Households and the Environment Survey

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More Canadian households were participating in measures to conserve energy in 2009, such as using energy-efficient light bulbs and programmable thermostats.

The majority (88%) of households reported that they were using at least one of four different types of energy-efficient lights: compact fluorescent lights, fluorescent tube lights, halogen lights or light-emitting diode lights.

The use of low-flow shower heads more than doubled during the past two decades, and more households reported having low-volume toilets.

Households appear to be relying less on bottled water at home, with the majority drinking tap water. Fewer households on municipal water systems treated their tap water prior to drinking it compared with 2007.

More than one-third of Canadian households had unwanted electronic devices such as cell phones, computer monitors and televisions to dispose of in 2009, and more than a fifth reported they had dead or unwanted compact fluorescent lights to discard.

In 2009, 8 out of 10 households reported they had purchased environmentally-friendly, or "green" cleaning products. In addition, reusable and recycled bags and containers have increased in popularity among shoppers for carrying their groceries.

Energy conservation

In 2009, energy accounted for about 15% of an average household's annual spending on shelter, according to Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending.

Nationally, three-quarters of households reported having at least one compact fluorescent light. The proportion was highest in Nova Scotia (84%).

Just over one-third (35%) of households reported having a halogen light and 7% had the highly energy-efficient lights that use light-emitting diodes.

Nearly half (49%) of the households that had a thermostat had one that could be programmed, up from 42% in 2007 and 84% of these households had implemented the programming option.

Just under three-quarters (74%) of households that had programmed their thermostat used it to lower the temperature while they were asleep. Households in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were the most likely to have done this.

Almost two-thirds of households reported that they used a clothesline or drying rack in 2009 as an alternative to a clothes dryer.

Note to readers

This release is based on new results from the 2009 Households and the Environment Survey (HES), which collects information on households' activities related to the environment. More than 14,750 households were surveyed by telephone in late 2009.

The 2009 survey covered several major themes, including consumption and conservation of energy and water, indoor environment, household hazardous waste, and purchasing decisions.

The HES is a biennial survey conducted under the umbrella of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program, an initiative of Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and Health Canada.

Household hazardous waste

About 45% of households that had unwanted electronic devices had taken or sent them to a depot or drop-off centre, up from 19% in 2005. About 11% of households put them in the garbage, down from 16% in 2005. Around 22% said they had donated the items to a charity or given them away.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) contain mercury, which can have a significant impact on both human health and the environment if not properly disposed of. Generally, these items are not accepted in the regular garbage stream. More than one-half (56%) of households reported that they put their dead or unwanted CFLs into the garbage. About 24% said they took or sent them to a depot or drop-off centre.

Households in Ontario and British Columbia were least likely to have put the CFLs into the garbage.

Water conservation

More households were taking steps to reduce water consumption. In 2009, 63% used a low-flow shower head, more than double the proportion of 28% in 1991, with the highest proportion in New Brunswick (67%).

About 42% reported having a low-volume toilet in 2009, compared with 9% in 1991. Almost half (48%) of households in Ontario reported having a low-volume toilet, the highest proportion provincially.

Households that did not have a municipal water supply were more likely to use both devices.

About 18% of households not in apartments had a barrel or cistern to catch rain water. These were used most commonly by households in the three Prairie provinces.

Drinking water: Fewer households drank primarily bottled water

Canadian households were less likely to have consumed bottled water at home in 2009. About 24% of households reported bottled water as their primary type of drinking water, down from 30% in 2007. About 9% reported that they drank both tap and bottled water equally.

Just over half (51%) of households that had municipally-supplied water treated it before using it. Jug filters were the most common form of filtration device used by these households, with 35% reporting one.

A similar proportion of households (49%) that obtained their water from a non-municipal source, such as a well, treated it prior to consumption. Filters and purifiers on the main supply pipe were most commonly used (29%), followed by jug filters (15%).

Radon awareness and testing

Radon is a radioactive gas that is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It is formed by the breakdown of uranium, a natural radioactive material found in soil, rock and groundwater. In enclosed spaces, such as basements, it can sometimes accumulate to high levels, which can be a health risk.

About 42% of households reported they had heard of radon gas, and just under half of those who had (49%) were able to describe it correctly. Households in Manitoba and Nova Scotia were most likely to have heard of it (60%).

The only way to know if radon is present in a dwelling is to test for it. About 3% of households that had heard of radon and were not in apartments had tested their dwelling for radon. Most (78%) had conducted the testing within the last 10 years.

Available on CANSIM: tables 153-0059, 153-0060, 153-0062, 153-0063, 153-0066 and 153-0098.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3881.

The publication Households and the Environment, 2009 (11-526-X, free), is now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications, choose All subjects, then Environment.

A CD-ROM, Households and the Environment Survey: Public Use Microdata File, 2009 (16M0001X, free), is also available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact the information officer (613-951-0297; environ@statcan.gc.ca), Environment Accounts and Statistics Division.