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Appliance upgrades slash homeowner utility costs

The Region of Durham, immediately east of Toronto, is experiencing growing demands for water and energy related to the significant economic development and population growth in the region. In an effort to manage this growth more efficiently, the region, in conjunction with Tribute Communities, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), completed a project to quantify the potential savings that water, energy, gas, and CO2 could be achieved if home builders began including efficient fixtures, appliances, and landscape designs in their new home packages.

A total of 175 homes participated in this study. Upgrades included efficient clothes washers, dishwashers, toilets, showerheads, fridges, and drought-tolerant landscape packages. The cost of the upgrade package was $835 per home. Approximately half of the homes in the project received the upgrade package (study homes), while the other half received the typical fixture and appliance package offered by the builder (control homes). The main water, gas, and electricity meters for all 175 homes were read semi-monthly for one year.

Ten homes in each of the study and control groups also had sub-meters and dataloggers installed on fixtures and appliances to segregate electricity, water, and gas demands within each home. It was important to collect sub-metered data as part of this project to better assess savings related to individual fixtures and appliances as the savings identified by the ENERGY STAR program are currently based on manufacturer-supplied data and not on actual field data. The average water, electricity, natural gas, and CO2 savings achieved by the study homes in this research project were significant. Per household, water savings amounted to 132 litres per day, electricity saved was 2.6 kWh/day, natural gas savings 0.59 cubic meter/day, and CO2 reduction 1.19 tonnes/year. While savings directly related to the use of efficient fixtures and appliances was expected and achieved, a significant portion of the savings identified in this study was related to homeowners practicing efficient water and energy-use habits. Since homeowners participating as study homes were largely self-selected (i.e., they had a choice of whether or not they wished to participate in the program), it was not surprising that even their “normal” water- and energy-use habits were relatively efficient. That said, the water and energy savings identified in both the sub-metered and non-sub-metered groups of homes was far greater than could be predicted based on the use of efficient fixtures and appliances alone.

The annual utility cost savings for the study homes is slightly more than $200 per year, and the payback associated with providing the upgrade package was only 3.4 years. This payback period is very reasonable, especially when you consider that the efficient fixtures and appliances installed in these homes will last much longer than 3.4 years, after which homeowners will start to save more than $200 each year in utility costs.

The results of this project help quantify the potential for water, energy, natural gas, and CO2 reductions related to the installation of efficiency fixtures and appliances in new homes. For example, while many Canadian references and websites identify indoor per capita demands of 250 litres per day or greater, this study has shown that demands of as low as 147 litres per capita per day can be achieved in new homes – a demand rate that challenges that of many European countries. What’s more, with the potential to incorporate further efficiencies into new homes, such as hot water recirculation systems, rainwater harvesting systems, grey water harvesting systems, etc., this demand could be even further reduced.

Identifying the real water and energy savings available to new home construction is important in terms of planning future development and home construction. This study shows that it is both cost-effective and environmentally responsible for new home builders to begin including efficient fixtures, appliances, and landscape packages in their new home designs. The Durham region will continue to work with builders and developers to attain increased water efficiency.

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