Friday, December 23, 2016

refrigerator 4

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I have been keeping a spreadsheet on my old refrigerator, charting the percent of time it operates against the temperature of the air in the kitchen.

I am glad now that I got this data during the summer since the furnace now obscures the signature of the refrigerator and freezer. I wrote about the fridge here, here and then here.

The slope of the line shows that as the temperature around the fridge rises, more electricity is used to keep the inside of the fridge at the set point. I have not varied the settings of the fridge since the second article where I noted that I had switched on the door strip heater by mistake.

For every data point I made a measurement over several hours using my smart meter data. Usually the measurements were in the early morning after the appliance had been undisturbed for at least eight hours. This is the measurement for the Oct 11 data. A screen capture of the Blueline Energy Cloud software in my browser taken into a drawing program (CorelDraw) to add the measurements.

And finally a bit of calculation to turn the centimeter distances into time and to calculate the average time of a number of cycles and the percentage of total time the fridge is running at that temperature.

Since the fridge always uses the same amount of power when it runs, 150 watts, I decided to track the Duty Cycle, or the % of the time the fridge operates. That way I can predict, at a given temperature, how much the fridge will use as a minimum. It may use more than this if I open the door often or fill it with warm food.

I have been turning the fridge off during my peak period and coasting through as much as six hours with no bad effects (spoiled food). I did add a bit more insulation to the outside of the freezer compartment but otherwise the fridge is an old 1994 model.

Thanks for your interest,

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

heat 2

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Last August, I was thinking about how my winter heating needs related to my electrical energy use. Whatever the source, requiring less heating requires less electricity in most cases (unless your primary heat comes from a wood stove perhaps?).

To require less heat, I blocked off the sun porch with a heavy curtain and closed the heating vents to isolate the that room from the rest of the house. Why heat a leaky room? The house has started forming icicles. I have some of the finest icicles in Lion's Head. But the icicles are not forming on the sun porch eaves! As you can see in this pic from a couple years ago, they hadn't formed by mid Jan 2015 either so we will have to see if I have reduced my heating requirement.

My faithful old (made in 1994) Brock furnace has been checked out thoroughly by two service techs, last year and this year. Oil furnaces must have a cleaning each season. Each tech showed me interesting things about the old monster and we've got it tuned up quite nicely and running well. I get about 85% efficiency out the flue but I remind myself that the chimney stack runs through wonderful heat storage (the old chimney masonry) so the flue gas warms up the house a bit more as it exits. I should measure the temperature of the flue gas at the chimney cap about 20 feet up from the furnace. I'll bet that most of the heat stays in the house. I'll call that the "free" exhaust heat ex-changer.

As I will show below, the oil furnace burns heating oil but it uses a fair bit of electricity, about 620 watts while it is running. About half of that electricity is doing useful work contributing to combustion, about 1/2 of the electricity is turned into heat through inefficiency and is "wasted". I remind myself that this waste heat helps to heat the house, so about 310 watts of the electricity is heat input which I need, the rest runs the two motors and the spark coil in the furnace which is also good.

Neither of the techs found my intermittent fault: the furnace tripping reset in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. I replaced the controller and photocell with new Honeywell parts from Amazon for $100 then followed the tests as described by Honeywell and shown to me by experienced furnace techs twice now. Good training on the web too like Steve Lavimoniere, one of my favorite burner techs on Youtube.

I am not recommending you work on your own furnace, not at all! But the more you know about your machines, the better decisions you'll make.

In my experience, both gentlemen seemed more interested in selling and installing a new high efficiency propane furnace than in solving my problem. I had to do that myself. I also fixed some rather sloppy wiring under the twist connectors at the controller. This is how one tech left the orange wire, the output of the controller to the compressor/fan/spark. The start up surge on this line is probably 8-10 Amps. He worked on the connector for several minutes. How long do you suppose this connection, with only a few strands of the wire, would last? Was he making a "time bomb"? I wonder.

I first looked at my furnace on the smart meter back in November. Now it is coming on regularly, about every 1/2 hour for about 20 minutes when the outside temperature is about -10C. It runs 24/7 at this temperature although the spacing between cycles and the run time will vary with the outside and what I tell it I want for the inside temperature (the setpoint).

This is clean recording of a single furnace cycle without anything else going on in the house.

During this test, the house base load is steady at about 80 watts. The furnace starts at 8:50 which both the burner compressor/fan and ignitor coming on. The house usage jumps to about 375 watts. Subttracting the base load gives a furnace draw of (375-80=) 305 watts. The furnace runs for about two minutes until the main furnace air mover fan comes on and the total load becomes about 700 watts. Again, subtracting the base load gives a peak draw for the furnace of (700-80=) 620 watts. Combustion stops when the thermostat reachs set point and the compressor and the spark stop operating. The total usage falls at about 8:58 to 500 watts or (500-80=) 420 watts. The furnace stops at 9:03.

Fairly clear by itself but when the furnace is seen on the smart meter with all the other things going on in the house, the picture is a little more confusing. This is the last few hours early morning at -9C outside. With the additions I have made to the chart, I can pick out consistent markers on the waveform to assign some measurements for the furnace.

When I view the furnace during one of the peak periods, when the other appliances are inhibited (off with timers), its signature becomes a lot clearer. The timers kick in on this pic at 7:00. I got up this morning at about 6:00. From 6:00 to 7:00, I am doing a load of laundry and doing things around the house and shop. Before 6 is the furnace with the refrigerator and freezer mixed in and a lower overnight set point, so it wasn't working as often. The outside and inside set point temperatures will have to be a part of the furnace data.

I would like to be able to build a chart of furnace cycle time versus temperature as I have done for the other major appliances (fridge, freezer and water heater).

I haven't shown you those yet - coming up.

I also talked about adding internal insulation in the form of a Mooney Wall. The idea is to reduce the thermal bridges in the wood by crossing the strapping at right angles to the rafters and studs. This pic shows my progress.

I was a bit concerned about double vapour barrier effects but I found some interesting reading about that here. I believe that since I am going to cover the wall with air and water vapor permeable tongue and groove wood strips there will be lots of gaps in the covering. If there is any condensation on the inside of the poly, it should be able to escape back into the room? I am doing the smaller of the two rooms upstairs as an experiment.

Thank you for your interest,

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

my typical electrical day winter

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It is winter here in beautiful Ontario, Canada and I am studying my electrical usage with my utility supplied smart meter. When I called in 2007 asking for one of these, I was quoted about $3K. I didn't buy then, now I have one supplied for me. I am trying to learn from it. I showed my usage this summer. I described the study I am a part of.

It seems to me that there will have to be a bigger incentive for people to pay more attention to their demand for electricity. Our electrical system has huge costs to deal with peak use. There has to be a better incentive for us to pay more attention to this issue. Are we emphasizing the supply side (solar, nuclear, wind, water, storage, etc) of the equation?

Personally I am not unhappy with my own electrical bill. The Ontario government is asking for comments. I read the LTEP (Ontario Long Term Energy Plan) and I think the approach described is sensible under the circumstances we face.

There are huge issues with the system. But good news: we are off coal for electricity in Ontario. Our aggregated demand has been falling for six years which makes renewable easier whatever side of that fence you are on. There are uncertainties that would be helped if we all just paid more attention to our time of use. Little personal changes could make a big difference and many of the issues receiving much attention now would reduce.

I have spent $100 so far and I go off the grid for the peak (of at least I am trying). There are still some problems and not everything works. But this is my path so far. It's pretty painless. I still have rock solid utility grade power when I need it. I am helping out the system. They need me to do this and I am getting ready for the new differential in rates, which will be greater, whatever it is. I think the LTEP is a sensible step forward and gave my comments where I felt I had something to contribute.

I am not being paid or influenced by anyone in the debate. Ontario is off coal. We are actually a beacon. More renewable - of course! Who could not agree.

One other point that we all seem to agree on - using less, especially during the peak yet we don't seem to be focusing on that issue? The demand side - ourselves. I believe TOU will soon become more important us all.

The system is not badly broken. We don't need to be so excited about this issue right now. Let's be a calming voice. My 2cents.

(click any picture to enlarge) Lets look again at the winter picture of my electrical use. I have added some notes to the screen capture. The red arrows show my peak periods, there are two of them now, one in the morning and the other around evening mealtime. I am trying to use less electricity during these periods.

The big spikes W are my old electric water heater. It comes on about three or four times a day at 3KW for about ten minutes. Only the clothes dryer uses more at 6KW. I almost never use it preferring instead an indoor clothesline. When I do use the dryer I reclaim the heated moist exhaust for the house in the winter. In summer, the clothes go on my outdoor line.

At 17:00 the water heater probably hadn't finished heating but it got cut off by the timer. You can see that it comes on immediately at the end of the second peak period, at 19:00.

Here is the summer version so I can compare things. There aren't any W spikes in the red during the winter or the summer so I am successfully keeping the water heater from coming on with a timer. My refrigerator and freezer are also on timers so they are not coming on either but the effect is not as noticeable in the winter because of my oil furnace signature. You will see the furnace marching through most of the day. The furnace uses about 700 watts and comes on every half hour to an hour when the temperature outside is sub zero.

On the winter chart in the period A (the peak), you can see the furnace most clearly since the fridge and the freezer aren't running. Notice how the regular steps of the furnace seem to step down just after 9am? That was a mistake actually. I have added a gutter/downspout heater and have left it ON overnight but it was supposed to have been switched off before the morning peak period started. That heater is not yet on a timer. It uses about 300 watts.

The period B on the winter chart is me doing various things around the house against the usual furnace, fridge, freezer and a toaster oven. The air outside the house was warming up a bit by afternoon so the furnace did not come on as often.

Winter period C puzzled me a bit in that it was completely quiet except for that one mini spike. I had expected to see the furnace running since it is not controlled to stay out of the peak period. Then I remembered that I had turned down the heat when I left the house to go out for dinner. The house was cooling down so the furnace did not come on.

My usage during winter C is about 80 watts which is what I am calling my base load (similar to phantom power). The base load is all the low power things that are always on in my house. The small spike I remember is my garage door opener. I came home briefly and opened, then closed the garage door to look for something.

Periods D and E on the winter chart show nighttime electrical use in winter, a noisy mess of the the furnace, the fridge, the freezer, that one big spike from the water heater coming on. Compare to period C on the summer chart which has only the fridge and the freezer. I learned to tell those apart but with the furnace added, it will be more difficult. I should teach a computer how to do this!

I still don't know usage by individual appliance.

Thanks for your interest
George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario

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Saturday, December 10, 2016


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Isn't conservation/reduction the real issue?

Would you be willing to share your results with me? Compare yourself to me and the rest of the world with one number. I found it surprising since I have a leaky crappy old house with lots of old appliances and no electric car. It doesn't matter the source (solar/wind/etc) or where you got it, just the usage side, what you used.

It is easy to do. On your bill, you find your total KWh for the month, go back 12 months and add them up. Then divide your result by what you consider to be your household size (that could be interesting for some households).

It is per person. You compare yourself to the rest of the world with ONE NUMBER? It doesn't take a lot of effort.

I need to test this. Comment below with your one number and if it surprises you? A few words if you like but be brief, I am asking for yes/no and the number. I am curious. You know mine.

A link to the ICTSD report. This chart is from Chapter 1, Fig 1.4, page 7. I haven't read the whole thing.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, ON

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

home electric progress 2

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I was actually excited to see my electricity bill this month (haha).

I have been trying to use less peak priced electricity. I went up this month but used less than last year. Lower usage during peak pricing saves on the variable portion of my electricity bill.

Starting in May, I installed timers on the refrigerator, freezer and water heater. That has worked out well and cost less than $100. Throughout a very hot summer I was able to essentially go off the grid for the entire 6 hour peak period each day yet I always had lots of hot water and no food spoiled for me. It was pretty easy.

Now in the heating season, my oil furnace uses electricity, enough to be one of my major electrical appliances (at about 700 watts when running full power). I am controlling the furnace with a programmable thermostat but I haven't tried to align the furnace to not run during the peak periods. The thermostat shifts to lower temperature at night only. I can change it but haven't yet.

I messed up with the change to daylight savings time Nov 6 and the change to the winter price plan Nov 1 however. That didn't get done properly until about two weeks into November, so appliances were not going on and off at the right times and slurping expensive electricity. at almost twice the price. I used twice as much peak as the previous months, 2 KWh average per day as opposed to 1KWh . Sloppy.

I am trying to stay out of the RED triangles. In the winter, there are two red triangles (peak price periods).

The cheap plug in timers I had some problems with. The instructions are a puzzle and difficult to remember. I have to really study each time I want make a change because they make sense but are not intuitive. The two peak periods per day during the winter months makes for an interesting programming challenge. The timers keep pretty good time even through power outages and unpluggings but I did add five minutes to each each setting to ensure I had a error band. The timer display is very hard to see when I am at the appliance so I bought a few spares. I bring them all into a well lit room, figure out how to set one up correctly, program the others the same then plug them back in at their various locations. I then watch their cycles for a few days to make sure I got it right and then forget about them for six months only to have to re-learn them again when the pricing plan changes, or daylight savings.

I would like control and monitoring of each major appliance over my wifi. I can do that for about $75 an appliance. I am experimenting with two types, the Wemo Insight Switch and the TP-Link HS110 Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring. Both have positives and negatives and I am having reliability issues. Both display crankiness if you move them from outlet to outlet but I am moving around more than they normally be. My wired in appliances like the water heater, the furnace and the dryer will need wired in wifi capable versions. Suggestions?

The reports I get from my electricity supplier say that I am doing better than my efficient neigbours. They have improved the customer tools at the Hydro One website. If you haven't looked for a while you might revisit. You have to be registered as a customer to use these. No appliance level data however.

I don't use a lot of electricity but I think I still have room for improvement in reducing and time of use (TOU) shifting. My methods should be usable by someone who uses a lot more than I do and the payback would be better. Common sense required. Your appliances need to be in good condition and properly set for the recommended temperatures before you embark on time shifting them.

I still don't have totals by appliance although I continue to check my usage through my smart meter data. It is heating season now also and the furnace makes the usage graph very much more complicated. More on the furnace coming.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

home electric progress

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My latest electric bill shows my progress! In the last three months, I have used an average of only ONE ON-PEAK kWh per day. (click the pic to enlarge)

Since June, I have been actively limiting my electricity usage while it is premium priced, during the peak billing periods.

I truthfully have not been trying to USE LESS, but rather shifting my usage to lower rated periods.

Surprisingly, I seem to be using less energy also.

We have three rates here in Ontario: On-Peak, Mid-Peak and Off-Peak.

I have added timers to my fridge, freezer and water heater to keep these appliances OFF during the On-Peak. I also added about 2 inches of foam insulation to the exterior of a rather old refrigerator.

The cost of doing these things was less than $100. I had thought that if I saw a meaningful improvement, I would try to be off the grid, as much as possible, during Mid-Peak as well.

No food has spoiled, even during a very hot summer. I checked the temperatures inside the fridge and freezer regularly. And I always had plenty of very hot water even after six hours being OFF.

Perhaps the good news is that I was not using a lot of electricity. But even with the small numbers, you can see that over the last three months, I am shown as using only One On-Peak kWh average per day which is less than the two or three I was using in the months before. My On-Peak usage in 2014 and 2015 during May, June and July was also 2 kWh each month.


Thanks for your interest,

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

A good explanation of a kilowatt hour (kWh) and other energy units at Wikipedia.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

2012 ford focus window regulator repair notes 2

This is a continuation of my original article and includes videos.

I had first looked at the control module. I don't think it would be possible to trouble shoot this effectively unless you were very determined. I looked for the obvious, bad solder joints, spider nests, corrosion, missing, damaged bits. Here is a good look inside. Mine was fine.

This is an explanation of the regulator together along with a folded view, the way it is inside the door as well as laid out on the bench so it is a bit easier to understand.

An examination of the failed motor. It still worked, went down with help but needed a lot of help to go up. Turns out it was rusty. Very strange considering the condition of the inside of the door. Where did the water come from?

A test of the new motor in the regulator before installation into the door.

As I said earlier, this is not a how-to, but a few notes about my experience, in case it helps you. I did not find much on the web when I had to do mine.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

EnerGuide refrigerator test specifications

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I am trying to find out more about these EnerGuide (Canada) and EnergyGuide (US) labels that are required on all the appliances we buy. Have you noticed that there are American ones and Canadian ones? There are yellow ones and white ones? There are some that have no rating on the label?

I noticed two labels in one freezer top refrigerator with different American and Canadian ratings. Do we test differently?

I decided to read what a manufacturer is told about the labels at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), that branch of our government that administers the Canadian EnerGuide program.

You can get this document "EnerGuide Labelling Instructions and Labelling Scales for Appliances and Room Air Conditioners" for yourself from NRCan but you have to ask for it.

On page 12, you will find this statement (click to enlarge).

Here is my letter back to NRCan after getting the doc:

Thank you Lakhbir.

I am trying to understand the numbers on appliance labels and the tests that are done to arrive at those numbers. I am trying to relate mine to what I see from my smart meter data.

Do I understand correctly from the EnerGuide Labelling Instructions ... 2014 which you sent that if I want to see how my appliance is tested (ie - how the manufacturer arrives at the energy usage number for that appliance) that I have to buy a CSA specification CAN/CSA-C300-08 in the case of refrigerators/freezers for $155? (for example at the CSA website). Is this spec available on a loan basis?

Is there a repository of manufacturers' submitted test results that is publicly accessible, ideally via the web? Can I ask for a specific appliance's certification test submission?

Is there a newer Energuide Labelling Instructions than 2014?

I am a writer and a concerned individual who wants to explain the labels and the tests. How "real world" are the tests? I am interested in assumptions about household size, median test ambient temperatures and usage assumptions.

It seems there is an alternate American specification and we (Canada) are catching up?

George Plhak
Lion's Head Ontario

On 8/29/2016 8:52 AM, Jawanda, Lakhbir (NRCan/RNCan) wrote:
> Hello,
> Please see attached as per your request.
> Regards,
> Lakhbir
> -----Original Message-----
> From: George Plhak []
> Sent: August 28, 2016 10:06
> To: ES_SE_OEE-EE_report / rapport_EE (NRCan/RNCan)
> Subject: Request a copy of the EnerGuide Labelling Scales for Appliances
> Requesting a copy of the EnerGuide Labelling Scales for Appliances as listed on this page
> Thank you

I received the following reply the next day:

Hello George,
The labels that I sent you were for 2016.
Additional information can be found on
This is the information available to manufacturers to create labels for their appliances.
We cannot provide you copies of test results as that belong to different manufacturers.
Each appliance has a specific standard and these are listed on the product pages on our website.
If you have any other questions, please contact me.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

This seems to be the American standard and test procedure 10 CFR Part 430, Subpart B, Appendix A to Subpart B of Part 430 - Uniform Test Method for Measuring the Energy Consumption of Electric Refrigerators and Electric Refrigerator-Freezers

Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) at Wikipedia

NRCan Energy Efficiency Regulations

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

measurement and control

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I have been learning about my home electrical usage through my smart meter data and finding it not so smart without some added software. Nevertheless, I have been making use of all this new data and making improvements (reducing the variable portion of my electric bill) while making plans for next steps some of which involve more measurements.

Adding the timers to the water heater, fridge and freezer to move them off my peak rate times was an obvious move but a bit bothersome. The timers don't always work. I had trouble with a wireless type so went with plug in autonomous timers. The cheap Chinese ones I bought on Ebay for $10 each sometimes do not switch as they are supposed to. I went electronic but it would be simpler just to have mechanical timers and cheaper. Try to find three prong versions (properly grounded). The timer for the water heater had to be wired in.

I have been thinking about remote controlled AC sockets. Particularly interested if they monitored the load as well as controlled it, something like the Belkin WeMo.

What if these devices mounted directly in my electrical panel as snap in replacement approved devices that communicate wirelessly? That doesn't exist yet. Maybe with the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Controlling my appliances could be done currently through some type of home automation system, via software, in a browser. That would be nice. I am looking around for suitable systems.

About the monitoring, I still don't have appliance level data from my smart meter or any meaningful breakdown. There are software tools (some of which have their own hardware and sensors) like Plotwatt, Bidgely, Navetas, eyedro and Neurio.

Some, like Plotwatt, are being marketed to the utilities as a service they would provide, whether added to my bill or not, is playing out now in the market. I am looking at my account on-line at Hydro One Networks and I can see many tools to help me understand my electrical usable but no GreenButton links as yet or any appliance level information, just general.

There are systems marketed for the DIY types like TED (The Energy Detective) and OpenEnergyMonitor.

But using my smartmeter is not the only way to understand my house electrical and to monitor my appliances. It might not even be the best or only way. It will probably be some combination of tools that will guide me to what I need to know.

Different tools work different ways. Some plug in between my appliance and the wall. Others involve the installation of a small sensor in my electrical panel.

Of the plug in kind, the Kill A Watt has been popular for a number of years. It measures the energy used at the outlet and stores some totals like kWh per day, week, month, year since plugged in and if you enter rates, it will give you a cost. It does not connect to anything so you can't get the data out of it and when you unplug it resets. Not very useful with tiered rates but the kWh measures could be useful. It is limited to regular plug in 120 VAC appliances up to 1500 watts so you can't use it for a water heater, clothes dryer or airconditioner or a furnace, in fact any of your larger appliances. But still a useful tool. I have had one for years. It does not measure low power very accurately, like below 10 watts.

These and other types of plug in meters may be available at your library

Understanding home electrical use is part of the broad category of Noninvasive Load Monitoring (NILM) - good background at Wikipedia.

Some interesting academic links:

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Friday, August 19, 2016


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I hope the basement will be warmer this year because I have rebuilt the two basement windows in the house. There had been significant cold air coming in from the outside before this repair.

I am also planning to cut off heat to the sun room. It has a lot of big windows. A wonderful room in the summer. A wonderful room in the winter also but it must cost me a lot to heat it. I don't know how much but I would not be surprised if heating the sun room was 1/4 of my heat cost including fuel and electricity. Calling it a sun room in February here in Lion's Head is a gross misnomer. There is not much sun here in February.

I have replaced the operable sun room windows with nice thermopane but the large ones are single panes. This room has a bad air leak noticeable when the wind blows a certain direction and the door to the outside does not seal very well at the bottom.

So this winter, I plan to temporarily partition the sun room, including the forced air duct that feeds heated air to to its three floor vents. That duct is large (16x8 inches) and has no damper (air control valve) in it now. I would like to add one. A quicker fix is to block the three floor vents. There is no return air duct. Return air just flows back into the main house through a six foot wide open doorway.

I am not going to heat that room this winter. I will modify my behavior by doing without a whole room for the winter except for cold storage. I don't use the front door although I keep the snow clear from the door as an emergency exit so the partition will need to have a door.

Conservation is key to reducing my electrical usage. If I need less heat, I will use less electricity even though I use oil primarily. In my furnace, there are two hungry AC motors and the ignition which run while the furnace runs. I have not seen it on the smart meter yet. I'll be firing it up for a test run in the next few days.

I had installed a programmable thermostat a couple of years ago. My strategy was to go between two heat levels. One as low as I could stand for night (about 13C) and another for the daytime (about 18C). Thinking about my huge rate differential in the study leads me to a different strategy. Should I minimize during the peak times by keeping the same temperature (low) all day while creating a warmer room in the house (the work area or the sleep area) with a local portable electric heater?

With better insulation in the basement, no heat in the front room, it might even be possible for me to ride out the six hours of peak without running the heat? Like I do with the water heater, the fridge and the freezer. If that were possible, I could then have the night time temperature whatever I wanted, at least in electricity terms.

I have become quite interested in the technique of the Moody wall which I could use upstairs?

Thanks for your interest

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

insulated refrigerator freezer 2

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Another chart from last night on the superinsulated refrigerator freezer.

I want to know, using my smart meter data, if the refrigerator's standby energy use is any different (hopefully less) with the "blanket" of insulation I added to the freezer compartment. My previous test was inconclusive because the ambient temperature was different from the one measurement I made before I added the blanket. I wish now I had taken more measurements.

The standby electrical usage of a thermal box type applicance, like a refrigerator, a freezer or even a hot water heater varies mainly with the temperature of the air around it (the ambient temperature) and the insulation.

In order for me to make a meaningful comparison, all things (controllable variables) should be kept the same. The ambient temperature is not really a controllable variable but it is from an experimental point of view.

So I am taking snapshots of my smart meter data and reading each manually. I see a graph of my usage at any time and I can pick out the appliance. I can measure it very accurately. But with the software I have now, I cannot tabulate or totalize usage by appliance over say a month or a year. So I am estimating to get an idea for ranking, highest to lowest. I am also learning a lot about how my appliances behave as electrical loads and explaining as I go (the INDEX). I can "see" my electricity use with my smart meter data, but just how useful is it?

(click any pic to enlarge) I should compare measurements at the same ambient temperature. I could make a graph of standby usage with temperature for each of these type of electrical loads. If I took a number of readings at different temperatures, I would be able to plot how the appliance usage varies with ambient temperature. Better efficiency would tilt the slope of the line. Better thermal boxes would not vary as much with ambient temperature. It is really ALL ABOUT INSULATION for thermal boxes. The more the better.

The nights here are still pretty warm. About the same as for the previous test 20C so this will qualify as a repeat for comparison. And to shake down the method. There were a few mistakes this time also.

Not as careful as I should have been, I see this morning that I left the Exterior Moisture Control ON last night. This switch activates a heater in the door gasket. I want that OFF! I had thought I left it OFF. I am going to put a piece of tape over the switch so that it stays OFF.

One thing I notice about the chart is that the fridge seems to be coming ON for shorter periods each time across the chart. I remember that my bedtime snack was a small dish of ice cream, so I had opened the freezer door about an hour before the chart. Its possible that the fridge was still recovering. I should make sure next time that the fridge has not been opened for at least several hours before the measurement.

The chart covers from about 22:30 to 01:30. The width of the peaks are 0.92cm, 0.80, 0.76 then 0.72. I am using cm as an analog for time. Time on the chart I measure to be 1.92cm = 1 hour.

The peaks also seem to drop down slightly, the first two are higher than the last two. I see that the base load drops about 25 watts at about midnight. I am not sure what turned OFF in the house. I was asleep. This is my whole house electrical usage so the fridge is riding on top of the base load.

Let's do some calculations anyway.

Here is the same chart in CorelDraw with the measurements added.

For the first two peaks, the fridge is using (275-125=) 150 watts and for the last two (250-100= 150 watts so the instantaneous power is the same as the last tests.

For the first peak, run time is 0.92 and cycle time is 1.84 so the duty cycle is (0.92/1.84=) 0.5. The second is (0.80/1.69=) 0.47. The third (0.76/1.65=) 0.46. I cannot calculate the fourth since I don't see the complete cycle. Doing the same calculation as before (power x time x duty cycle) I calculate for the three peaks 1.8, 1.69 and 1.66 kWh per day or 1088, 617 and 604 kWh per year. Quite a wide spread and more usage than before.

I know the insulation does not make the refrigerator use MORE power. Something about my measurement or the method is not right. And there was that dish of ice cream.

There must be an easier way to do this. I should let a computer monitor my energy use!

I am not discouraged.

Thanks for your interest

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Update - The metal frame of the fridge where it touches the door gaskets is now covered with dew (condensation) so I see that the switch for Exterior Moisture Control really is activating heaters in the door frame. The dew isn't usually there. I wonder how much energy that takes and when the heaters come on? I think I remember reading that the heaters are activated by a time delay relay in the fridge that starts when the door is opened using the same switch that turns on the fridge light.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

the ontario grid - ieso and sme

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I've found some interesting reading at the "Independent Electricity System Operator" or This is a screen shot of their home page this morning.

I see that this morning, here in Ontario, Canada, over half of my electrical energy is coming from nuclear. None is coming from solar. A tiny sliver from wind. I can see, almost real time, the power source breakdown for the Ontario grid. I can also see the demand prediction for the day.

IESO runs the Ontario grid. They also run the smart meters. They also operate the wholesale market for electricity. The price shown is probably the wholesale rate. I'm guessing that if I buy electricity in megawatts and if I was a customer of IESO, I could get this wholesale rate? I think IESO is the "middleman" between OPG (Ontario Power Generation) and the local power companies. You can see a list of them here. In fact, IESO call them "distributors" I think these are the "customers" of IESO and I am a customer of Ontario Hydro Networks, the one I get my bill from. I don't know much about the electricity market yet but this is a good place to start.

IESO is a Crown corporation owned by the province. It has a president and Board and lots of reports and an engagement process with its "stakeholders". They also run Save on Energy programs. More study required by me.

IESO also runs the smart meter data repository through an appendage imaginatively named the "Smart Metering Entity" or SME This smart meter data repository also has a great name, the MDM/R (Meter Data Management and Repository). Seriously. This is where my smart meter data is kept.

Yes, SME have their own website. Their explanation of what they do:

"The Smart Metering Entity (SME) operates the Meter Data Management and Repository (MDM/R). The Government of Ontario designated the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) as the SME in 2007 to support its Smart Metering Initiative (SMI). The MDM/R processes smart meter consumption data from MDM/R service recipients in Ontario to support Time-of-Use (TOU) billing. The SME also provides information about Smart Metering to businesses, education leaders, and consumers."

Is that clear?

The whole smart meter system is a secure system. If I want my data, I have to be tied in to some third party company, like Plotwatt. I authorize them to access my data at the MDM/R and then I can get my data through that third party. The third party analyses my data. They do disaggregation for me. Supposedly I get to choose which service I want to use to understand my data. Maybe I can have more than one? I can, they tell me, turn off the authorization at any time.

Interestingly, even though I am not getting the disaggregated information (analyzed and organized by appliance) from Plotwatt, the third party I am "partnered" with, I can actually download my actual real meter data. How exciting!

This is the TRENDS tab in Plotwatt this morning. This chart does seem to be working for me on Plotwatt. At the green arrow, I can see the meltdown that happened last week when I had to reset my Blueline sensor to get re-attached data wise to my electrical meter. I lost about a day and a half of data but that doesn't really matter to me at this point. I am sure that the power company didn't loose my data since they get it directly through their own network. I'll get billed for that day and a half.

At the yellow arrow are two little buttons. One of them downloads the supposedly analyzed appliance disaggregated results but it is not any better than the last time I showed you. I don't seem to be getting that information. The other button (the one with the down arrow) downloads the raw data to my computer. It actually tells me that the data is in GreenButton csv format.

So this (click the pic at left to see the graphic or click this link to get the file) is my data downloaded this morning. A 2 MB file that I've put on my own server so you can click the link to download it. I have removed the id information.

I see my GreenButton data as a spreadsheet. One measurement every minute of the USAGE (in Kwh), going back about a month and ending the moment I downloaded it. 41,199 data points. I could make a graph but I get pretty nice graphs already with Blueline Energy Cloud. It's clear why I need the "interpretation" to get totals by appliance or find another way to measure the key appliances directly to get some kind of totals more easily?

I'll end with The Empowered Customer a pdf from the Blueline site, one of their News from Dec 2015 which talks about the American experience with how customer access to their data can help reduce demand by being more aware of power use in detail. There are quite a few interesting claims being made. Americans call it GREEN BUTTON CONNECT.

That's all for now. Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

the old water heater

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This is a picture of my utility electric use last night from my smart meter. I was preparing to measure the refrigerator again after superinsulating but the night wasn't cool enough for a comparison to the previous measurement. So I'll tell you about my water heater instead. (click any pic to enlarge)

Last night, everything was OFF but the refrigerator, the water heater and the baseline load. I turned OFF the chest freezer for the night since its signature looks so much like the refrigerator that it makes it difficult to take detailed readings from the graph. I just turned it back ON. It stays frozen solid at least six hours since I don't open the lid. I check the temperature inside periodically to make sure.

On the picture, I can see the clear signature of the water heater, that big square spike at 1am. The water heater uses 3kW which is a lot. It always uses 3kW but the time it stays ON varies. It goes ON for a shorter time if I do not use hot water. About every six hours or so for a few minutes. I hadn't used any hot water since the last time it came on so this energy is not from my use of hot water, but just to keep it hot and ready. Yes there are on-demand water heaters, mine is not.

A water heater has a very distinctive spike energy signature. If I multiply the width of the spike times the height, I can see the energy it is using very, very accurately, every minute. Mathematically, my energy use is the AREA under the curve.

The energy to keep the water hot depends primarily on my temperature set point and my hot water use. Energy also varies with the temperature around the appliance and the amount of insulation it has. I'll zoom in on the water heater graph in a moment.

The marching square wave down at the bottom is the refrigerator. It is like a backwards water heater I suppose, with the same kind of control system. It used to be called bang-bang meaning that it was either ON or OFF, nothing in between. An insulated box that gets cold instead of hot and keeps it that way using a standby amount of electricity by going ON and OFF until you use it by opening a tap or opening a door. Then it uses more energy by staying ON for longer before going OFF. Like the refrigerator and the freezer, the amount of energy can vary with the temperature around it. An air conditioner would also be a bang-bang energy load. I don't have one of those. It is also called "duty cycle" control. The English used to have a cute term "mark-space-ratio". It is also called "hysteresis control". Whatever the name, control is accomplished by ON-OFF-ON-OFF and that is how it looks in the smart meter data, like a square wave that varies in width (time ON). This type of control is very common in appliances and has been around since Edison. It is actually quite efficient.

Because these appliances make nice clean signatures it is possible for me to pick them out by eye on the graph when several of them are added together. This is what my computer should be doing for me. I am having to do it myself but learning in the process and telling you about it.

Some of my other appliances don't look at all like a simple bang-bang. The dishwasher and clothes washer have complicated signatures as the various motors, heaters and relays inside go ON and OFF. Little bang-bangs on their own but they add up to a complicated mess as far as the appliance signature. The messy signature is something I can recognize as the dishwasher but it is not so easy to calculate the area under the curve since it is so irregular.

It should also be possible to add up the amount of energy each appliance uses and keep track of it. With what I have, it would be too tedious for me to do manually on an ongoing basis. For some reason, I am not being provided with the appliance level data by the study. It's a behavioral study. They want to see what I do? Hmmm.

What I am doing is taking advantage of the summer to study my appliance energy characteristics using this new data from my smart meter that I could not see before. I expect that the summer will be easier to understand since I won't have the furnace and other winter loads messing up the measurements. I will put my appliances in a list from highest to lowest use, studying their signatures and taking some detailed measurements while noting the test conditions, like the temperature. That way when I make changes I can have some careful measurements to compare to.

All my appliances will need to be replaced at some point. All are over 20 years old. I would personally like to quantify any improvements I can make before I go blowing large wads of cash on new machines.

Overall, if I can reduce the energy use of the main appliances and keep some of them from coming ON during my peak rate period where I can, I should see a real reduction in the energy portion of my bill.

One of the first things I did was to install a timer on my water heater to cut off power to it during my peak rate period. I have since done the same for my refrigerator and chest freezer. These appliances now do not come on during my peak period. Essentially I am trying to almost leave the grid during my peak.

The Blueline hardware and software which reads my smart meter is a pretty impressive tool and I hear that is about to be improved with a browser and mobile update. What's also becoming apparent is that add-on tools (like Plotwatt) which pick out the appliance level data are value added products that I (we) should expect to pay for as a service. I haven't found one as freeware. No idea of the cost. I can access my raw data but its pretty boring. I will need some tool to disaggregate my data.

Back to that water heater. This is my old water heater. A new one is beside it and ready to be installed.

The outside temperature at the Blueline sensor was 18C at 1am last night. I can read this from another part of the Blueline software. I will take the outside temperature to be the same as the temperature in my basement. This won't work in the winter when the basement temperature will be cooler but not as cold as outside at the meter. I'll have to take a reading of the basement temperature then if I want comparable the standby energy readings. I will have the new water heater in place by then hopefully. I won't get to test this one again so I want a good reading of it's standby energy use for comparison.

I have added two dimensions to the graph. I want to know how long the water heater was ON fairly accurately. I could use a ruler but I am using a graphics program, CorelDraw. The 2.45cm dimension is the length of time that the water heater was ON. The 5.13cm length is the distance from 12.50 (ten minutes to 1am) to 1:15 or 25 minutes. So the water heater was on for 2.45/5.13x25= 11.94 minutes or 0.199 of an hour. Energy is measured in kilowatt-hours so I want hours, not minutes.

I can also see, thanks to the Blueline software, the energy use exactly at any point on the graph by moving my cursor along the graph line. The box that pops up shows me that the energy use at the instant shown by the blue dot is 3.135KW. I am going to subtract a little bit for the baseline and the refrigerator that looks like it has come on within a minute or two of the water heater so I am going to ignore that part. I will take the water heater as 3kW which is it's nameplate rating also.

So the energy used by my water heater during that spike is (3kWx0.199hour=) 0.597kWH or just over half a kilowatt hour. During my off peak, this amount of energy costs me ($0.11x0.597=) $0.065 (six and a half cents) but during my peak rate period, this same energy would cost me ($0.54x0.597=) $0.32 (thirty two cents). This is for one heating cycle, normally the water heater would come on about every six hours. There is a pretty good chance that at least two cycles will occur during my peak, two during my off peak, if I had not added the timer.

By having all the water heater limited to off peak, I figure that I am saving almost $350 per year on my study special billing rates, more than enough justification for a $20 timer. Your payback won't be anywhere near that but I'll bet that you will find savings if you look at your water heater. Some are easier to do than others but the timer should be a no-brainer unless you use a LOT of hot water, and then there may be even better ways to save.

I don't think I posed my rate structure but I talked about it, 11 cents off peak, 54 cents on peak and my peak time is different. I do not pay delivery and other charges for the duration of this study. For me, it is all about timing - stay off the peak!

You will notice of course that my peak/non-peak differential is different from yours but then I am on this study for a year. They gave me a special incentive (a very punishing peak rate) and all this data. They want to see what I will do? I feel like a rat in a maze sometimes. It truly is not easy to SEE where your electricity goes, even when you can see it in a graph.

Do look at the disaggregation article. I think that watching this market develop is going to be interesting.

I mentioned the temperature set point on the water heater. The fridge and the freezer have them as well. For the moment I am leaving the set points as they are. The subject of set points will have to be another discussion. Safety obviously is a key issue.

Thank you for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

flexplan/blueline/energycloud/plotwatt update

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Not a useful error message to wake up to. And there is a typo!

This is in my browser this morning. I am trying to access my electrical energy usage from last night.

I was using Firefox, so I tried Chrome. I tried my phone on a different network. No. EnergyCloud is DOWN. Perhaps to a webmaster the message might mean something? Who knows where EnergyCloud is? It's in the cloud. But the service is down. I've tried over the last hour.

Time for an update to McMaster anyway so I wrote them a letter which is the basis of this article. Time for some reflection and assessment.

FlexPlan - The McMaster University study of Hydro One customers I agreed to participate in, funded by the Ontario government. More info about this project as part of the Ontario Smart Grid Fund and the DeGroote school of McMaster..

Blueline Innovations - based in Newfoundland, maker and seller of the PowerCost monitor and EnergyCloud. The Blueline hardware was provided and installed at no charge by a McMaster/Hydro contractor, but I could have done it myself had I bought it.

EnergyCloud - a service of Blueline Innovations that allows me to access my usage information using my browser. The raw data is the actual kW used by my house recorded every minute. The graphs I have found to be interesting and useful.

PlotWatt - a software company in Durham, NC whose product energy management software supposedly learns from my usage via EnergyCloud and makes recommendations to me by email, supposedly, after it "learns" for about a month. They are tied somehow to Blueline as a "partner". I do not pay for their "service" which has been a disappointment so far.

Hello from Client ID xxxxxx

This morning I cannot access the Blueline Innovations software with my browser. I have tried both Firefox and Chrome. With both I get an error (pic attached). I kept trying for the last hour. I do enjoy looking at the graph of my usage.

While I am talking about Blueline, the mobile ap is difficult because it keeps requiring sign in and my password is not remembered. This may be caused by my phone. When I log in, the information the app contains is really not useful. Anyway, it says that EnergyCloud has stopped when I do the login.

Plotwatt does shows my usage and trends right now but STILL shows NOTHING about my appliance usage. It's been over three months now and you said it was "learning"? The only thing I can see is the downloadable .csv file attached. This is not useful information?

I find the advertising on the Plotwatt site misleading. This is not what I have. And to a certain extent on the Blueline website. I have no appliance specific information?

Thanks to your program, I now know much more about my electricity usage. But not due to the software. The real time info graph is nice to have but I have to figure it out from there.

I hear nothing from McMaster except your direct relies to my questions. How is the program going? I see that the funding was over $1.3M.

George Plhak

This is the appliance spreadsheet I downloaded this morning from PlotWatt. Down the left side are the days of the last month and across the top are some categories that Plotwatt decided, not me. Notice the "learning" column.

This "data" does not mean much to me as relates to what I think my usage is. I certainly have other major appliances, like a water heater, that are not shown. I told the software specifically what appliances I had in the setup. It should know.

When I look at the PlotWatt website, it seems that their main focus is restaurant energy management although they do make the pitch at a utility level that having customers know more about their usage is a good idea and the idea is compelling.

So far, for me at least, the idea is not delivered on.

I'll let you know what I hear from McMaster.

Update Aug 4 - I am able now to log into EnergyCloud but there is no data. The main graph is blank.
Update Aug 5 - Excellent tech support from John at Blueline. I now have data again. They had a melt down in the Cloud or something. My Blueline sensor and bridge needed to be reset and John helped me do that. Short discussion with John. I am not supposed to get the detailed appliance data as part of the study so he says that I will not see it, even after three month of "learning". Go figure.

Thanks for your interest.
George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Monday, July 25, 2016

insulated refrigerator freezer result negative?

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This graph from last night shows the electrical energy use of my newly insulated refrigerator freezer over about three hours with virtually nothing else on in the house.

I was surprised to find that the energy used last night was greater with the insulation I added yesterday! Until I realized that the last time July 10 I looked carefully at refrigerator usage, the temperature in the house was MUCH cooler. We are having a bit of a heat wave here so the temperature this morning in the house is 21C. You can see the little thermometer in the top right of the graph. Last time it was 12C. I would expect the fridge to be working harder when the ambient temperature is warmer. So I don't know the effect of the insulation yet. I have changed two variables and you can't do that. I'll have to repeat the measurement when the overnight temperature is cooler.

The temperature is measured outside by the Blueline Innovations device on my electricity utility power meter. Since I have the windows open, I would expect the inside and outside temperatures to be about the same. I also had the windows open on July 10.

So last night, I unplugged my small chest freezer downstairs about 10pm and plugged it back in about 5am this morning so it was not running during the recording. The fridge and the freezer have similar signatures so if I want to see one or the other, I unplug the other one for a time.

Everything in the downstairs chest freezer is still frozen solid although most of the light frost is gone from the inside walls and the plastic bags of food. There are still big chucks of ice in there on the walls after seven hours off. I have been watching this fairly carefully since I have been keeping my fridge and freezer OFF with timers during my peak period. They must keep at a safe temperature even after six to eight hours off. If you have a house full of teenagers using the fridge often, this might not work for you.

Other than the refrigerator freezer upstairs, only the network is running (which is how I get the data from my Blueline energy monitor), a couple of night lights and a phone charger. These make up the baseline load of about 70 watts. The base load is a bit lower than the previous tests because I not only turned off the computer but switched off its power bar.

Here is the graph annotated with guidelines and measurements added with CorelDraw. You can use your own favorite graphics program (or a ruler on a printout) to do the measurements and calculation. The Blueline software does not do the appliance calculation.

What I want to know is the area under the curve. The curve in this case is the square wave which represents the time (horizontal axis) that the refrigerator is running. The vertical axis shows the power demand at any particular time. The power times the time is the energy used in kWh.

Looking first at the vertical, when the fridge is ON, the house is drawing about 220 watts. I am eyeballing this by drawing a line through the middle of the tops of the square waves. It's an average, but you can see the fridge is a pretty consistent load when it is ON. When the fridge is not running, the house still draws energy (base load). Again, I am eyeballing this through the troughs of the square wave at about 70 watts. So the fridge is using the difference (220-70)= 150 watts, the same as before.

I would not expect the insulation to affect the amount of power at any time since the motor will draw the same current as before. What should happen is the motor will run less often.

Lookng at the horizontal time axis. It is hard to read exactly the Blueline graph so I am going to use some rulers. CorelDraw lets me lay down these rulers and tells me the distance. I have labeled one hour as being 3.12cm. The units of length don't matter as long as my units are all the same. I am going to use distance to compute time.

Across the top, I see that the fridge is ON an average of (0.92+0.89+0.91/3) 0.90cm or (0.9/3.12) 0.3 of an hour (about 20 minutes). I see the cycle time averages 2.15cm or (2.15/3.12) 0.7 of an hour (about 42 minutes). So I can say that the refrigerator is ON (0.3/0.7x100) 42.8% of the time.

So at this rate, based on these samples, over a whole day my fridge would use (power x time x duty cycle) (0.15x24x0.428) 1.54kWh or (1.54x364) 562kWh per year.

There is more to the story. As I was adding the insulation on the outside of the freezer compartment, I was wondering if I would have to re-balance the controls for the fridge and the freezer. At one point, several hours after finishing, I did adjust the fridge by one notch but then moved it back. I can't honestly be certain that I put it back to the same exact place. Both the fridge and the freezer controls are in the middle of their ranges.

What did surprise me this morning though, was that I had been playing with the "Exterior Moisture Control" and had mistakenly left it in the ON position. There are strip heaters around the door openings that are intended to drive off condensation on the cold door edges. I did not mean to have this on for last nights recording. This would definitely have used more power. I am not sure when the heaters come on but likely they are turned on and off the same as the compressor. But I still see the same 150 watts? Puzzling.

So THREE variables!

Thanks for your interest
George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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