The Kitchen-Kuiack family were thrilled to pick up the keys to a 2012 Toyota Prius hybrid car this week - the grand prize for the winners of the national Energy Diet Challenge.
The contest, sponsored by Shell and Canadian Geographic magazine, pitted six Canadian families against one another in a quest to curb their energy consumption.
The Marsh Lake family of Brian Kitchen, Marguerite Kuiack, and daughters, Simone and Marika, were the only northerners in the competition.
For the past three months, they have scrimped and saved on every bit of energy they used in their daily lives - electricity, fuel and water.
And it paid off.
But just because the pressure of competition is now off, the Kitchen-Kuiacks aren’t itching to go on a power splurge of some kind.
None were willing to admit to wanting to take a long, hot shower.
But they were looking forward to leaving on a few more lights in their house than as had become their new custom.
“At some point, I just want to watch a movie,” said Brian. For the duration of the contest, their television hadn’t been turned on.
Trimming their energy use did not require any huge sacrifices, the family said. Rather it involved many small tweaks to their behaviour. Things like swapping incandescent light bulbs for compact-fluorescent or LED models, and becoming sticklers about ensuring lights are off when they aren’t in use.
Power bars were turned off at night, as were small appliances. One daughter permanently unplugged her lava lamp.
The end result - they cut their electrical consumption by nearly one third compared to the previous two years. The financial savings worked out to about $20 per month.
The household also cut its propane consumption in half by turning off the pilot light at night.
More recently, the family learned to take advantage of the cold. In their garage sits an unplugged freezer full of food -¬ there being no need to use electricity to produce freezing temperatures in a Yukon winter.
A similar trick helped the fridge’s workload. Each morning, it was loaded with a juice jug they’d filled with water and left outdoors overnight to freeze.
To improve the insulation of their home, they piled a berm of snow around it.
The family also cut water use by learning how to shower using less than 10 litres. The water they did use was captured and used again in the toilet.
As for laundry, they designated one day and tried to compile the loads efficiently.
To cut back on gasoline consumption, the family tried to be more methodical about planning their daily travel. They already own one hybrid vehicle, a Honda Civic, so that helped but still had to put some effort reducing their gas use.
While the competition was underway, the family documented their experiences through blog entries and amusing web videos. With the contest now over, these materials may find a new use. Shell and Canadian Geographic plan to next hold an energy contest for classrooms, and the Kitchen-Kuiack postings are expected to form part of the teaching materials.
Online votes counted for part of each family’s total score. For a while, Simone and Marika tried to boost their standing by sending Twitter messages to Justin Bieber, hoping the Canadian pop star would encourage fans to vote for the family.
That never panned out. But the family did snag country singer Aaron Pritchett and indie rockers Mother Mother who joined their list of Twitter followers.
All their hard work didn’t go unnoticed by the Yukon’s new crop of politicians.
The Kitchen-Kuiacks were lauded by MLAs in legislative assembly on Monday.
“I can think of no better ambassadors for Yukon,” said Environment Minister Currie Dixon. “They see our northern climate here in Yukon not as a challenge to overcome, but as a privilege.”
“I have known the family for many years, and they are very community-minded folks. They are always out and about in the community,” said the NDP’s Kevin Barr. “It couldn’t go to a grander family.”
Although the contest is over, the family still plans to add thicker insulation to their home. And to continue blogging about their conservation efforts.
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