Mitchell family
Credit: BC Hydro

On an abandoned race car track, team Mitchell laps the field

As Erin Mitchell sits in her car outside her kids’ school, she recounts her ride to Team Power Smart stardom, and also a leading role in BC Hydro’s recent Power smart campaign.

“When we tell people how little we pay for gas and electricity each month, they’re really surprised,” says Erin, modestly, just a hint of Power Smart pride in the mix. “We’re spending about $200 a month, gas and electricity combined, and that’s a lot less than our friends and neighbours.”

It’s also a lot less than Erin and her husband Chris, who have a 3,000-square-foot home on a former car race track property between Vernon and SilverStar Mountain Resort, used before they started their first Team Power Smart Challenge about 18 months ago. Not only did they earn the $50 Reduction Challenge reward for saving at least 10% over 12 months, they lapped the field.

“Once we started the challenge, we replaced a bunch of pot lights – the ones we used most – with energy-efficient LEDs,” says Erin, who teaches special needs students at a local school.

Erin started tracking her electricity use with MyHydro tools on bchydro.com and quickly discovered that the LED switch was paying off with a 20% reduction. And when the 12 months ended, Erin and Chris – with help from their kids – had cut their electricity use by a whopping 24%.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about the big savings is that they reduced their bills in a home that was already energy-efficient. It features above-standard insulation and ENERGY STAR® windows and appliances. Here are a few ways the family added to the savings produced by the switch to LEDs:

  • A concerted effort to turn off lights in unused rooms
  • Turning the heat down to 17°C in the electrically heated loft area of the home
  • Opting for shorter laundry washes
  • Hang-drying a portion of their laundry.

Introduced to the wonders of the Okanagan via visits to Erin’s family cabin on Okanagan Lake, the Mitchells moved to Vernon from Langley four and a half years ago. A millwright who now works for the local Tolko plywood mill, Chris was big on getting a large property, something the family couldn’t afford in the Lower Mainland. And as a former drag racer, he was smitten with the idea of living on a three-acre plot of land carved out of the 1970s-era Tillicum Raceway.

“We just fell in love with the property,” says Erin. “Before we knew it, we were building a house.”

The one-storey rancher features radiant heating in all floors, keeping the family’s feet toasty on even the coldest days of the year. Light spills into the interior through vaulted ceilings and large windows, and the home stays cool enough in the summer that the Mitchells use a portable air conditioner only about a week a year.

In her favourite room, the kitchen, Erin cooks up healthy meals that would make the authors of the updated Canada Food Guide proud. A huge vegetable garden yields everything from peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, to asparagus, watermelons and strawberries.

“We live very healthy and active lives,” says Erin. “Chris was just saying a few days ago that he’s so proud of Canada for making those changes to the Food Guide.”

Erin is proud, too, of her family’s ability to balance comfort, health and efficiency. Asked what most motivates her to save energy, she doesn’t hesitate.

“I think I’m just cheap, to be honest,” she says with a laugh. “I get it from my dad, who we say is the cheapest guy around. In our home, I pay the utility bills, so when a co-worker mentioned to me that you can do the Team Power Smart Challenge, I jumped at it. Once I signed up, we really got into it.”