When Ontario is giving out free smart thermostats, you know it’s time for a blog! Most of my recent blog posts have been about projects at UHN, so this time I’m going to change it up and talk about a couple of neat technologies I’m using at my apartment to save energy. Both of these savings ideas were mentioned in my previous Mike at Home Blog, but these new technologies really help to put those ideas into practice in a convenient way. There are many ways to save energy at home, even if you are a renter like me!

Smart Thermostat

I already had a programmable thermostat which was helping to save energy, but I wasn’t able to maximize savings for a couple of reasons. One way I typically try to save power is by setting back the thermostat if I’m away for a weekend or longer vacation, however this often led to an uncomfortably cold temperature for a few hours upon return. When energy savings lead to discomfort it can be difficult to maintain the energy savings behavior and I may have been less consistent in doing the temperature set back as a result. With my old thermostat on the fritz, I took the opportunity to upgrade to a web-connected thermostat.

New Thermostat (source)

With the new thermostat, even if I forget to set it back before leaving, I can log in anywhere with cell/WiFi coverage and click the “away” mode on the home screen and it automatically sets the temperature back to my predetermined away setpoint. My wife and I were on vacation recently and her parents happened to be staying in Toronto while we were gone. I was able to click “home” mode to make sure it was warm when they got there and then set it back to “away” when they left despite being over 8000km away! We now have no concerns about setting back the temperature when we are away because we know we can just turn the heat back on a few hours before we get home. NOTE: If you are doing a temperature setback, make sure to set it high enough so that there is no risk of pipe freezing.

The other item that the new thermostat improved is that it allows 6 setpoint changes per day. This feature enabled me to shift heating loads off peak electricity times. For example, winter peak electricity times are between 7-11am and 5-7pm. I increased my setpoint to 22C until 5pm and then drop it to 19C from 5-7pm to “coast” while electricity is at its most expensive, then return to my normal setpoint of 20C after 7pm. This sounds complicated but you only need to set it up once and then copy the schedule to the other days of the week.

Electricity Prices
Current Toronto Hydro Rates for Winter

Check out the difference in on-peak consumption before and after the installation:

Peak Savings
Highest Price Electricity Consumption Trending Down

If you are into tech gadgets, it’s a fun little project to install and set up a new smart thermostat. I had a bit of difficulty finding a smart thermostat that would work on my line voltage baseboard heaters (most are designed for low voltage control wiring for furnaces), but I was eventually able to find a solution from a Quebec company called Sinopé. It has been working well so far if anyone else out there is looking for a solution for baseboard heating. Other smart thermostats have different functions such as tracking your location to optimize settings based on your schedule, but I have found the two uses mentioned above to be the most practical.

Although I’ve only had the thermostat in for a couple of months, I thought I would try to take a stab at what the savings should be over a typical year. I took my electricity bills and normalized to weather since there is a strong heating component to my electricity usage. Based on a brief analysis it looks like I’m saving about $25 per month in the winter. This is partially due to reduced overall consumption and partially due to being able to reduce consumption during peak hours. Given there are approximately 5 winter months, this would amount to about $125 savings annually. The payback is under 2 years. In your case, you might also be using the same thermostat to save on air conditioning in the summer, meaning your savings could be higher. You may also have a larger space than my 550 square foot apartment, which would also mean potentially higher savings. If you are heating with gas, the savings rate in winter would be lower than mine as gas is a cheaper fuel than electricity.

If 2 years isn’t a fast enough payback for you, there is a government program right now that will buy you a smart thermostat and install it for free! They also now have a rebate program for renters.

Shower Water Meter

As a Christmas gift this year, my brother gave me a Bluetooth water meter that can easily be installed on a shower head. It gives you instant feedback on how much water and energy you are using via a small display and you can download aggregate data over Bluetooth. It even has a little graphic of a polar bear on an iceberg, which slowly melts as your shower lasts longer and longer! At the end of your shower, it gives you a rating A through F. At first I thought this thing is silly – I already take efficient showers – but I decided to give it a go anyways.

Amphiro B1 Shower Water Meter

I took a couple of “normal” showers and found that I was using around 13-15L of water each time, which was in the B range. What! B?! Unacceptable! So the challenge was on. There is a degree of gamification to it to see how low you can go while still maintaining proper hygiene. I got down to 5L with extreme rushing, but eventually I’ve now settled into the range of about 7-10L per shower – average savings of about 40%! Even though I thought I was efficient already, the instant feedback really helped to encourage more savings. The easiest way to save water is to shut the faucet off while you are applying soap, shampoo, etc and turn it back on again to rinse off.

The cost savings from taking showers is a bit of a different story than the thermostat. Because my showers were fairly efficient to begin with, the savings are quite low even though I was able to decrease my consumption by a significant percentage. However, the average person uses about 65L of water per shower! If you were able to reduce from that level to the 10L range, you could save over $100 per year for each person in the household (assuming you are taking showers in the morning and therefore heating with on peak electricity)! Savings would be about $30 per person per year if you heat with gas since it is a cheaper fuel and doesn’t have time of use charges. And don’t forget you would also be saving about $50 per person per year of water no matter which fuel you are heating with. A family of 4 could save over $600 annually if they heat with electricity or over $300 if they heat with gas just by reducing shower length. Also, you can compete with each other to see who can be the most efficient!

Overall, I’ve found the smart thermostat and the bluetooth shower meter to be fun ways to play with technology and to encourage energy savings. Hopefully you are able to get creative with energy savings at home as well!

But wait! Don’t forget that here at UHN we also walk the talk about sustainability! In fact, this week Global Green and Healthy Hospitals presented UHN with Gold medal awards in Climate Resiliency and Climate Leadership! Congrats to everyone involved!