Winter proofing your home: You could cut your energy bills by 30% for free!

Winter is here with its blustery cold winds that keep the furnace running at all hours, consuming energy. As prices for electricity and natural gas continue to rise, home owners and tenants are always on the lookout for opportunities to reduce their monthly bill. In collaboration with the Ontario government, local electricity and gas companies have partnered with non-profit company GreenSaver to help reduce energy consumption, in some cases by up to 30%! Best of all, the programs are free for qualifying households.

There are two main programs: Home Winter Proofing, in collaboration with Enbridge, which focuses on improving the heat-retention of dwellings; and, Home Assistance, in collaboration with Toronto Hydro, which focuses on reducing electricity and water consumption. Both programs aim to assist low-income households, who qualify, based on the number of people living in the household and a corresponding income threshold. For example, a family of 4 people qualifies for the Home Assistance program if it has an annual income less than $43,500 and qualifies for the Home Winter Proofing program if it has annual income less than $61,000. Households that receive one or more allowances or benefits from the Ontario government, including disability, allowance for seniors, guaranteed income supplement, and several other support programs also qualify for both programs.

Qualifying households will receive a scheduled visit from a home energy expert who will identify opportunities to upgrade the residence to reduce energy consumption. Upgrades may include insulation in walls, ceilings, and roofs; weather stripping and draft-proofing for doors and windows; programmable thermostats; new high-efficiency refrigerators, freezers, or dehumidifiers; low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators; and energy-saving light bulbs.
There’s no catch! The upgrades identified by the assessment are all provided for free and warrantied against defects. The best part is that each upgrade contributes to reducing electricity or natural gas consumption, especially during the winter months when warm air escapes through small leaks and through walls and ceilings with poor insulation.

To see if your household qualifies, visit www.greensaver.org/consumer/ or call 1-888-855-3106 to speak with a home energy saving expert and to apply for the programs. If you don’t qualify for the free programs, don’t worry, GreenSaver also offers cost-efficient energy conservation upgrades for your home on a non-profit basis. Visit www.greensavercontracting.ca to request a quote.

Chances are that you’ll save money in the long run by investing in improving the efficiency of your home today. By working together to save energy, not only are we reducing our monthly utility bills but we’re also reducing our impact on the environment, a worthy goal that our whole community shares.

Humber River Regional Hospital: New Site, Same Problems

Part 1
“The union filed a complaint,” the nurse said to her colleague. “They don’t want us porting patients. But I don’t know how to use the new computerized porter booking system, so I just do it myself.” By her own account, she has more than 20 years’ experience in nursing, including at the old Humber River Regional Hospital.

During my previous chemotherapy session, she was the “senior” nurse who had angrily and confrontationally increased the drip rate of the drug I was receiving, overruling a younger, more recently educated nurse, whose patient I was. The “senior” felt that I was “wasting their time” by insisting they follow the chemotherapy protocol laid out in my file by my oncologist.
When I had an entirely preventable rigors reaction (intense sweating and uncontrollable shaking) to the drug minutes later, the “experienced” nurse shrugged it off, casually saying, “well, that has never happened before.”

Except similar events have happened before. Frequently.

The “old” Humber River Regional Hospital (at its site on Finch Avenue West) had frequent problems with patient care. The first problem I heard was from my 19-year-old neighbour who went to emergency with unexplained continuous bleeding from his nose. He bled for 36 hours at the hospital while doctors found “nothing wrong with him”. “It felt like the doctors and nurses didn’t take me seriously because there was no obvious bullet wound causing the bleeding,” he told me. He believes that he would have died if his terrified parents hadn’t taken him out of the Humber River and checked him in to Sunnybrook hospital. “The University Health Network (UHN) was completely different”, he recounted. “They actually cared about me and took my condition seriously. They put me on a new drug and it saved my life.”

His story and many similar ones were used to justify the massive cost of the new Humber River site, with claims of the latest technology improving patient care. And plenty new technology is being used, like the pneumatic tubes that deliver blood samples to the lab at such high speed that they shatter the blood cells, leading to faulty test results. “They promised us when they installed the system that it wouldn’t harm the blood samples,” another nurse told me. But that didn’t prevent my being admitted to emergency due to a bad test result. “You are standing and talking to me, so this result can’t be correct. You would be dead,” the ER doctor told me looking at my blood test result after I waited 60 minutes to be admitted (imagine if it had been a correct result!). A couple of days later it was, “the system would have beeped to warn me, don’t worry!” said casually by a nurse who almost gave me the wrong type of blood transfusion (which could have killed me).

Technology is neither the problem nor the solution in these cases. The underlying cause is a lack of critical thought, patience, and listening to patients by burned out, jaded health care professionals. And the patient experiences that I have heard about at the “new” Humber River while researching this story are exactly like the old ones: Medication screw ups, sending elderly patients to non-OHIP-covered offsite clinics they can’t afford, uncompassionate and confrontational medical professionals, and long wait times, including in emergency cases.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article in the next edition.

Modernizing Transit Need Not Create Social Class Divides

You may have noticed posters placed in some TTC stations advising riders that tokens will no longer be accepted at unmanned entrances.  These ads represent a new, more aggressive push for adoption of the PRESTO card that has been in deployment for several years across the GTA.  While there are useful qualities to tap cards, tokens have three important features that the Province of Ontario and City of Toronto overlooked when pressuring the TTC to phase out this alternative currency that has been used since the 1950s.

The primary benefits of PRESTO cards stem from their ease of use in the digital era. You can “top-up” online with a credit card.  That’s fine for many TTC riders.  It’s not so easy for many others.  Public transit is a fundamental social pillar used by some of the most vulnerable people in our society: the poor, elderly, sick, and young.  For these riders, added complexity—even small levels of added complexity—are a barrier to access.  Tokens are simple, well understood, easy to use, and ubiquitous.  For those who cannot readily use the Internet, having to visit “select” TTC stations in person to “top-up” creates unnecessary hardship, not to mention that such money is not immediately available for use on their card.  As a result, cash becomes the next simplest, viable alternative.  And the cash fare is roughly 12% more, effectively the same as sales tax!

Taxing the vulnerable is a practice we detest, but there are deeper issues such as identity. Not all TTC riders can easily establish and maintain a verifiable identity—something that is required to have a PRESTO card.  Tokens are anonymous, untraceable, and that’s a good thing.  Even assuming the best case of world-class technology and privacy law adherence, recent history repeatedly teaches us that it’s not enough.  A support worker at a homeless shelter or food bank can hand a token to a visitor effortlessly—not so with a PRESTO card.

It is true that transit users can currently still use the “main entrances” of TTC stations in order to pay with tokens.  The overlooked result is a social-class divide, where vulnerable riders are no longer allowed to use the unmanned entrances they had used for decades with tokens & turnstiles.  Instead, they must go wait in long lines with the other “people who refuse to modernize”, corralled into a place for that lower class of rider.  Tokens do not draw lines across social class like PRESTO cards.  Preventing the use of tokens to some entrances will not increase PRESTO card adoption.  It simply separates people according to entrances in a manner that were decried in social movements of decades past, with no tangible benefit.

I am not advocating against the PRESTO card.  It has value.  My concern rests with phasing out the token so aggressively.  The TTC reassures us that it is a “transition period” and that a “network of vendors will eventually be established” to support single-ride anonymous card purchases.  Yet, in the meantime, it is barrelling forward constraining token usage without viable alternatives in place. Why not simply delay token phase out until everything is ready? Modernizing transit need not create social class divides.