(Em)Powering up for winter

The Empower Me program helps make homes more energy-efficient. | Photo courtesy of Empower Me

As winter looms ahead again, people bring forth woollens and knits. However, what precautionary measures are they taking for their houses?

Deborah Wong, communications coordinator of the Empower Me program, talks about saving energy, money and the environment over the winter through simple tips that help make homes more energy efficient.

Weathering the move

Immigration is a stressful event in itself, but there may sometimes be the added pressure of adjusting to a different climate, especially if one has relocated to another part of the globe.

“I had never used a thermostat before I moved here seven years ago, and I was not familiar with a furnace,” Wong says. “I was lucky that I had mentors in my life to teach me the know-how of settling into and surviving a Canadian winter.”

Yet a number of new immigrants do not have the knowledge or resources to deal with the changes that they must adapt to.

“Many of us don’t even know how garbage recycling or composting worked because it’s just not something that is emphasized in the home countries we come from, and the different parts of Metro Vancouver, like Richmond, Langley and North Vancouver all have different recycling systems, so one must understand how it works, which can be a little overwhelming,” she says.

In Canada’s multicultural communities, lots of families find themselves living with very high energy bills, drafty rooms and sometimes mould growing in areas of their homes.

“To top it off, you also have the language barrier,” Wong adds. “I had never previously known what ‘adding insulation’ meant. Single family homes here are made of wood which are, as opposed to concrete, very different in how they withstand the elements.”

Families may also not buy a house outright, but rent one. If they do, they face the confusion of separate utility bills, which many pay off without questioning the amount. This is why the Empower Me program includes an explanation of how utilities work, and the complexities surrounding them, which a lot of people don’t know much about.

The Empower Me program helps with overcoming these hurdles that newcomers and other communities face by offering free, personalized energy advice with the objective of saving money on energy bills and, as a happy consequence, helping the environment. All of this is delivered to communities by hired members that belong to the same community, to maintain a standard of trust. Many new families are from countries where corruption and scams are rampant, and so they naturally view civic relationships with a wary eye.

Baby steps

Vancouverite’s biggest concern would be insulation, according to Wong, since it can reduce energy bills by half.

“Upgrading your insulation can help. In addition to that, installing weatherstripping around your home can help you save energy and money to boot! It air-seals your home to ensure all the heat is kept in,” she says.

Small behavioural changes can also make a big impact too and cost nothing. Wong suggests limiting showers to five minutes, preferably with low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators that will cut down on water usage and water heating costs. Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot.

“Keep your home between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius,” says Wong. “One relatively inexpensive change you can make that will be impactful, would be buying a programmable thermostat.”

The province of B.C. offers up to $3,000 and the City of North Vancouver offers up to $350 towards the purchase of a heat pump. However, no matter what strategy you use, Ms. Wong advises to do a good amount of research beforehand.

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