Individual Climate Action


As floods, storms, fire batter us from coast to coast to coast, most realize that climate change is here and ravaging our way of life. But aside from buying an electric vehicle -- and having the money to do so -- and perhaps turning off the lights or buying LED light bulbs, we're at a loss as to what else to do. We're not only strapped for cash, we're strapped for knowledge on individual climate action.

Climate change is a population-level event, and solutions seem to be on the global level. But individuals' climate actions can add together to make a country-wide difference.We're not helpless, though too many of our leaders are conveying that message by calling climate action an assault on oil and gas. We don't use peat, manure, and wood to heat our homes anymore -- coal then oil then natural gas superseded them, each superior to the previous fuel source -- yet we must now stop improving our heating source?

HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) companies and solar installers don't help the situation either. The former bleat that heat pump technology isn't reliable, doesn't work in Canada's frigid climate, or isn't mature yet (myths all); the latter may present slightly deceptive quotations. Plus the red tape is fucking insane! You end up with entities like the Ontario ESA being so far behind the times, they suddenly ban house batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall from being installed indoors, as if they're brand-new untested technology, using what-ifisms as excuses.

How Heat Pumps Work

Governments, too, create helplessness by making token efforts, announced through one-time media press releases. Unless you happen to catch them, you won't know that help is out there. Perhaps by the time you do, the stampede for the token dollars has hoovered them all up, and you're out of luck.

Transitioning away from the last century to a carbon-less future takes money. The urgency of the problem means climate action must happen now, yet most individuals or families won't have the cash on hand. Like with pandemic proofing our homes, we need governments to provide grants, subsidies, and forgivable loans. Not for a token 170,000 households in a country of 38 million people, as Canada has done under the Greener Homes initiative, but for as many as need them - because we have to retrofit now and Canadians don't have the decades it takes to pay off mortgages and then save up for retrofits. Only government heft can make that happen.

But all is not lost if you don't have pots of money. City governments are picking up the slack with both funding and practical help. Writing to your local Councillor will get you the information you need. Some neighbourhoods are banding together to support homeowners as they pursue the nightmare of retrofitting. Oh dear, should I have said that? Yeah, it's a fucking nightmare. But you'll literally, physically feel better when it's done. Your home will be warmer; the air will be noticeably cleaner; you'll feel stronger; you'll breathe (literally) easier. And you'll be the envy of those around you!

I think it's important you know the reality so you're prepared. The reason why I found it a fucking nightmare was because I was not prepared for the crap. Nobody warned me. Nobody reached in to help me in a practical way, something as a person with a brain injury I badly needed. I had the support of my medical team, but they couldn't navigate the red tape, make the daily calls or emails to get people moving, try to understand how the technology worked so I'd make good decisions.

The problem?

CleanTech or retrofitting is still being presented as if everyone is an early adopter who's more interested in doing anything for the climate, no matter the sacrifice, than in just having a warm, comfortable home that works for you. It's presented as if only those who'll retrofit are healthy and wealthy.

The problem with that?

CleanTech has advanced so much that it's ready to create warm, comfortable homes that work for their dwellers. It's time installers started providing the kind of customer service good HVAC companies provide when installing traditional furnaces. Disabled, low-income homeowners want to contribute their part to reversing or stopping climate change, too; we need the industry to think accessibility.

I'm writing this series of blogs to dispel the myths and show the way through the crap. I hope this series will prepare you so it's not a nightmare for you!

You're probably already familiar with upgrading your windows to low-e, Argon-filled double panes, replacing incandescent and CFL light bulbs with LEDs, insulating your walls and attic. You may be less familiar with exterior insulation and house wrap and smart thermostats. And not familiar with solar panels, heat pumps, and induction stoves. So I'll be focusing on those in the next few weeks.

Get Your Data!

To begin, start collecting data on your house. If your utility, eg Toronto Hydro, provides usage data, set up an account and begin noticing your hourly consumption and what consumes the most electricity. You can track it in Google sheets or simply print out the bar charts and put them in a binder so you can compare them over time. Add to that data your natural gas consumption. Total up your monthly cost outlay for both over the prior year or two. There's no point in pursuing Individual Climate Action if you can't see for yourself how it lowers your total monthly operating costs, especially as the capital costs are new for most of us.

You may encounter experts who give you numbers and facts, but are like meta-analyses subbing in for medical research or press releases for original reportage. Instead of collecting their own data on their own homes, they rely on industry standards or what others tell them. This leads to myth making because they're not challenging what they're told or investigating for themselves, and then you run into problems when you want to track your usage data, your own operating costs, so as to understand how to run your new power, heating, and cooling system. It's taken me months to learn how to track my own data after the retrofit, and I'll talk about that later so you don't have to bang your head against ignorance, red tape, and inaccessible systems...well, as much as I did, anyway!

If you live in Toronto, go to SolarTO. Request a report from them if you don't find your place on their map. It's free! If you're not in Toronto, see if your city has a similar service.

Subscribe to Heat Geek videos and start learning about heat pumps. This technology is so very different from how we've heated our homes for centuries that it takes awhile to learn (and, to be frank, personal experience to truly get it).

Get a CO2 monitor like aranet4 and begin noticing -- and recording -- how much CO2 is in your home, which rooms accumulate CO2 the most, and how high it goes when you use your gas stove, gas oven, or your gas furnace turns on. You'll probably be shocked.

Use this same device to record your room temperatures in your home. Which rooms are the coldest? Which the warmest? How big a difference is it between the coldest and warmest?

This may seem like a lot of work, but the device has an app and you can export or take screenshots. It won't be long before you have the answers to those questions. This data, too, will prove to you and others that the capital costs are worth it when you see the changes at the end of the day.

As I sit here writing this, I could not have imagined in 2021 that my dying furnace would be replaced with a heat pump, that I'd have fulfilled my decades-long dream to have solar panels powering my place, or that my health has improved just from retrofitting.