Hate your Low-Flow Toilet? Help is here.

Anyone who as watched a low-flow toilet balk at flushing one kleenex and wondered who approved its production will be happy to know that there are indeed good low-flow toilets and bad low-flow toilets.

Better yet: There is a list!

According to CBC’s consumer protection show Marketplace in 2003,

Roman Kaszczij runs the city of Toronto’s toilet replacement program. He says there are hundreds of CSA-approved six litre toilets on the Canadian market. He hasn’t tested all of them — but only 24 meet his standards.

“We did a test a couple of years ago. We just pulled toilets off the shelf and tested them. Over 50 per cent of them did not flush with six litres,” Kaszczij said.

Kaszczij needs to know which toilets do work. Toronto offers a $60 – $75 rebate for anyone who will replace a water waster with a low-flow toilet. But there is a catch: you have to buy one of the 24 toilets on Kaszczij’s list.

Well, that was 5 long years ago. Now there are more toilets on the City of Toronto’s Hit List:

List of actually effective Low-Flow toilets  (updated May 2011!)

By the way, CMHC/SCHL provides a list of some of the bad low-flow toilets in this article. That article also includes a list of good toilets. Here is a link to all of CMHC/SCHL’s toilet-related research to date. These researchers were involved in the study that forms the rationale for the Toronto list and their elaborate testing method is detailed here – complete with pictures and elaborate tables. I am happy to see that there was an effort to test them using some kind of actual shit substitute rather than relying on wishful greenness. A few other non-technical background articles relating to the study (including reactions by some manufacturers) are here and here. It seems that these researchers are actually the vanguard of toilet testing in North America. Now that we can put our plungers down, we can salute them for their valuable work!


Stop Heat Loss with Window Insulation

Windows can account for at least 25% of heating loss, perhaps as much as 37%. If you are looking for something quick and easy you can do to minimize your heating bill, this should be on your list.

There are an increasing number of options these days but here we will focus on the least expensive. The best is probably buying new energy efficient windows with special coatings added during the manufacturing process but that is an investment and for those Americans battling the mortgage disaster, giving even more money to the house is not on. Next option please….

Insulating films that require a blowdryer to install

It comes in boxes that cover a couple of windows and it also comes in roles. It is sometimes called ‘shrink film’ or ‘window insulating kit’. It adheres to the window frame rather than the window so that there is an airspace between the film and the window. This airspace is your friend: it acts as insulation.

The potential sloppiness of this Saran Wrap-like film is limited by using a blowdryer to slightly heat the film. The heat causes the film to contract and voilà – the bagginess disappears. Distortion is minimal and heat savings are significant. The cost of the film is very low. At Home Depot in Canada, it is about $20 for 5.5 ft x 25 ft. About the same with Revy/Rona. If you don’t have a blow dryer, you can use a heatgun instead according to this forum.

A few tips (feel free to add your comments below!): Do not trim the edges for a few days! Sometimes the tape will not stick to irregular edges and will peel away. This means there will be an unfixable hole along the edge and you will have to buy another sheet and redo it. Also, doing it in the evening makes it easier to see the irregularities. All in all, strangely satisfying to install! I think there are probably people out there shrink-filming triple-glazed windows due to the sheer pleasure of being able to make something in life visibly perfect in 20 minutes.

Insulating films that use a squeegee

Many of the companies that sell the film have an installer service as well but here is a company in Toronto that also ships the same film so that you can do-it-yourself without paying for an installer. They ship to the US and internationally. It is also available at Home Depot with a few tips for Canadians in the reviews.

This film goes directly onto the window pane and can be removed in the future (though some say this is not a simple task). According to the American hardware chain Lowes, “insulating films retain as much as 55% of a home’s heat in winter”. There is a convenient video at the bottom of the Lowe’s page that will give you an idea of how this works.

Here is a list of important tips for applying this kind of film. And reviews and tips from Amazon.com. Under some circumstances, the film can cause the glass to break. Good to know. Here is another helpful American site. They ship to Canada.

Figures on exactly how much heat will be retained and how much of a savings that translates to are confusing at best. Figures on how much summer heat is repelled are not comparable to the amount of interior winter heating is retained.

Wikipedia’s entry on this kind of insulating film is here. Note the difference when applying the film to keep the windows cool from the summer heat vs. applying it to keep the heat inside for winter energy savings. Very important.

Vinyl curtain with magnetic seal

If you have a cat that yearns for window ledges, this one’s for you. Apparently, you can secure the film to the surrounding wall with magnets and magnetic paint. The film itself is vinyl – much heavier than the shrink film. You can buy vinyl by the inch at a fabric store. (It comes in rolls and you ask the clerk to cut the size you want). You might also experiment with clear shower curtains. Remember that vinyl smells initially.

Insulating films that use ‘static cling’

I am not sure how different this is from wetting your windows, sticking a piece of vinyl on the window, and using a squeegee to push out the bubbles. I have a feeling the air pocket created by the alternative ‘vinyl curtain’ option is more insulating than this approach. Nonetheless, here is the link to an American company that sells this ‘static cling’ film. The site says it blocks up to 38% of window heat loss. They ship internationally but only by phone orders. It is also available at Home Depot in Canada.


Ahhhh – the alluring opaque light of a traditional Japanese shoji blind in… a playful petrochemical packing product! More interesting than you might think. Here is a photo from the website of one of my favourite eco-housing innovators in Australia along with a link to more details and additional photos. Note that he puts the bubbles facing the window for maximum insulation. Get distracted by his chest fridge alternative….

The website Built It Solar indicates that bubblewrap is cheap, quick to install (15 seconds!), effective, and can be easily removed if guests visit. It acts as a second pane of glass and cuts heat loss through windows by half. Not too shabby! Some other very cool DIY projects for environmental experimenters are on Built It Solar.

Note to Canadians: the maximum width of the bubblewrap you can buy at Staples/Bureau en gros is only 24 inches. Home Depot and Rona/Revy do not carry it. (They carry Reflectrix – which is bubblewrap for your radiators – a future post!) If your windows are larger (or you have some interesting design plans), you will have to special order it from either Boxshop.ca, based in Toronto or from Festival.ca, which is based in Montreal. Both ship countrywide. Most other places seem to sell it in 250 foot rolls. I think bubblewrap would work better as an ‘accent piece’…. The maximum available width is 48″. It would be nice if it came in 36″ but I cannot find it anywhere. There is coloured bubblewrap – intriguing – but the max width is 12″ and the colours are garish party colours.

The Toyota Prius of Blinds?: The Honeycomb or Cellular blind

Another product that uses air pockets as insulation but unlike shrink film, it can be rolled up. Obviously these will look a bit more polished than the shrink film but they will also cost more. They come in various formations with different R-Values. Before you outfit your home or apartment with these, remember that windows are responsible for only some of a building’s heat loss. An overview of the technology and the cost is here but they ship only in the USA. See Nobrainerblinds.com for tips on ordering and measuring blinds (they also ship to Canada).

Special Insulating Curtains

If you don’t really like blinds or think they make the room look too boxy, you can buy insulated curtains here (shipping info is here) or make them yourself, possibly out of Reflectrix. How tight to the window does it have to be? Some data here.

Coming Soon: A Post-Carbon Economy

Need some ammunition for your arguments about how to get from our fossil fuel economy to the post-carbon economy? A knock-your-socks-off interview with the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman on our current predicament and the role of government in developing a new Energy Technology economy. Will the American government create a financially viable climate for the development of alternatives to fossil fuels or will they wait for…something? Will the Chinese set out on a new course before them?

Video archived interview here

It’s an hour long and draws on his most recent book Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America. A lucid and energetic look at the energy situation without the austerity and disaster forecast that tends to come with it!

To order the book go here if in Canada, here if in Britain, and here if in the US and many other countries.

Used Construction Material

If you are doing some serious renovations and would like to keep the building material out of the landfills, the place to contact is the Habitat for Humanity Restores.

Likewise, if you are looking to buy some affordable doors, windows or other building materials, you can probably find it there. They also take paint, hardware, lumber tools, tiles, lighting fixtures, and even ovens and appliance parts at some locations.

The Restores are part of the Habitat for Humanity organization, a non-profit group of volunteers dedicated to building affordable housing. To read more about this great organization, or to get involved building houses for underprivileged families in your city, click here for the Canadian branch and here for other locations around the world. Working side-by-side with the future homeowners to help them get a leg up and out of poverty is community-building at its best.

If you own a construction company, find out how you can lend one of your employees to Habitat for its work and get a tax deduction.

Women: if you want to learn some homebuilding and construction skills but feel a little self-conscious in this traditionally male domain, the Canadian Habitat also organizes homebuilding blitzes where the volunteers are all women.

To find the co-ordinates for a Restore in your province, click here . Find a home for your used building materials and appliances, buy used and discontinued stuff at good prices, reduce landfill, and help this fine organization help other people. All good!

Good news: revolutionary new light bulb!

And it’s not the Compact Fluorescent Bulb!

It is a refinement of the LED that can be used in standard-sized bulbs (and therefore standard light sockets). The company producing it is called Lemnis Lighting and is owned by Otten and Philips – that’s Philips of electronics fame. It is based in the Netherlands and will be launching its lights there first. The new bulb is called Pharox and “is the first 3.4-watt LED bulb that produces light comparable to an ordinary 40-watt bulb.” The light quality is apparently warmer than the dreaded clinical CFB. Currently, it will cost you about $59 each (gasp!) but…it will last 35 years. It is worth remembering that VCRs also started at insane prices and now you can get them for almost nothing.


Here’s a link to an article about it from a great Dutch-based magazine called Ode that talks about the innovation. Incidentally, Ode is a print and online magazine about positive news ‘for intelligent optimists’- could be a good gift for those articulate pessimists in your life….

And this link will take you to the company that produces the bulb and give you info on where to buy it.

Buying a Flat-screen TV for Christmas? Some Options

If everybody replaces their old TVs with plasma screens, will we have to import more energy from hostile dictatorships, build more hydro-electric dams and new nuclear power stations? The short answer is: Yes.

According to a report done by the UK’s Energy Savings Trust (a non-profit organization, funded both by government and the private sector), household appliances currently account for about one third of a household’s energy . In the organization’s report The Ampere Strikes Back, the trend toward flat-screen TVs means at least a tripling of energy used to power TVs.


Here are three pieces from the British press on the topic of flat-screen TVs (both plasma and LCD) and energy use:




Australia is also having concerns about this new TV technology in its current wasteful form.

Some flat-screenTVs are less bad than others…

CNET has compared a range of models with all the data here.
: An old-fashioned (CRT) TV uses on average about 100 Watts.

The winners are:

Fewest Watts consumed (eg: least energy consuming)
Sharp LC-32D43U (Type: 32″LCD)
144.11 (Total Watts)
$44.41 (Yearly Cost)

Sharp is apparently a leader in greener TVs.

Most efficient (LCD)

Sony KDL-46S3000
46-inch LCD
202.58 (Total Watts)
$61.83 (Yearly Cost)

Most efficient (Rear Projection)
Samsung HL-T5687S
56-inch rear-projection
154.78 (Total Watts)
$47.45 (Yearly Cost)

Most efficient (Plasma)
Vizio P42HDTV- (Type: 42″ plasma)
42-inch plasma
188.26 (Total Watts)
$58.70 (Yearly Cost)

Note: Yearly cost assumes that the TV is on for 8 hours/day and that the average price of energy in the U.S. during 2006, is 10.4 cents per kilowatt hour, according to information from the Energy Information Administration


Other measures you can take to minimize your energy draw

1. Avoid using the TV as background noise. Use your radio or your laptop instead. (Note: A surprising trend from the British report revealed that over 40% of people are listening to radio through their TVs. Bad idea).

2. Turn down the LCD’s backlight

3. Turn on the power-saver mode

4. Change the settings on the TV

5. Control room lighting

6. Own fewer TVs

7. Do something else!

Source: CNET

8. Make your own energy by hooking it up to a bike-generator.


9. Compensate for your CO2 emissions by doing a little carbon offsetting. You can calculate the emissions of your chosen TV and purchase ‘offsets’ that fund alternative energy generation like wind farm projects in your country. Here’s a little intro on the topic from the beloved Canadian environmentalist and biologist David Suzuki.

Can Exercise and Watching TV be Combined? Exercise and Computers?

Yes. It can be done….and I don’t mean exercise bikes!

This way: No exercise = no power = no TV.

Here is a link to the specs for the bike-powered TV. It even includes videos! The guy who made the site is in his early fifties so you do not have to be an Olympic athlete to do it. This is such an obviously cool invention that screen-centric kids will find it intriguing to build and maybe even use it. Be the first in your neighbourhood. Say goodbye to childhood obesity! Say farewell to scheduling workouts into your day!


Science and Math teachers looking for environmental science projects will find a detailed lesson plan on that site just for you. See the link at the bottom of this page: http://www.los-gatos.ca.us/davidbu/pedgen/power_learning.html

What about running my desktop on pedal power?

If you are thinking that your desktop monitor is a lot like a TV, you are right. You would probably have trouble reading and using the mouse while pedaling but you can pedal to store energy in ultracapacitors for later use in your home office. At least that way, seat-time can be ‘earned’ or (more positively put) you can give yourself a break from sitting all day. If you think there is a possibility that you could sneak this contraption into your office cubicle, it is worth experimenting with Butcher’s notes. See his photos of the ‘homeless home office’ here: http://www.los-gatos.ca.us/davidbu/pedgen/pppm_live.html

What about my laptop?

Yes, definitely doable because laptops require a lot less energy than desktops. If you are more interested in the taking your laptop off-the-grid idea than in the fitness thing, you may be interested in solar power cells for recharging your laptop battery. Be warned: Solar cells for laptops exist but they are not cheap (yet). See:

Sierra Solar Systems: http://www.sierrasolar.com/prod_store/LAP_laptop.html – US$250 and up

Gaiam: http://www.gaiam.com/retail/3/SL_BatterChargers_BattCharger – closer to US$170

Backup-Power.ca: http://www.backup-power.ca/laptop.html – factors to consider and links to products.