’t sound like a lot – but it is. 1GJ is a billion joules of energy. The joule is a useful measure of energy because it allows the conversion of energy measures from one type to another. I’ll spare you the pain of having to read my geek-out over how “cool” the joule is, let’s just say it’s a very useful unit of energy measurement. It’s sort of the Rosetta Stone for energy measurements in that you use it to translate energy use from one form to another, ie calories to kilowatts, kilowatts to BTUs, and so forth. Anyway according to Wikipedia, 6GJ is about the energy you get from burning a barrel of oil. So 95GJ represents the burning of almost 16 barrels of oil.

This week I contacted Manitoba Hydro and requested a summary of our energy use for 2013. I provided my email address and within a couple of hours I had a pdf summary report in my inbox. Pretty decent service if you ask me! Anyway – last year we used 16,537 kW.h (kilowatt hours) of electricity for the entire year. That includes the energy used to heat our home as well because when we built our home we were adamant that we wanted electric heating and not natural gas. Sure gas is cheaper, financially, but it’s a fossil fuel and burning it contributes to climate change. In Manitoba, electric heating is far less climate impacting because the vast majority of our electricity comes from hydro generation. Anyway – 16,537 kW.h is what we used to heat, cool and power our home. So how does that compare to the average energy use number I quoted above? Well – since every kW.h is equal to 0.0036 GJ, our energy use in GJ in 2013 was 59.53GJ. That’s only about 63% of the average use for other 2 person Manitoba families.

Home Energy Use in Manitoba and CanadaUsing these Statistics Canada numbers the average Manitoba family of two would use 26,388 kW.h of electricity to run their home. A quick Google search on energy use in Canada returns an interesting infographic from Canadian Geographic. In the graphic you can see that the average home energy use per capita in Manitoba is 11,779 kW.h. So with that number a family of two would use 23,558 kW.h per year. Even by these standards Erin and I are almost 30% below the average. Click on the image here to see a larger version of this infographic.


Our energy use is low for a number of reasons. The first is that our home is new and built using new techniques and materials that greatly improve energy efficiency. Also – we take special care to manage our energy use. We actively manage passive forms of heating and cooling. For example opening our south facing window dressing in the winter to let the free solar heat in, while keeping them closed in the summer to reduce the solar heating. We also open our windows strategically in the summer to use airflow to keep our home cooler and we use the furnace fan to circulate cooler air from the basement as well. We also made the decision to build a smaller than average home. Rather than build the average sized new home (1200-1500ft2), our home is 986 ft2. This significantly reduces the amount of energy we use in our home. To get a better measure of how effectively we use energy based on our behaviours rather than simply the smaller size of our home – I’ll calculate the energy we use per m2 and compare it against the average noted above.

Using the handy conversion tool provided by Google – 986ft2 is equal to 91.6 m2. If we take the 59.53GJ we used and divide it by our 91.6 m2 of area, we get an energy use of .649 GJ/ m2. This is about 72% (.649/.9) of the local average. So that tells us that not only is our energy use reduced because of the size of our home, but also because of the construction and the operation of the house as well. These are good number but I know that we can do better.

You might ask yourself why someone would go through the trouble of figuring all this out (I mean beyond the pure joy of doing math and using the Joule measure). Well I did it for a couple of reasons. The first is to quantify our energy use and give that number some perspective (understanding our energy use compared to others). Second – now that I know what we actually use, we can set reduction targets for our energy use and track our progress regularly which will tend to encourage reductions. Remember that old management saying – what’s measured is treasured. Finally – finding out this number was the last piece I needed to purchasing carbon-offset credits. What are carbon-offset credits? Well you’ll just have to read my next post to find out.

Dec 2014

The Winter Commute

Winter Commute Walking Selkirk

It has been almost six months since I turned my life upside down and became the CAO for the City of Selkirk. One of the most exciting parts of this change for me was the lifestyle changes I was going to be able to make.  My previous job required me to commute to Winnipeg every day, five days a week…sometimes six if I was especially busy. I know a lot of people that live in Selkirk do this. Living twenty five kilometres from the provincial capital is a blessing in this way. Lots of interesting, great paying work is only a short commute away. It provides a lot of local folks with career opportunities that they just would not have if they limited their job search to Selkirk only. Frankly this is true for every major city in North America. It’s almost a rite of passage to spend significant portions of your life behind the wheel of a car on your way to, or returning from work. Both of my parents commuted daily for work.  And for 8 years I did as well. I loved the job….did not like the commute.

One of the most exciting side benefits of the new job was that I was going to be able to walk to work. I was going to trade in my 45 minute drive and all the associated stress of traffic, construction, and ice covered roads for an 11 minute (yeah…I timed it) brisk walk to work.  Not only would this save me a ridiculous amount of money and not only would I be healthier for it, but I also reduce the guilt I feel for being a significant personal contributor to climate change. I claim to be concerned about climate change and environmental protection – yet the transportation choice I made was not in alignment. Sure I carpooled, first with my Dad and then with my friend, but even a shared daily commute of 70km (round-trip) made me cringe when I thought about its impact. This new job however allowed me to shed that guilt and made a human-powered commute possible.

Walking to work in the summer was awesome. The world is just coming alive when I stepped out my front door. The birds sang, the sun was just rising and the breeze carried the most wonderful smells into my nostrils. Almost every day I congratulated myself on making a good decision. Even the days when the rain seemed to come at me sideways didn’t deter me. Actually, those days I felt even more empowered by my decision.

At first my choice in transportation mode was an oddity for my new co-workers. “Good for you” they said, “Keep at it!” some encouraged. Over time it became the source of good natured ribbing. “I hope you’re not claiming mileage” and so forth. But as winter approached – I could tell most people expected me to pack my hippy-sandals away and join the rest of them in the ritualized daily burning of fossil fuels.

At the beginning of November I stopped by Marks and did some preparatory shopping. I needed a good pair of boots, snow pants and some warm mitts. About $380 later I was ready to go. While this seems like a lot, I decided that I wanted to buy high quality gear. I could have purchased much cheaper outer wear but I’ve made that mistake before. I expect my new threads will last me a few winters. If I’m going to trudge through the snow in a Manitoba winter for 5 months of the year – I want to make sure I’m comfortable.  My tab included:

Sorel boots = $170

Dakota lined work overalls= $170

Wind River Heavy duty mitts = $40

Sorel BootsI’ve used these for the last two weeks or so. At first these items were way too warm. Combined with my Roots ‘Blue Dot Tour’ toque and my parka I overheated. This past week  was much better – though the mitts still make my hands sweat. Given the results of these first few weeks, I’m pretty confident that I’m just about ready for the worst old man winter can throw at me. The final piece I need to add to complete my winter commute collection is a ski mask to keep my cheeks and nose from freezing off. Maybe a pair of ski goggles as well.

All of this to say that I’m committed to my new transportation choice and that a bit of snow and artic winds won’t convince me otherwise. Brave words for the beginning of winter…let’s see what I’m saying in April!

On Becoming the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Selkirk

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted the position of Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Selkirk. Over the past few months, the City of Selkirk has engaged the Legacy Bowes Group to conduct a national search for this position. I submitted my resume as any other candidate would, without discussing my intentions with other members of council and I did not participate in any of the discussions or meetings related to the filling of this position. After an exhaustive search process, I and 3 other candidates were “short listed” and given the opportunity to be interviewed. After the interviews, council decided that I was the best candidate and offered me the position. I have humbly accepted.

I am excited by this opportunity to turn my passion for local government and our community into my profession. Over the past 12 years I have devoted countless hours to my role as councillor. Learning, considering, proposing and negotiating new and better ways for our city to operate and to improve the quality of life of all citizens. As CAO, this work will be come my full-time job, allowing me to focus my full attention and energy to the challenges and opportunities our city faces. I cannot wait to begin.

Accepting this new role means that I must resign my seat on council. It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve as your representative on Selkirk council. I have spent the majority of my adult life in this role. While I am not going very far, five feet to be exact, my new seat in the council chambers will be quite different.

I ran for council because I believed that I could make a difference and that I could contribute to my community. I believe that I have done just that. I leave council now, confident in the skills, passion and vision of this current council. Beyond just having some “good ideas”, members of this council have demonstrated that they have the political will to make the tough decisions and tenacity to have high expectations for our community. While I leave council at an exciting time, I do so knowing that the community is in good hands, and that my new role gives me an even greater opportunity to be a catalyst and facilitator of positive change.

My resignation will be effective as of noon on Friday May 9th and my first day of work as CAO will be Monday, May 26th.

I would like to thank you all for the trust and faith you placed in me  and for your continued support over the past 12 years. It has been an honour to serve you as councillor – and I’m looking forward to serving you as Chief Administrative Officer.



Duane Nicol, Councillor

City of Selkirk

Apr 2014