Dayle Laing

The ‘coolest shade of green’ is the sustainable choice. Dayle Laing is a Professional Speaker and Author who uses her experience and training as an educator, a designer and a LEED Accredited Professional to empower Conscious Consumers to make practical yet beautiful choices for sustainable living, reducing their carbon footprint while enhancing their body, mind & spirit.

2010_conference_logoWhen does green building and designing stop being about merely saving energy, reducing our carbon footprint and start being about how comfortable we are and how few colds we catch?

vivian_loftness_cagbc_250The keynote speaker at the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) annual conference in Vancouver addressed these issues in her presentation, “Green Design for a Sustainable & Shared Quality of Life”. Vivian Loftness, FAIA, LEED AP, USGBC Board of Directors, Carnegie Mellon University Center for Building Performance & Diagnostics, is an internationally renowned researcher, author and educator with over 30 years experience in environmental design and sustainability.

As a LEED AP and member of the CaGBC, I had the pleasure of hearing Vivian speak about her research and have prepared this, my 4th article on the 2010 Vancouver conference. (If you missed the earlier articles, all are posted on my blog.) I found her research most valuable as I prepare and deliver interior design sustainability seminars.

We are not using energy for its highest and best purpose,

but frequently wasting it. In 1998, power supply cords (plug loads) overtook refrigerators as the largest consumer of residential electricity. Frigs have become ever increasingly more efficient at the same time as we have added more powered products to our home lives. If a transformer box is warm, it is drawing electrical current. Vivian called this “vampire load”. It is also frequently called "phantom load" or "standby power".

While one should not lose sight of the big picture of where the real energy savings are, and many of these phantom loads are tiny indeed, it is helpful to be aware of the choices we make and to unplug appliances and devices that we are not using regularly. It is also wise to compare the standby power and 'on' power consumption of any products we do buy.

From the statistics Dr. Loftness provided, one could make the following choices if replacing an item:

  • LCD computer monitor instead of CRT monitor – flat panel fits better on the desk anyway than the clunky predessor!
  • Laptop instead of desktop computer – the portable feature may come in handy if you are not already travelling with one. Beware of the ergonomics of using it regularly without keyboard and mouse!
  • Inkjet printer instead of laser printer – use the standby feature to save even more
  • DVD instead of VCR – unplug the VCR unless you are regularly using it. Consider converting old tapes you want to keep to DVD disks before they become so brittle they break!
  • Plasma TV followed by computer game console have the absolutely largest active standby load of any of the items on her list!

The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory published the following list standby power using appliances: Standby Power Summary Table

dayle_green_wall_250Of much greater significance for power savings, Vivian presented the concept of “environmental coasting” to reduce the dramatic highs of winter heating and summer cooling. For example, passive solar can reduce heating requirements by 20-40%, and shade (trees, overhangs and awnings) and natural cross ventilation can have the same effect on cooling.

Inefficient lighting consumes the most energy in office buildings. Changing to more energy efficient lighting lowers per square foot consumption from 20 watts/day to 15. Adding daylight responsive and occupancy sensors further lowers this to 7 or 8. We can have the largest impact if buildings are built narrower, so that daylight and ventilation can reach the back wall. Then, lighting and air conditioning / heating costs can be seriously lowered. (We don’t have quite the same luxury of achieving this level of saving in residential design since we need the lighting at night during the winter. Using layers of light for task and general illumination can still have an impact on our power bill and level of comfort.) 

She challenged us to consider each building as its own power plant and stop dumping heat into the water and air outside! Here are 6 strategies to improve our indoor air quality:

  • Separate ventilation and heating/cooling (HVAC) systems (this can be done in new construction and in major renovations)
  • Increase natural ventilation from outside air
  • Provide individual ventilation controls (windows that work)
  • Control pollutant sources (consider toxicity of materials used in the interior furnishings)
  • Improve air filtration (install and regularly maintain filters)
  • Control humidity and moisture (humidify in winter and dehumidify in summer) 

For evidence, Vivian cited a study of 3 office buildings in Boston, where workers’ rhinovirus colds were 6.8% lower when carbon dioxide readings were lower than 100 ppm. Improving ventilation saved money with fewer employee absences, a measureable impact on quality of life. She described a California study showing a 23.5% reduction for employee headaches when individuals were provided with their own ventilation controls. Even more dramatic was a Swedish 2-year study that showed a 69% reduction in asthma when a school installed a new ventilation system after previously being super air-tight!

She said, “Colds are directly linked to our inability to get fresh air to the nose.”

Formaldehyde is a source of pollution in our homes. A 1996 Australian study of 80 homes showed a 60% reduction in asthma and a 63% reduction in allergies in homes with formaldehyde-free composite wood products, compared to children exposed to formaldehyde in home furnishings.

vanc_conf_ctr_green_roof_250A supporter of green roofs, like the one on the Conference Centre, Vivian showed evidence that the roof membrane life increases 2-4 times and can last up to 50 years, because median roof temperature swings are reduced from 45C to 6C. Green roofs absorb noise and pollution, improve outdoor air quality, encourage migratory birds, capture storm water, and improve real estate values. A 2003 study showed that green roofs reduced summer heat gain by 95% and lowered winter heat loss by 26%. A California study of call centre employees showed a 6-7% increase in their productivity when workers could see green roofs or views compared to workers with no outdoor views.

Vivian commented on the convenient light rail transit she took from the Vancouver airport to the convention centre. She cited the 1996 Atlantic Olympics where vehicle traffic was lowered by 22.5% and asthma related emergencies dropped by 41.6%. We need diverse transportation choices for our quality of life.

By choosing green in our interior, building and community designs, we can significantly impact our quality of life. What benefits us, also benefits the environment.

If you would like further information or wish to book an educational or motivational seminar for your group, please contact the office at 905-846-3221 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Comments (3)

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Dayle, interesting post, although leading with 'vampire loads' is guaranteed to get me started. First of all, transformer-based power supplies are largely a thing of the past. The only one I could find in the house was on my late 1970s central...

Dayle, interesting post, although leading with 'vampire loads' is guaranteed to get me started. First of all, transformer-based power supplies are largely a thing of the past. The only one I could find in the house was on my late 1970s central vacuum - it literally hums. My power meter claims that it draws 2 watts or 0.048kWh a day. My daily power consumption at its lowest is about 16kWh, so this device contributes about 0.3%. At Bullfrog power rates, it costs me under $2/year in power. <br /><br />Modern switched power supplies draw very little energy. I plugged six cellphone, battery and other accessory chargers into a power bar and my power meter still read 0 watts. An old VCR draws 7 watts when powered up and 0 watts in standby mode. A slightly more recent combo VCR/DVD player draws 10 watts when powered on but also shows 0 watts in standby. My 27" Toshiba CRT TV draws 50-70 watts when working and (wait for it) 0 watts in standby. I am not suggesting that these devices draw no electricity in standby, just that it is below the 1 watt minimum of my meter. <br /><br />It is true that some devices draw noticeable power when in standby mode, although the real problem were the old vacuum tube sets. Because vacuum tubes took a while to warm up, 'instant on' TVs used to run the filaments all the time on reduced power. Solid state technology has largely eliminated this problem. <br /><br />I agree that it is difficult to make rational decisions on what actions result in the biggest energy savings. I saw an article that suggested washing clothes in cold water saved more energy than unplugging the dryer and hanging clothes on a line. Again, no figures were quoted nor details on how the information was obtained. It gets tougher when capital expenditures are required. What I think is important is to have an integrated approach to minimising energy usage and maximising energy efficiency but focusing on the high-energy consumers and taking common sense into account. <br /><br />Regards, Norbert<br /><br />Hello Norbert,<br /><br />I agree that phantom loads may mask the bigger picture of the real areas of wasted energy use, and I certainly agree that common sense should always prevail. Your thorough analysis of your own energy use indicates you have an excellent handle on this subject, and I do welcome the contribution you are making with your thoughtful comment.<br /><br />As a result, I have added to the blog post, a link to a standby power chart from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, which gives a variety of appliances with their maximum, minimum, average wattage in on, off and standby positions.<br /><br />Cheers,<br />Dayle

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Dayle, certainly small power consumption multiplied by the number of chargers in North America adds up to a sizable amount of electricity. However, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall North America energy consumption. David McKay...

Dayle, certainly small power consumption multiplied by the number of chargers in North America adds up to a sizable amount of electricity. However, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall North America energy consumption. David McKay writes extensively on energy - he said unplugging all our chargers is roughly the equivalent of not driving our cars for one second (I have not been able to find this quote again so it may be a figment of my imagination). It does point out that we have a very poor sense of scale when it comes to energy usage, ignoring the 'dead moose' on the table and arguing over relatively less important factors. <br /> <br />Regards, Norbert<br /><br />Hello Norbert,<br /><br />I agree that unplugging a cell phone charger and patting ourself on the back for doing our part, while driving everywhere in a gas-guzzling car should really make us pause and consider the common sense you mentioned. If we have several old appliances (like extra televisions, refrigerators or freezers), these can really add up to substantial energy savings. My point is that we are busy and we don't readily stop and consider all of our actions.<br /><br />Best regards,<br />Dayle

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Dayle, I cannot argue with the table, because I cannot see the details on devices tested. There appears to be a lot of variability in the standby power draw. Why not publish the data on the devices that are the worst offenders? Consumers will...

Dayle, I cannot argue with the table, because I cannot see the details on devices tested. There appears to be a lot of variability in the standby power draw. Why not publish the data on the devices that are the worst offenders? Consumers will move to the less power hungry ones and manufacturers will clean up their act. Or follow Europe's lead and set regulations on standby power consumption. <br /><br />It is true that 40 devices each drawing 2 watts adds up to 1.9 kWh a day - that is about 10% of my daily electricity usage averaged over a year. One of my colleagues often uses the phrase: "So what, Now what". My electricity costs about $.15/kWh if I include all the add-ons that Hydro includes in the variable cost. That means I am out of pocket about 30 cents per day. That is the equivalent of two text messages on my cellphone (I refuse to buy a plan). More important is the "Now what". Of those forty devices, which ones does it make sense to power off, unplug or replace? Some devices are working even if we are not actively using them, like cordless phones and home security systems. My cellphone needs to be charged overnight, otherwise the battery will not last the next day. I made a decision to leave my laptops running and contributing to medical research as part of the World Community Grid project. <br /><br />If we individually and collectively could save that 10%, would we notice the difference? First of all, there is all the non-residential power usage, like the lights that burn all hours of the night even when no-one is working. Secondly, there is some research that people who think they are doing something for the environment are more likely to compensate by buying that monster plasma TV. I saw an analysis of commercial power usage that suggested consumption on any measure (people, square feet) is still climbing, in spite of major advances in efficiency of light and HVAC, We spend what we save, and a bit more. <br /><br />Clearly there are things we can do to make a real difference, especially if it is a one-time decision that does not require our constant involvement. Replacing light bulbs, sealing cracks and buying based on energy efficiency can make a big difference. Over the past five years, my electricity consumption has dropped by over 50%, although part of that was switching to a gas water heater/dryer. Solar thermal water heating and passive solar heating of homes is cost effective and well within our reach. I might even be able to make a case for PV as a way of offsetting the high power draw from air conditioning. Even better would be a solar powered air conditioner that automatically links greatest demand with supply. As someone living in the sticks, I think urbanisation is a good thing in that it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation. As we reduce consumption, it becomes feasible to convert to renewable energy sources. <br /><br />Regards, Norbert<br /><br /><br />Hello Norbert,<br /><br />I like your idea of encouraging both government and manufacturers to help us, as we in turn become more aware of what we are now consuming and what we purchase in the future. We do make choices. For example, I don't turn off my computer at night because that is when the file backup is performed.<br /><br />I recently participated in the Great Refrigerator Roundup program and will be posting the rather startling results shortly. The 10% might be more for some people and could really add up. For you, since you have already achieved many efficiencies, that 10% is a fairly small amount. Renewable energy might be the only way your home could really make much more of a difference now.<br /><br />Great discussion, many thanks!<br />Dayle

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