Highlands eco-gurus advise on national home energy contest
Highlands environmentalists Gord and Ann Baird are going to help six families go on a diet — the Energy Diet Challenge.
Homeowners across Canada entered the challenge through Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada. They are seeking ways to shrink their household carbon footprints from September until December, and hopefully beyond.
The Bairds, who built an ultra-energy efficient home on their property in Highlands, will mentor the families.
Although the Bairds have been hired on as consultants, initially they wanted to be contestants. The prize, a hybrid car, seemed a good fit.
After interviews with Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada, it became apparent there wouldn’t be much of a challenge.
“It became clear that we were over qualified,” Ann said. “It wouldn’t be fair for the other families.”
The families selected for the competition are from Nanimo, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Ontario and two families from Quebec. The contest began on Sept. 12 and ends Dec. 8.
The contestants will have their home, water and transportation energy footprint measured. The Bairds will advise families on lifestyle choices and technologies to reduce energy consumption.
The Bairds travelled to Banff to meet the families last month, driving and camping along the way. Other families flew to Alberta, except the family from Calgary. Shell paid for carbon offsets.
At home in Highlands, the Bairds’ unique cob house features composting toilets, solar hot water and solar electric systems, rain water collection and LED lights.
“The house is the eye-candy for the message,” Ann said. “The real message is smarten up,” Gord added.
An interesting twist to the contest is the contestants don’t really compete against each other. “They compete against themselves,” Gord said.
The families record their energy consumption prior to starting the contest and compare after the cut off.
While lowering their energy usage is the main idea, the families will also blog about their experiences. “Part of it is the interest they gain while telling their story,” Gord said.
Each blog posted by the families will be read by the Bairds, who will comment on the entries and offer suggestions.
“People don’t learn from being told things, but they do learn from telling stories,” Ann said.
The winning family will be determined by online votes, energy consumption, quality and quantity of blog posts and creativity of lifestyle changes.
While sitting in their home, Gord and Ann explain changes people can make to reduce energy usage, such as switching to solar heated water or installing low flush toilets.
Gord said that other ways to conserve energy is to be organized in terms of using a vehicle and not wasting gas.
“You don’t have a chance if you can’t organize for the following day,” Gord said explaining it’s best to plan driving routes for errands.
Of the competing six families, five have children. From experience, the Bairds know that many parents often drive kids to and from school, as well as after-school activities.
“It took me four years (of parenting) to say, ‘No you can’t do that activity,’” Gord said. “There is intense social pressure for kids to take lessons and to go to birthday parties. You are not going to hurt your kids by (staying home) and harvesting potatoes.”
Even with the numerous changes the Bairds have made in their lives, they are now just starting to use public transit. They drive from their rural home to a park-and-ride and bus from there.
“The kids like the bus because their dad can’t rant to them on the bus (how he does in the car),” Ann joked.
Bairds encourage everyone to sign up on the contest website to track their energy consumption. “You can learn right along with the other families,” Gord said.
For more information go to energydiet.canadiangeographic.ca. The Bairds and the contest are featured in this month’s Canadian Geographic magazine.