Unplug this blog!

Advice from a BC Hydro Outreach rep could save me plenty

BC Hydro Outreach rep Emily Gibson on her turf, the Power Smart booth at EPIC 2010.

Posted by Rob Klovance

Emily Gibson is happy to unplug, but she has a tough time turning it off.

The BC Hydro Outreach representative is so devoted to conservation that, even after her job's done for the day, her quest to make us all Power Smart continues.

"My brother moved back home for the summer, and I swear he leaves his [mobile] charger plugged in just to annoy me," says Emily with a laugh, adding that she does not hesitate to help her friends on the road to conservation. "Most of my friends are pretty conscious about wanting to conserve on their bills. A lot of them are my age, paying their own bills and don't have a lot of money.

"I was at a friend's apartment in Courtenay the other day and we totally did a walkthrough to see where she could save energy."

I talked to Emily while she was working the Power Smart booth at last weekend's Vancouver Sun's Sustainable Living Expo (EPIC) at the new Vancouver Convention Centre. I was there to get a better idea of what British Columbians can expect to get out of a chat with an Outreach rep, and in particular what the "Local Champions" theme to this year's cross-B.C. tour is all about.

I left with one really great tip – more about that later – and a cool little shower timer that will put to the test my belief that I'm among the minority that takes showers of four minutes or less. I'm on the way to saving more energy, more money, and I may just get a reward cheque for it next year.

Local champions need help too

By the Outreach definition, I rank as a local champion, someone who's a Team Power Smart member, does a few things to cut my electricity consumption, but could use a little help.

Emily's first question: "What type of things do you do at home to save electricity?"

My response gave me a chance to boast a little. With changes to energy-efficient CFLs, more attention to unplugging mobile phones and other devices, and – above all – turning our electric heat way down (or off) almost every night of the year and while we're not home, we saved 15% in our first year with Team Power Smart and 8% last year.

Then Emily probed a bit deeper. "Do you know some ways that you can test for leaks in the home, such as using a candle?" she asked, nicely, referring to leak detection test that uses smoke to signal where the leaks are.

Truth be told, I've been putting off draft proofing – probably one of the biggest things I should be doing. So it's now on my list. But the best advice from Emily came after I admitted I was frustrated by the knowledge that my personal video recorder (PVR) – which runs full time – costs me in excess of $30 a year to power.

"I recommend people buy these power bars that actually have a labelled spot for PVRs, and it will turn off everything else except the PVR," she said.

In other words, while the PVR will continue to be an energy hog while it records my favourite TV shows, sports and movies, I can at least save on other components. Right now, the PVR is sharing a power bar with a DVD player, a TV and a stereo tuner/amp, and it soon will also power a PS3. By getting a smart power bar that includes at least one always-on outlet, I can switch everything off except the PVR.

Come to think of it, I could use the same Smart power bar for my home office peripherals, where the one component that requires always-on power is the wireless modem (and even that can be switched off overnight and when we're not at home).

Had I talked to Emily a year earlier, the additional savings from the reduction of "phantom power" loss would likely have saved me the extra two per cent I needed to meet my 10% Team Power Smart goal. That would have provided me with the reward for hitting that target.

"The reward is so within your reach," says Emily. "My family is pretty good with energy use, but since I joined Team Power Smart in October, from October to February we saved 7% just on behavioural changes. It really adds up."

Does it ever. For whatever reason, I'm off to a great start in 2010, down a sizzling 51% since February. With proper draft proofing and a switch to smart power bars, I may just be in for that reward early next year.

Thanks, Emily.

Outreach is coming to an event near you this summer

For details of when BC Hydro Outreach will be in your neighbourhood, consult our Community Events page.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com and a regular contributor to Unplug This Blog!