With a week and a half to go, Yukon’s Kitchen-Kuiack clan are the popular frontrunners in Canadian Geographic’s Energy Diet Challenge.
The contest pits six Canadian households against each other in a quest to curb their energy consumptions, with the victor winning a Toyota Prius. Thirty per cent of each family’s final score is based on their standing in an online poll.
Brian Kitchen and Marguerite Kuiack’s family is currently in the lead, with 25 per cent of the vote. But a lot can change in a hurry, so they’re calling on Yukoners to keep rallying behind them.
“We’d really appreciate people’s support right until the end,” said Brian. “It’s a slim margin.”
Brian and Marguerite’s daughters, Simone and Marika, are also pulling out the big guns to build their online profile. They’re calling on help from Justin Bieber.
The Canadian pop star hasn’t graced them with a response yet, but they remain hopeful. He’s been singled out because of his massive Twitter following.
The Kitchen-Kuiacks hope that, if Bieber promotes them with a tweet, his followers may help push their votes over the top.
Among the contenders, the Kitchen-Kuiacks have a certain cachet because they’re the only family to live in the North.
They’ve also done an impressive job publishing about the lessons they’ve learned in blog and video posts.
To wit: they managed to cut their electrical consumption by nearly one-third in September and October, compared to that period over the previous two years, to approximately 450 kilowatt/hours per week. That’s worth approximately $20 per month.
“And we didn’t do anything complicated,” said Marguerite. “It was so simple.”
To start, they swapped incandescent lightbulbs for compact-fluorescent or LED models. And they’ve become sticklers about ensuring lights are off when they aren’t in use.
That includes the motion-sensor-triggered porch light that would otherwise be tripped by gusts of wind.
“Our neighbour, who’s known us for years, has noticed that when he drives by our house our lights aren’t on any more,” said Marguerite.
Power bars are turned off at night, as are small appliances. One daughter has permanently unplugged her lava lamp.
Living in the North doesn’t usually make energy conservation easy. But it does include a few benefits.
This month, the family realized it made no sense to let their basement freezer gobble electricity when it’s freezing outdoors. So the family visited the dump, scavenged an old freezer with freon removed from it, and put it in the garage.
Then they unplugged their basement freezer and moved its contents into their newly-acquired, “energy-free freezer,” as Brian calls it.
“We took advantage of the cold,” he said.
A similar trick helps their fridge’s workload. Each morning, they load it with a juice jug they’ve filled with water and left outdoors overnight to freeze. The ice helps keep the fridge cool.
And they’ve helped insulate the base of their home by piling a berm of snow around it. They’ve been warned this could cause trouble during the spring melt, but there’s a simple solution, said Marguerite.
“When spring comes, we’ll be hauling it away.”
A lot of these ideas were suggested, unprompted, by other Yukoners. The Kitchen-Kuiacks are easy to spot around town, in their black jackets emblazoned with Energy Diet Challenge logos.
The family’s Marsh Lake home has a propane-powered stove. They’ve managed to cut gas consumption in half by turning out the pilot light at night. (That requires them to tromp outside to turn off the propane tank at night, and turn it back on in the morning.)
And the home’s water use has shrunk by a similar measure. Typically, they’d go through a tank in four to six weeks. Now, they’ve managed to last 11 weeks, with water still to go.
They’ve accomplished this by installing a shower shut-off valve, to save water while lathering up. Every family member showers using less than 10 litres.
What water is used is captured and re-used in the toilet. And laundry’s done on a designated day, with loads compiled efficiently.
The family’s aware that living in Marsh Lake and regularly making a 45-minute to Whitehorse for work and school isn’t the most eco-friendly choice.
“We wanted our kids to have a country lifestyle, and to be able to walk in the bush. At the same time, we need to do this massive drive,” said Marguerite. “There’s actually a huge contradiction. We think about it a lot.”
But they’ve learned to lessen their commute with carefully planned trips. It’s not uncommon for a daughter to spend two hours in town, waiting for a lift home.
And they make an effort to run errands in a single, streamlined trip. “You can put 17 kilometres, one way, on your vehicle in the city,” said Marguerite. “And we don’t think of that, because it seems so convenient.”
Before they even heard about the contest, the family bought a hybrid Honda Civic to improve fuel efficiency.
“There’s big financial savings,” said Brian. “We’re probably using half as much fuel as we were using a year ago, driving our vehicles around. And that hits you in the pocketbook.”
Winning the Prius would be nice. But Marguerite insists the family’s real prize is knowing “how engaged people are right now.
“Maybe it sounds a little self righteous. ‘How could that be? How could they not be after the car?’ But we actually feel really passionate about this. We especially feel passionate about it for the North, because our energy supply is finite.”
Do they plan to continue living this way once the contest ends? Absolutely, said Marguerite.
“It would make absolutely zero sense to not continue with it,” she said. “Because there’s no hardship with what we’ve done so far.”
You can vote every day at the contest’s website, after verifying your identity using Facebook, email or Twitter.
Hardcore supporters can actually vote three times daily, using each method.
To vote, visit energydiet.canadiangeographic.ca.
Contact John Thompson at