Local libraries lending climate action kits

Local News

“I’ll take a bucket of climate action to go, please” is a phrase people may soon hear around local libraries. The Capital Regional District (CRD), partnered with B.C. Hydro and the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL), is offering resources to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at home in the form of kits that can be borrowed from any library in the city.

The CRD came up with the idea for Climate Action To-Go kits through its Climate Action Program, which hopes to help businesses and households address climate change.

“We’re constantly looking for new ways for people to be engaged with energy conservation,” says Sarah Webb, manager for the Climate Action Program.

Each kit comes in a compact plastic container. Each contains a Kill-A-Watt Meter, which measures the electricity use of household appliances, a thermal leak detector to discover air leaks in the home, an LED light bulb, a plastic measuring bag for testing showerhead efficiency and three books and a DVD on climate change and sustainability. The books and DVD vary depending on the particular kit.

“The tools are designed to show what people can be doing, what they are doing and what they can do to improve it,” says Climate Action Program assistant Nikki Elliott.

For example, a thermal leak in a home’s window or door sill would mean any heat turned on in that space is getting sucked outside. Adding insulation or a proper seal would reduce the need to pay more for electricity. B.C. Hydro says space heating is the largest portion of energy consumption on an average energy bill for homes that heat with electricity.

The capital region emits more than 1.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, according to the CRD. Collectively, the region spends around $700 million on energy and fuel each year.

“So a household kit is a small part of the solution. It really comes down to behaviour, technology and how we engage society in reducing energy consumption overall,” says Webb.

She adds, “We need technology, policies, changes on a larger scale, but ultimately we know this is a gateway for people to learn about these issues and then want to do something more.”

Webb and Elliott say the GVPL is an ideal partner for the CRD.

“You have people very young and old; you have small and big communities accessing [the libraries]. It’s free and convenient and kind of fun,” says Webb.

“They can reach people the regional district can’t on its own,” says Elliott.

Take the LED light bulb — it is more expensive than the incandescent bulb, but B.C. Hydro says LEDs use 75 per cent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs and can last for a minimum 25 years based on average household use.

Kit borrowers can try out the LED light bulb in their homes and use the Kill-A-Watt Meter to measure the different levels in electricity use, and then determine for themselves if it is worth the investment to buy one.

“By facilitating action, even if it’s on a trial period while the kits are on loan from the library, we believe households are more likely to realize how easy it is to save energy and then adopt the new technology or change their behaviours,” says Eric Beevor-Potts, a marketing communications specialist at B.C. Hydro.

B.C. Hydro forecasts that current supply will not meet the province’s electricity needs if demand grows the 50 per cent that is projected over the next 20 years, so it sees conservation as an important step.

The CRD is a member of B.C. Hydro’s B.C. Conservation Community of Practice, which supports energy conservation through community-based initiatives. The goal is to have other organizations around the province replicate and execute proven success models (such as the Climate Action To-Go kits) around the province, explains Beevor-Potts.

The Climate Action To-Go concept is now also running in the Sunshine Coast Regional District, after the CRD showed how to do it.

“The whole goal is to learn from others and leapfrog and continue to build momentum in different communities, both rural and urban,” says Webb.

This climate action kit is the first of its kind in the Capital Region, although perhaps not globally.

“Portland might have a similar program,” says Webb.

Starting this month, the to-go kits are available at all 10 branches of the GVPL for one year. Depending on its success, the initiative may continue after that. Kits are also available at the Sooke, Sidney/North Saanich and Port Renfrew branches of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, as well as the Salt Spring Island Public Library.


First Impressions of the “Climate Action To-Go” Kits

Kill-a-Watt meter

The meter measures the consumption of electricity for any home appliance and provides values (in kilowatts per hour) for calculating how much it costs to use them. It also allows you to check for “phantom loads,” which is when the appliance uses electricity even when it is turned off. I was most interested in testing for phantom loads, or “vampire power” (as I’ve heard it called), so I plugged some appliances, such as my heater and floor lamp, into the meter and found they did not use electricity when turned off, to my relief.

Thermal leak detector

The CRD says its climate action kit is meant to be a fun way to address climate change, and I finally understood what this meant after trying the thermal leak detector.

Shaped like a mini hair dryer, the thermal leak detector uses infrared sensors to find air leaks like those that often exist around draughty windows and doors. This will help you better insulate your home in these areas, so that when you turn on the heat, the warm air (and money spent on electricity) won’t escape.

When it detects air that is hotter or colder than the reference temperature, the light will turn red or blue, the reference temperature being green. I enjoyed pointing it at random things and watching the light change colour (at my place, this was usually the window sills). Then again, I’m easily entertained.

LED light bulb

Compared to the incandescent light bulb that I use at home, the LED light bulb is quite heavy. It’s also twice the price, so I appreciated the opportunity to test one out without paying for it. I tried it in my floor lamp, and it worked just like the incandescent, only it is more efficient. Unfortunately, you can only borrow the kit for three weeks, so you just have to take their word for it.

Showerhead efficiency test

You need a towel handy for this one. To test the efficiency of a showerhead, the kit comes with a plastic bag with measurements on it. You let your shower head flow cold at full power into the bag for five seconds. Checking the water level on the bag will show you how many litres or gallons of water flow out of your showerhead per minute. If it is at 9.5 litres (three gallons) or less per minute, then your showerhead is efficient. Mine was at 11.4 litres, meaning I might consider replacing it with a more efficient one.

Books and DVD

The books and DVDs vary from kit to kit. The books and DVDs aren’t necessarily just about household energy use, but also topics related to climate change and sustainability in general.

My kit came with the books Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard, The Everything Guide to Living Off the Grid: A back-to-basics manual for independent living by Terri Reid and a children’s book called There’s a Barnyard in My Bedroom by David Suzuki. The DVD was The Economics of Happiness by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page.