Recently, my husband and I stood in the weather stripping aisle of our local hardware store considering the myriad varieties of adhesive backed insulating foam tape, door thresholds, putties, and good old-fashioned rubber weather stripping. This is what dates become after ten years of marriage. Then we stared blankly at each other and asked, “What do you think we need?” To which each of us replied, “I thought you knew!” and then dug frantically in our pockets for our phones to ask Google. Standing in the hardware store, pouring over YouTube videos with titles like “How to Install Weather Stripping for Dummies” (yes, it’s a real title) while our two children sagged against the shelves looking put upon, was not our finest moment. It did however, result in an armful of cost effective purchases that we are steadily installing around our home. Despite their innocuous appearance, these tapes and putties have indeed made the house less drafty. My perpetually cold feet have noted the difference.

This adventure in weather stripping was precipitated by a dawning awareness that for all our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint by keeping the thermostat at 19°C in the winter and layering on some extra sweaters, we may (in fact) be heating the outdoors through a leaky home. My mother’s voice kept playing a refrain of “Close the door, we don’t want to pay to heat the outdoors!” in my head. In the context of the global conversation about climate change, this may seem like a small thing. But, as an outdoor educator who works with students to figure out how they can change their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint, this felt like an opportunity for learning.

At Mountsberg, we teach our students that we cannot simply rely on governments to effect the massive reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions required to keep the planet from what is termed “catastrophic” climate change. The problem is too large and too complex to be solved using a solely top down approach. It is the single most important issue facing us as a species. However, it is also an issue from which we are easily distracted. This distraction is due in part to the complexity of the issue, but it also owes to the fact that until it is your own house that has a basement full of water or a forest fire in the backyard there are many other issues that appear more immediate. We cannot afford to be distracted. Solving climate change is a task that must become embedded in the way we vote, the way we spend, and the way we behave. The good news is that with practically every lifestyle decision we make, we have an opportunity to make a difference. When it comes to our homes the opportunities are enormous. Greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector are a significant contributor to total emissions in Ontario and are projected to increase by 6 mega tonnes (or 15%) from 2012-2020.

The province of Ontario has made a commitment to making near-net-zero energy homes the norm for new construction by 2030 as part of the Ontario Climate Change Strategy. A net zero energy building is one that is energy-efficient and uses renewable energy sources to produce as much energy as it consumes. Net zero energy homes are poised to save home owners 30-55% on their operating costs while significantly reducing dangerous GHG emissions from space heating, cooling, and electricity use.

However, turn over in building stock is a slow process, a very slow process. Existing buildings will still represent more than 75% of structures in Canada in the year 2030. For those of us living in older homes, home improvements will have an important role to play in reducing our impact in the coming decades, which are crucial in the fight against climate change.

Which brings us back to our adventures in weather stripping. Sealing leaky windows, doors, and baseboards has proven to be an addictive gateway to learning about more ways to make our home more comfortable and energy efficient. However, the information available can be overwhelming. For people (like me) who need to see things in practice to understand them, a visit to the Reep House for Sustainable Living, located in Kitchener, is an inspirational tour through all the changes, big and small, that can be made to improve the climate impact of your home. From simple fixes like weather stripping and LED light bulbs to bigger investments like added insulation and energy star appliances, touring through the demonstration home or taking part in a workshop can help you better understand where to start.

The cost for some of these improvements can be intimidating however, the province of Ontario, Save On Energy, and natural gas suppliers have partnered to offer a suite of significant rebates for energy saving home improvements and a Home Winterizing program for lower income homes. The rebates vary depending on the company in question so you will want to check your natural gas supplier’s website for specifics in your area. Look for rebates for furnace upgrades, added insulation, new energy efficient windows, weatherizing, and smart thermostats among others.

Made brave by our adventures in weather stripping, we will be booking an energy audit see what we can do to further reduce our emissions and save a few dollars. Because, while we don’t mind curling up as a family under a blanket to avoid a draft, the practice becomes a bit awkward when having guests. In the meantime, we will continue to seal around our leaky windows, doors, and baseboards to achieve a more comfortable living space. When it comes to climate change, surrendering to despair is not an option. The only option is action, and so I have a roll of weather stripping in one hand and a caulking gun in the other and I am not afraid to use them.

Resources

Ontario Climate Change Strategy

Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

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Last modified: December 5, 2017

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