Canadian Living guide to greener living

Canadian Living guide to greener living



Canadian Living guide to greener living

Household energy
• You can improve your furnace's energy efficiency by up to 50 per cent by simply cleaning or replacing its filter every two months.

• For every degree Celsius you lower your thermostat, you save up to three per cent on your heating bill. Keeping the temperature at 18 C (64.5 F) instead of the standard 21 C (70 F) saves you 14 per cent.

Tip: Install a programmable thermostat, then set it to lower your home's temperature at bedtime and kick in before the alarm goes off in the morning. If no one is home during the day, drop the temperature during that time, too.

• If your electric water heater is more than seven years old, wrap it with a fibreglass blanket to help it retain heat. If you're thinking of replacing it, go tankless with on-demand hot water that heats as you go. This can cut up to 50 per cent off your water-heating costs and is better for the environment.

• To cool your home, close the drapes and blinds during the day and use a ceiling fan. If you need air conditioning, use it sparingly. Keep it at 24 C (75 F). Raise the setting when you go out or set your programmable thermostat to do so.

• Replace incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Even though they may initially cost more, fluorescent bulbs pay off by using 75 per cent less electricity, which means lower hydro bills, and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Tip: Switch five of your most used lights to Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent bulbs and save more than $30 per year.

• Think about installing automatic timers for your outdoor lighting or using motion detectors.

Adopt a lights-out policy. Turn out all lights when you leave a room and double-check that everything is off before leaving the house.

• Spot and fix energy leaks in your home to keep hydro costs down.

Check it out:
• Visit for a list of companies that offer home-energy audits.

• If your fridge is more than 10 years old, it uses 60 per cent more energy than new models. Maximize its energy efficiency by keeping the temperature at 3 C (37 F) and the freezer at -18 C (0 F). Your food will be perfectly chilled, without using excess energy.

• Make your fridge and freezer run at their energy-efficient best and prolong their lives by cleaning the condenser once or twice a year so their motors don't have to run as long or often.

Use your microwave whenever you can. It uses 75 per cent less energy than a conventional oven.

• Compare energy-efficiency ratings on EnerGuide labels. A pilotless gas oven can cook a casserole for an hour at less than half the cost of an electric one. Gas ranges are well insulated and typically cook food faster, so they don't have to be powered for as long.

When you put the kettle on for tea, plug it in. An electric kettle takes half as much energy to boil water than it does to use a stove-top kettle.

• Save energy by steaming veggies in a countertop double-decker steamer. It uses less water and power and cooks food faster than a stove-top model.

Make sure your dishwasher carries a full load before switching it on. It will be more energy and water efficient and –- bonus -– your dishes come out cleaner, too. Skip the dry cycle and let your dishes air-dry, or opt for the cool-dry rather than the heat-dry setting to cut energy use by 15 to 50 per cent.

Check it out: offers expert, independent ratings on everything from appliances to electronics. has tips on energy-efficient appliances. and have more clever ways to cut your energy use at home.
• Find out how eco-friendly your diet is with the Eating Green calculator by the U.S. Center for Science and Public Interest. The Eating Green calculator shows how small dietary changes, such as replacing daily servings of meat and dairy products with fruit, vegetables and whole grains, can affect the health of our planet.

In the kitchen
• Educate yourself about what you are eating. The Endangered Fish Alliance lists four items on the endangered list that we should avoid: swordfish, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy and certain types of caviar. Visit for a printable guide.

Buy organic when you can. Organic farming causes less pollution from pesticides and produces less carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas. Not sure where to buy organic? Visit the Canadian Organic Growers for a list of where to buy organics across the country.

• When buying groceries, consider the four “N” philosophy: natural (no pesticides and as little processing as possible), naked (minimal packaging), nutritious and now (in season).

Try buying local food whenever possible. You're supporting the local economy, the produce is more likely to be fresh (most will have been picked within 24 hours) and you can ask about the grower's farming practices, such as pesticide use. Another bonus: Local produce isn't transported long distances, so the environment also benefits from reduced fuel usage and emissions.

Consider going veggie at least two or three times a week. It takes up to 5,000 gallons of water to raise one pound of meat; one pound of wheat takes 25 gallons.

• Rinse fruit and vegetables before and after peeling instead of continuously under running water.

• Scrape appropriate food residue into a compost bin instead of rinsing it down the drain -– it's easier on our water-treatment systems.

• Use no more than the recommended amount of detergent when washing up.

Pack lunches in reusable containers and opt for dining in rather than taking out to avoid disposable packaging.

In the living room
• An open gas fireplace wastes up to 85 per cent of the gas it uses because, like a wood-burning fireplace, the fire sucks heat from inside and sends it out through the chimney. Direct-vent gas fireplaces burn more efficiently and deliver more heat to your room. A direct-vent gas fireplace can also save you up to $80 a year in heating costs.

• Turn your home's thermostat down when the fire is on, keep the glass doors clean and closed so they transmit heat more efficiently, and make sure the damper is closed and properly sealed when the flames die. With a gas fireplace, be sure to turn it off.

Tip: You can save 40 to 50 per cent of the total gas your fireplace uses each year by turning off its pilot light in the summer.

• Your computer, TV, VCR, DVD player and other electronics sip on power even when they're turned off. Unplug electronics when you won't be using them for a day or longer. Remember to pull the plugs on these items at the cottage, too.

Did you know… Having plants around your house can cut indoor air pollutants by more than half? English ivy and peace lilies absorb toxic gases such as formaldehyde and benzene. Plants can also help keep your home cool in the summer and insulated in the winter.

In the bathroom
• Do you have a cabinet full of expired medications? Don't flush them away. Most pharmacies and/or municipalities will take your old medications and dispose of them in a safe and secure manner.

Change your bathing routine by switching from baths to showers. A bath uses more than 80 litres of water; a shower uses less than 38 litres every five minutes.

• If you prefer taking a shower to soaking in a bath, shorten your time; 10 minutes is too long. Also, a low-flow showerhead and faucet will save as much as 50 per cent of the water you use each time.

• Low-flush toilets conserve water and reduce the greenhouse gases produced in the water-purification process.

• Newer toilet tanks use about six litres of water -– about two-thirds less than old models. If you don't want to buy a new toilet, place a one-litre capped plastic water bottle in the tank to replace some of the water so less is used for each flush.
Did you know… Faucets run seven to 11 litres of water each minute. Turn off taps when you aren't using them.

Check it out:
Looking for eco-friendly home furnishing and decor products? Try the following:
•Â Habitat for Humanity ReStore
•Â Home Again Recycling
•Â Green Home Centre
•Â Forest Stewardship Council

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• To save energy, rinse your clothes in cold water and hang them up to dry whenever possible.

• When you use your dryer, dry one load of laundry right after another to take advantage of an already toasty dryer, and clean the lint filter before every load to increase energy efficiency by as much as 30 per cent. Did you know… Front-loading washing machines and dryers use 40 per cent less water and up to 68 per cent less energy.

Use rags instead of paper towels for cleaning up messes around the house. Paper towels are thrown into the trash after every use.

• Try a dry cleaner that uses GreenEarth, a safe, nontoxic cleaning process to dry-clean clothes.

Use all cleaning supplies, including dryer sheets, bleach and fabric softeners, judiciously.

• In a pinch, a mixture of vinegar and water cleans glass just as well as a store-bought product, and newspaper buffs glass to a streak-free shine. Consider using a damp cloth to dust furniture. A half litre (two cups) of mineral oil mixed with five millilitres (one teaspoon) of lemon oil makes a great furniture polish. Try baking soda and water to clean bathroom surfaces.

Did you know… You can purchase eco-friendly drain opener, dish soap and furniture polish at green specialty stores. Visit for a directory.

Hazardous waste in your home
• Many common household products contain hazardous chemicals, which contaminate our water, soil and air. It is important to be aware of the hazardous products and materials we use around the house and dispose of them with care.

• Compact fluorescent bulbs are energy efficient but contain mercury and should not be thrown in the garbage. Return them to the point of purchase after use; Ikea, for example, will properly recycle these bulbs for you.

• Rechargeable batteries contain corrosive heavy metals that contaminate soil and water. You can take them to Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Sears and select Ikea stores for recycling. For other locations, visit

• Used propane tanks contain trace amounts of combustible propane, so if they are discarded along with household trash they could explode during garbage collection. Many propane dealers will take back tanks; choose one that does.

• According to Environment Canada, every year we throw away or burn 158,000 tons of obsolete computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, televisions, mobile phones and similar products. These objects contain significant pollutants, such as lead, mercury, polybrominated flame retardants and cadmium, some of which eventually leach into our soil and groundwater. However, they also contain recyclable materials, such as copper, steel, aluminum and plastic.

Tip: Donate working electronics that you no longer need; charities and schools are a good place to start. Or contact your local waste-management facility or municipal government for an electronics recycler in your area.

• Look for hazardous-product symbols when you shop. For example, the toxic/poison symbol indicates the product can be damaging to living organisms.

• Ask about local programs that divert potentially hazardous or bulky items, such as scrap tires, electronics, used oil materials and rechargeable batteries, from landfills.

• Paint and paint thinner are flammable and toxic. If poured down the drain, sewers or dumped onto the ground, they will contaminate the soil and groundwater, including drinking water, and poison wildlife. Contact your municipality to see where you can safely dispose of them.

Follow these guidelines:
• Read and follow all directions carefully. Store hazardous materials, such as solvents, securely in a well-ventilated area.

• Always keep each material in its original labelled container and use only for the intended purposes.

• Give products time to work instead of using excess to finish the job faster.

• Buy products only in the smallest possible quantity – and give leftovers to someone else to use.

Dispose with care. Check with retailers and your municipality to find out how you can safely dispose of hazardous products.

Check it out:
• For more environmentally friendly ways to clean around the house, visit

Check it out:
Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention
Toronto Environmental Alliance for info on pesticides and nontoxic alternatives, smog, waste reduction, etc.
E-Waste Management/recycling

• Look for the recycled symbol and support businesses that you know are environmentally responsible.

Did you know… The materials and quantity of packaging a company uses are a good gauge of its eco-friendliness.

Buy products that aren't over-packaged, and let retailers and manufacturers know you are unhappy with excess packaging.

Did you know… Most companies have a customer service e-mail address or phone number posted on their website. Take the time to provide them with your feedback if you don't think their products are green enough.

• Rent, borrow or buy secondhand instead of buying new, when possible.

• Choose products in refillable, reusable or recyclable containers.

• What beauty products are waiting in the kitchen? Organic extra-virgin olive oil can be used to heal dry, ragged cuticles and split ends or broken hair cuticles, as well as moisturize the skin and lips. Simply apply the oil to problem areas.

• Buying in bulk usually means less packaging for the products you purchase as well as a savings on gas because you aren't making as many trips to the store.

Bring your own reusable shopping bags. Also, most grocery stores have large boxes they're happy to give away.

• Major fashion brands now make clothing using organic cotton and other all-natural materials such as bamboo. Take a small step by investing in an item that is made with organic materials.

• Currently favoured among Hollywood starlets and style setters, vintage clothing is a fabulous way to be eco-smart because wearing vintage fashion gives new life to an item that was on its way to being waste.

Tip: Dust off old pieces of jewelry from your grandmother's treasures. Everyone will ask about that one-of-a-kind piece.

• Buying a gift? Think about greener alternatives that don't have lots of packaging or manufacturing: gift certificates to a restaurant; prepay a month's worth of art lessons; adopt a piece of wetland on someone's behalf. For more info, visit World Wildlife Fund Canada's website.

If you wrap gifts, be creative: use newspaper, leftover wallpaper, store bags or magazine pages. Save cards and recycle them into gift tags.

Check it out:
To ensure you are buying an ecologically sustainable product, look for Canada's Environmental Choice EcoLogo symbol.

Household waste
Look for creative ways to reuse household items: the handles of broken hockey sticks make sturdy garden stakes; beads, feathers and even old greeting cards find new life in handcrafted items; margarine tubs or coffee cans make great storage containers –- use your imagination!

• If products or materials are still usable but you no longer need them, give them away. Many charitable groups accept toys, bicycles, appliances and other household items.

Check it out:
• The site for Waste Reduction Week in Canada provides resources and contacts to assist your business or community with conservation initiatives and waste minimization.

On the road
• National Resources Canada says that a single city bus can hold as many passengers as 40 cars, saving 10,646 litres of fuel and reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 25 tonnes. On a smaller scale, an average van of seven passengers emits about seven times less pollution per kilometre than an individual who commutes alone.

• According to Canada's Go for Green Organization, each Canadian makes an average of 2,000 car trips of less than three kilometres each year. If half of these trips were converted to walking or biking, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 250 kilograms.

• Active and Safe Routes to School, a program of Go for Green Canada, can help you organize an initiative in which parents share the responsibility of walking a group of kids to school.

Did you know… If all students in Canada walked or biked to school on the same day, 3,149 tonnes worth of carbon dioxide emissions would be prevented.

• Find alternative ways to commute to work. The Commuter Challenge encourages Canadians to use sustainable modes of transportation.

Idling not only wastes fuel but also unnecessarily pollutes the environment. If every driver avoided idling for five minutes one day, that single day would result in a savings of 1.8 million litres of fuel and $1.7 million in fuel costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4,500 tonnes.

Tip: Follow the 10-second rule. Here's how it works: Turn your car off if you're sitting in traffic for more than 10 seconds. When you start up your car in the morning, idle for no more than 30 seconds -– the best way to warm up an engine is to start driving.

• A few adjustments to your driving style and regular maintenance checkups on your vehicle will allow for a longer life for your car -– and a cleaner, greener commute for you.

Check it out:
The Personal Vehicles Initiative of Natural Resources Canada provides motorists with helpful tips on buying, driving and maintaining vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. And for those looking for a new set of wheels, there's even an online guide to the most fuel-efficient vehicles for the current model year.

• Accelerating wears down your engine and tires and isn't fuel-efficient. You can save fuel by using cruise control when driving on highways.

Tip: Decrease your driving speed from 100 to 90 kilometres per hour and improve the fuel economy of your car by 10 per cent.

• Proper tire inflation and maintenance prolongs the life of your tires and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by increasing fuel efficiency. Properly inflated tires can save up to two weeks' worth of gas every year.

• Consider using alternative fuels that emit fewer pollutants than gasoline. For example, ethanol, a renewable fuel, which is now available at more than 1,000 gas stations across Canada, can be blended with gasoline.

Check it out:
• To create a walking or cycling school bus in your community, visit Everyone will reap the benefits.

• To find a car pool in your area, visit To calculate your savings from carpooling, use the calculator at.

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• Foster a commitment to the environment with hobbies and leisure activities that are easy on the environment and your wallet, too.

Share hobby materials, especially toxic ones, with another enthusiast to reduce waste.

• Keep potential craft items, such as ribbons, felt and old buttons, for reuse, or check with a local seniors' club, hospital, school or day care to donate them.

Borrow books, magazines, videos and games instead of buying them. Donate used items, such as games and sporting goods, to charity.

• Avoid activities, such as ATVing, that harm a forest's ecosystem.

In the garden & outdoors
Disconnect your downspout. In a city, your eavestroughs likely drain into a downspout connected to the sewer system. Heavy rain can overtax the system, releasing sewage, oil, pesticide residues and other contaminants into lakes and rivers. Some cities will disconnect your downspout for free. Less water flowing through municipal treatment plants saves money, too.

Use a rain barrel. Set it under your downspout to reduce the load on storm sewers and lower your utility bill. To reduce the risk of West Nile virus, buy one with a mosquito screen or simply empty the barrel twice weekly.

• Direct your downspout's outflow into low ground, then plant a bog garden of moisture-loving native plants there to provide a haven for dragonflies, frogs, toads and –- if you're lucky -– turtles. The North American Native Plant Society shows you how at

• Conserve water. Dig compost into your flowerbeds, plant native species, and mulch around plants, shrubs and trees. The Clean Water Foundation says just five centimetres of mulch reduces a flowerbed's water requirements by 70 per cent. It also slows weed growth.

• Water wisely, if you must. Watering cans and soaker hoses waste the least. And water early in the day to prevent evaporation. Occasional, deep watering is better than frequent, light sprinkling.

Don't use hazardous insecticides. Use alternatives such as insecticidal soap, horticultural (also called “dormant”) oil, or powders containing pyrethrins. Even these can kill or harm desirable insects and plants; use sparingly and with care.

Tip: Find easy, eco-smart solutions at Environment Canada.

Try companion planting. If you plant chives among roses, the former will help keep aphids away from the latter.

Check it out:
• Find more ideal couples at; click on Gardening Information, then Garden Tips.

Select native species. Naturally suited to your area, native species require little care and provide food and habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Buy only nursery-cultivated plants, and don't dig native species from the wild.

• Avoid invasive imports (including pond fish and plants) and never release any into the wild. Learn more at Hinterland Who's Who.

Plant a tree and clean the air; cool the summer heat; increase the quiet, beauty and privacy in your yard; and provide wildlife habitat. Some municipalities offer a rebate for every tree you plant. Tree Canada has tips.

• Large swathes of any single species of plants attract pests and diseases; a mix not only stays healthier, it is more interesting and supports a greater variety of living creatures. Learn more from Environment Canada.

• Welcome beneficial creatures. The Canadian Wildlife Federation tells you how with instructions for ponds, bird and bat houses, toad shelters and snake dens. Birds and bats help control the pesky-insect population, and your junior naturalists will love to spot frogs, salamanders and worms.

Don't burn yard debris. Hazardous, smoke particulates stay in the air for days. Compost instead.

Recycle garden and kitchen waste by composting to halve garbage and reduce greenhouse gases from landfills. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, makes it more porous and less likely to erode, and boosts the beneficial organisms it can support. And it's free!

Check it out:
• The website of the Composting Council of Canada has lots of advice.

• Use a peat alternative. Extraction of peat destroys ancient wetlands that filter groundwater, prevent flooding and support wildlife that includes rare species and migrating birds. To help your soil hold moisture, use coir (coconut fibre). To boost the acid content, dig in shredded cedar bark or evergreen needles.

Sow drought-tolerant and disease-resistant grass; don't water established lawns during dry spells; let mown grass lie to nourish the earth and conserve moisture; and leave any clover (its roots add nitrogen to the soil). Top-dress with compost, reseed bald spots, rake out thatch and keep mower blades sharp and set at least 6.5 centimetres
(2? inches) aboveground, says Greenpeace.

Use clippers, rakes and push mowers instead of power trimmers, blowers and mowers. It's more efficient and less expensive, and you'll get some exercise as you enjoy a quiet, clean atmosphere.

At the cottage
Avoid using pressure-treated wood because the chemicals leach into the soil and water. Natural, untreated wood makes the safest and smartest choice for docks or any other structure that comes into contact with water. Cedar, Douglas fir, hemlock and tamarack are all ideal.

• Lead sinkers left in rivers and lakes contaminate the water and endanger wildlife, so dispose of them properly.

Leave dead trees standing when they don't pose a safety hazard to people or buildings. Standing dead trees, or snags, are a critical habitat for many species of small wildlife and return nutrients to the soil.

• If your motorboat has a two-stroke engine, it's discharging oil and gas into the water and hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into the air. Alternatively, four-stroke engines recirculate oil, so it's constantly reused.

• Use your own energy instead of an engine. Paddle a canoe rather than drive a Jet Ski, or go cross-country skiing instead of jumping on a snowmobile.

• Avoid waterskiing and tubing; dragging people behind powerboats puts a heavy tax on the water system. More weight means more gas needed, which means more pollution in our water system.

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Canadian Living guide to greener living