ROI of Home Energy Upgrades

Whenever you open a newspaper, you’ll likely find ads for home improvements such as new windows, insulation, and furnaces. These ads regularly promise energy savings that will allow you to recoup your investment in a short period of time, often something like “5-7 years” or maybe even less. But unless your utility costs are well above average, you might question the credibility of these claims (“how can $10,000 worth of windows pay for themselves in 7 years if my utility costs are only $1500 per year?”).

The truth is, most of the advertised payback periods are based on upgrading an extremely inefficient home with very high utility costs. This post will evaluate the savings possible in more typical situations.


According to Natural Resources Canada, space heating accounts for about 60% of the average home’s energy costs, so it makes sense to focus on this when making energy improvements. You’re probably using a gas furnace to heat your home right now. If it was made before 1995, it’s probably only about 65% efficient. If it was made between 1995 and 2009, it’s probably about 80% efficient. By comparison, new furnaces are 90-98% efficient, so you’ll save 18-34% on heating costs by upgrading. But new furnace costs are in the $5000 range, and natural gas prices are at a 10-year low. So you’ll have to evaluate how much you spend on space heating (it usually accounts for most of your gas bill). If you have a larger home with high heating costs, the payback periods can still be short (7 years or less) if you have an old, inefficient furnace. But if you have a smaller, better insulated home, the payback periods can be long (20 years or so, assuming gas prices remain low).

Heat Pumps

A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse, and can thus provide both heating and cooling. Since they only move heat from one location to another, rather than creating heat, they can operate at efficiencies of over 300%. Unfortunately, electricity costs have been rising in many parts of Canada over the past few years, whereas natural gas prices are at a 10+ year low. Since electricity is now relatively expensive, this means the savings on heating costs over newer furnaces can be marginal. So the main reason to install a heat pump would be for the air conditioning. However, if natural gas prices rise again, heat pumps will once again provide large savings on utilities. Continue reading ROI of Home Energy Upgrades

Phone Book vs Internet

Phone Book vs InternetIn the techno-savvy 21st century, you would think that there is absolutely no need for an old-fashioned paper phone book. Environmentalists have been lobbying for years to have them outlawed but others insist that they are still a necessary part of modern life. Let’s look at the green credentials of paper phone books vs Internet online directories.

At first glance, it would seem a no-brainer; phone books use huge amounts of paper, manufactured from trees using large amounts of power and water, and need to be disposed of when a new one comes out. This means that there is a huge influx of these books into landfill and recycling depots at certain times of the year. The other side of the coin is the online directories, the Internet, or phone books. They need no non-renewable resources to manufacture; they use no power or energy to produce. From a purely green perspective, the online phone book wins hands down over the paper version.

Even the phone book industry has joined the fight; there are now Internet versions of both the White Pages and the Yellow Pages in many countries. These are in addition to the printed versions. The main area of complaint from those who advocate stopping the paper books is that every household and business gets a phone book delivered, whether it is needed at that address or not. In several US states, there are petitions and organizations aimed at banning the indiscriminate delivery of phone books, insisting that only people who request them should receive them.

A survey held in 2009 showed that over 80% of adults in the United States would be prepared to opt out of automatically receiving a white pages paper phone book at their home or business. This followed results of a 2008 Gallup Poll that showed that just 11% of households actually still relied on the paper phone book. This figure had been at 25% in 2005. From an environmental aspect, there certainly does seem to be a case for a reduction in the number of books printed, so that only those who needed one would receive one.

Of course, the people involved in the phone book industry would disagree; after all, their jobs depend on the situation staying the way it is. This is a $30 billion dollar industry in North America and those who work in it have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. From a cost perspective, the paper phone book uses a lot of taxpayers’ money to recycle the old phone books when they are discarded, even though much of this waste is then used in the manufacture of other paper products.

Those who want to see the end of paper phone books claim that in the age of laptops, smart phones and other hand-held communication devices, they simply are obsolete. But what about the percent of people who don’t own the technology for accessing Internet phone directories; those who don’t understand the technology; and those who live in areas where there is no internet service? How are these folks supposed to find the information that phone books contain?

From a purely practical point of view, opponents of the paper phone book say that there is much more information available in Internet directories vs phone books. The printed versions only contain name, address and landline number of people or businesses in a local area; the online ones are also able to show website and email addresses as well as mobile phone numbers of people and companies across the state and country. This is especially important in the Yellow Pages directory for businesses as the extra information helps consumers access a company’s information more easily. In addition to this, the information contained in the paper books is invariably out of date by the time residents get their new book. Because it takes several months to print and compile the book, some information will invariably have changed between the collection of data and the delivery of the books.

So, the greenest option in the debate of paper phone books vs online directories is definitely the online version. A slightly less-green option would be to opt-out of having a phone book delivered to your home or business; this is available in many areas by phoning a special number on the cover of the phone book. It will take effect from the next phone book printed. Still green is the action you choose to take when a new phone book is delivered; recycle the old one in an appropriate manner and certainly don’t send it to landfill.

So, what kind of phone book do you use?


photo by: nickstone333