Live Net Zero

The Canadian Geographic Live Net Zero Challenge

Live Net Zero

We did it!  We completed the 10 week #LiveNetZero Challenge with Canadian Geographic.  If you haven’t been following along, our family was one of five families across Canada selected to participate in a 10 week challenge to reduce our carbon emissions and live a more net zero lifestyle.  There were 5 main challenges and one bonus challenge that we took on to see how we could make improvements to do better. Each family was given $10,000 to make these changes.  So let’s break down what we did.

Challenge 1: Commuting

Canadian Geographic

Our favorite way to travel during the commuting challenge was two feet and a heart beat. We walked a lot. We purchased a new wagon to help us haul kids and stuff when walking long distances. Walking more is something that will be an ongoing thing for us.

We kicked off this adventure with our commuting challenge. In this challenge we were given the task to decrease our household’s emissions connected to commuting.  We examined our usual routes and routines. We found ways for our family to drive less and found new ways to travel. So here is what we did:

  • We purchased and e-bike conversion kit ($1500) to convert my Husband’s mountain bike to an e-bike.
  • We walked a whole lot more. We already walk to school and work from home, but we found ways to walk to those shorter trips. We walked to soccer practice, to a dentist appointment, to the market, and even an epic journey to the thrift shop (10km) to thrift the kid’s halloween costumes.
  • We purchased a wagon ($134) so we can haul stuff or kids when on foot.
  • We started getting our groceries delivered again as we found out grocery delivery has a lower carbon footprint than individual trips to the market.
  • We started using public transit again after almost 3 years of not using it.
  • We added in a carpool day for soccer practice.
  • We continued to get by with one vehicle for our busy family of 5 + carshare 1-2 times per week with my mother-in-law who lives just a few minutes away.

Challenge 2: Electricity

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Two of my Girls walking down the lighting aisle at the store as we purchase LED lights.

Next up was the electricity challenge. For this challenge we performed an audit of our electrical appliances and devices to see what our greatest sources of energy were.  To help us do this, we purchased a smart plug energy monitor ($50). This device showed us an appliance’s electricity draw while in use as well as it’s phantom energy. After our audit, here are the changes we made:

  • We plugged in our entertainment console into a programable smart plug.  It is scheduled to shut down our entire entertainment unit overnight, when it is not in use and therefore reducing it’s hefty phantom energy use.
  • We switched over all our lightbulbs to LED lights throughout our entire house. ($172.12)
  • We decided to unplug and eliminate our extra fridge downstairs + our wine fridge.  We have been able to manage with just our main kitchen fridge and freezer.
  • Our stove is a gas stove and while we did contemplate switching it out with a new electric stove, we thought this would actually be wasteful as our stove is still currently working. When the time comes when we need a new stove, we will make the switch to electric at that time. In the meantime, we purchased a larger toaster oven ($360) to allow us to use our gas oven less.

With all these changes, we were able to make significant decreases on or kWh ‘s on our electric bill.  We went from 1819 kWh (for 2 months) to 1113 kWh. That’s a decrease of 706 kWh in two months and a savings of $92.88.

Bonus Challenge: Thanksgiving

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A ripe apple ready for picking on our backyard tree.

This challenge had us focus on food and travel. The travel component was quite simple for us. We didn’t travel. We stayed home and only had my mother-in-law come for dinner and she only lives about 5 minutes away.  For food we:

  • For food, we chose all local and organic everything. Some items were delivered, a couple things we picked up from the market, and the others were foraged from our backyard garden. Our garden is a big source of joy as well as food for us. Our kids love to help in the garden and they even have a garden they help tend at school. Our garlic for our dinner was courtesy of the Twin’s kindergarten class last year. This is so important in teaching the next generations about the importance of our food and protecting our planet.
  • We made apple turnovers with imperfect, local, organic apples + a couple apples from our tree.  We also had the kids help out in making some homemade vanilla ice cream made with local, organic ingredients.
  • Growing your own food + supporting local farmers and growers is a wonderful, sustainable option that helps lower your carbon footprint. So what did we buy that was local?
  • Turkey, cranberries, potatoes, brussel sprouts, squash, apples, milk, cream, + carrots and celery for soup making.
  • And from the garden?  Kale, rosemary, thyme, oregano, garlic, apples, beets, beans, and tomatoes

Challenge 3: Home Envelope

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Our home.

Energy Audit

Getting our energy audit done. Such a positive experience with Mark from the Envromatics Group.

Here is where we started to make some big decisions and big changes to our home. We had a professional energy audit done of our home.  This audit was able to locate the biggest offenders with our energy leakage.  It was eye opening experience and something that allowed us to make some significant changes as we received a big yucky score of 102. (A typical new house would be at about 59.) According to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association , a typical 2300 sq ft house built 30 years ago (1982), will loose 75% of its energy consumption from just heating the house. By properly insulating and sealing a home, you can make a significant reduction in that loss.  With our house being 82 years old (1940), our energy leakage was big. Here is what we are doing:

  • Insulation. We are having our attic space insulated to take us from R-8 to R-50.  We are also having 2 exterior walls insulated to take us from R-0 to R-50.  We have opted for cellulose insulation (made from recycled paper). ($4420)
  • We had an energy efficient damper put into our fireplace. ($500)  This was a major source of energy loss for us.
  • We did DIY calking and sealing around doors, windows, exterior wall electrical outlets, and basement rim joists.
  • We are currently looking into getting 3 windows replaced as well as our kitchen sliding door to hopefully be replaced with double french doors. (awaiting quotes)

Challenge 4: Heating and Cooling

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Before and after of some of the sealing we did around our home to make our house more energy efficient. 

Canadian Geographic

Infographic on how Renewable Natural Gas works.

This was absolutely our most frustrating and overwhelming challenge.  There was so much involved in our decision making and so much to cover on the subject, that I wrote a whole blog post about it.  (You can read it here.) We went into this challenge already knowing that we were going to switch our existing gas furnace with a heat pump.  We had researched and did our homework and knew there were many government grants to aid in the switch to greener energy.  Once we started talking to experts and getting quotes, the reality was quite different. We were being quoted between $26,000 and $35,000 for a heat pump system for our home, with just $11,000 in provincial and federal grants and $350 from our municipal government. After a whole lot of deliberation, conversation, and consultation with our energy advisor, we make the decision to not put ourselves in a whole bunch of debt for a heat pump. We felt really defeated. Then, I received a surprise DM from our provincial Natural Gas company, and they introduced us to an alternative option. RNG or Renewable Natural Gas.

Renewable Natural Gas is not a fossil fuel.  It is a low carbon energy that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It puts organic waste to work, rather than sending it to a landfill. How Fortis BC describes is like this: 

“When organic waste (such as food scraps or cow manure) decomposes, it naturally releases biogas, a GHG containing carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. Before this biogas can escape as GHGs—here’s where we put the waste to work—our suppliers capture and purify it to create RNG. RNG is low-carbon, meaning, that using RNG can reduce the amount of GHG emissions released into the atmosphere.”

Since RNG works that same way as natural gas, there is no need to change any of your appliances or natural gas equipment.  While there will be a slight increase in our monthly bills, it is relatively small and it can be managed to suit different budgets.  You can opt to have anywhere from 5% to 100% of your gas come from RNG. The lower the percentage, the lower the cost.  We have decided to go 100% RNG.  Our average annual GJ (gigajoule) usage is 70.2.  This will cost us an annual premium of roughly $375 for the year and will reduce our GHG (green house gas) CO2 emissions by 3.51 tonnes.   Yes, it is still costing us some money to make a change but this is within reach for us.  This is not the $35,000 we were quoted for a heat pump + the increased monthly operating costs.  Also, because RNG is carbon neutral, it is exempt from BC’s Carbon Tax. This means we will receive a credit on our bill proportionate to the RNG blend we chose.  We have now signed up for 100% RNG.  This means our furnace + other gas appliances will now all be run on RNG.

So, for this challenge we:

  • Switched from natural gas to Renewable Natural Gas ($0)
  • Purchased a programable, smart thermostat for our home. ($290)

Challenge 5: The Holiday Challenge

Canadian Geographic

I’m wearing a locally made, sustainable dress with a thrifted mock neck layered underneath. The scarf is from a small, local, sustainable brand and has been eco-dyed. My boots are secondhand and I am holding a DIY wreath with foraged pieces.

Canadian Geographic

The thrift shops are a great source for us during the holidays.  We buy everything from Christmas cards, to decor, to clothing and gifts there this time of year. 

After two challenges that really pushed us and had us researching and learning constantly, it felt great to dive into such a fun challenge all based around the holidays. For many years now, I have been promoting greener ways to gift and celebrate the holiday season. I felt right at home in this challenge. I loved being able to push myself even further to consider not only what we buy (or don’t buy) during this time of year, but also to think about how we give. For this challenge we:

  • Opted to select experiences for some of our gifts. Experiences are one of my most favourite gifts to both give and receive. We kicked this off early with the kid’s birthdays and gifted them with tickets for us to all go to Disney on Ice. There may also be a family trip to Whistler being gifted from us to the kids too. The gift of something to look forward to in February and time away as a family.
  • We hit the thrift shops and online curated secondhand boutiques to find thoughtful, beautiful pre-loved items. I don’t want to give out too many spoilers in case I have family reading this, but you can see more over on my Instagram page. One of my gifts even included some trees being planted.
  • We are also choosing to shop small and local.  We are a huge supporter of small business in this family. Anytime we can find the perfect gift for someone and we are also supporting someone in our  community, it’s a total win.
  • I wrote a blog post with a small, sustainable shop gift guide along with some Net Zero gift giving tips. You can read it here.
  • We also find ways to give back to our community each year. While this may not have a direct impact on our carbon footprint, finding ways to gift to those in need is something we should all be adopting into our lives whenever we are able.
  • No travel for us this year (like most years).  We opt for quiet Christmas’ at home with the grandparents coming to us from locally and Vancouver Island.
  • Like the Thanksgiving challenge, we will be purchasing local food and minimizing our carbon footprint by eating every last left over and making home made soup etc to minimize the waste.

Canadian Geographic

How it started. Our submission photo to be introduced as one of the 5 families taking part in the Live Net Zero Challenge.

How we spent the $10,000: 

  • E-Bike Conversion Kit : $1,500
  • Wagon : $134
  • Energy Monitor: $50
  • LED Lights : $172.12
  • Toaster Oven: $360
  • Smart Thermostat: $290
  • Renewable Natural Gas : $0
  • Insulation: $4420
  • Energy Efficient Damper: $500
  • New Windows : *waiting on quotes
  • New Door: *waiting on quotes
  • * we will use the remainder of our budget on the windows and doors

If you are looking to do some green improvements to your home, there are some grant options out there.  There are federal and provincial grants available. The grants will vary depending on where you live.  We have signed up for the Clean BC Income Qualified Program which offers a variety of grants for the different types of work we are doing. We will also qualify for other provincial and federal grants. This takes time to research what is available to you.  Read all the fine print and make sure you stick with the approved installers to ensure you qualify for your grants.  There is also a $40,000 loan option being provided by the federal government for green improvements.  The loan is interest free for 10 years.  You must qualify for the loan before you begin your work. Again, be sure to do thorough research.

We would like to give a big thank you to Canadian Geographic  and the team at Lightspark for this opportunity to work towards living a more net zero life.  We have learnt so much through this process and have been inspired by the Leung, Lai, Richmond, and Loewen-Nair families and the changes they have made to their homes and lifestyles.  Even though this challenge has come to an end, the work will never really be over.  This is ongoing work.  Every time we bring our own reusable coffee cup to the coffee shop, every time we refuse a plastic bag, every time we shop secondhand, every time we leave the car at home, every time we make an improvement to our home to make it more efficient, we are working toward the goal of doing better.

The biggest lesson I would like to pass along to the average Canadian family, like ours, is:

Do what you can with what you know and with what is within your means.  There is nothing sustainable about throwing everything away and starting over.  There is nothing sustainable about being unwilling to learn. There is nothing sustainable about doing everything at once. There is nothing sustainable about going into debt when you don’t have to.  Do what is realistic and stay within your means.

Thank you to all of you for following along on our journey and cheering us on.  We will be sure to share updates over on Instagram from time to time, when more changes are happening and we will let you know in the New Year if we are the lucky winning family.

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