Home heating accounts for about 56 percent of energy use in Canada. Even though many Canadians are becoming more aware about saving energy, this figure has risen. Why? Home sizes have generally increased since the 1950s.
Here in Calgary it gets really cold, so we use up a lot of heat. Naturally, your energy bills are higher in the winter than they are in the summer. For a three bedroom modern townhouse, your total monthly electric and gas bills can range between $280 and $350 each month during winter. In comparison, you’re only spending between $100 to $200 a month to cool your home in the summer.
You may not realize it, but some of that winter heat is wasted. Reducing your wasted heat has real benefits, and not just on your pocketbook. For instance, buildings account for more than 35 percent of all emitted greenhouse gasses. They use up 50 percent of our natural resources. So saving on energy costs is also good for the environment.
Here are 10 ways you can save money on heating, ranging from free or low cost solutions to more expensive ones. Note that just how much you can save will depend on your house size and gas prices.
1. Make Sure Vents Aren’t Blocked By Furniture
- Cost: Free
When decorating our homes, we’re sometimes tempted to move a couch overtop of a heating vent, or cover a cold air return with curtains. Covering up these vents, however, means that your heating system won’t get the airflow it needs to maintain a comfortable heat. That’ll lead you to turn up the thermostat.
On a related note, there’s also a myth that closing off your vents and registers in unused rooms will lower your heating bill. This is false.
What this actually does is throw your heating system out of balance, and make it work harder, which means more fuel used and possible early breakdowns.
Blocking vents in rooms that are unused will makes them colder. These rooms will then attract heat from other rooms in your house, and will make the whole house colder overall. This, too, will cause you to crank up the furnace.
2. Open Curtains on South-Facing Windows on Sunny Days
- Cost: Free
You’ve probably experienced how hot your car gets when you park it in the sun, even in winter. The same thing can happen with your home if you put the “hot car effect” to work for you.
When it’s sunny out, open the curtains on the south side of your home and allow the sun to get in. You can also cut down on shrubs or tree branches outside that may prevent direct sunlight from getting into your home.
If a window doesn’t have access to direct sunlight, close the curtains. Don’t forget to close all curtains and blinds at night to keep the heat in.
3. Make Sure Your Furnace Filter Is Clean
- Cost: Free, unless you have to replace the filter.
Another easy way to save money this winter is to examine your furnace filter regularly. Check the filter once a month, and clean or replace it as needed. You’ll find the filter on a forced air heating system near the blower compartment or on a cold air return register.
A dirty filter means your heating system has to work harder, which means spending more on fuel. How much this will cost you depends on how much airflow is blocked, and the size of your home.
4. Seal Air Leaks Around Windows, Doors and Ductwork
- Cost: Roughly $40 to $65 for materials, plus taxes.
- Potential Savings: 10 percent or more.
Your windows, doors, plumbing and wiring can all contain cracks that allow heat to escape. One estimate notes that 7 to 12 percent of your home’s heat loss happens around windows and doors. To solve this problem, you can use caulk or weather stripping. Sealing these leaks can save you as much as $108 or almost 3% of your annual energy bill.
An easy way to look for big leaks around doors and windows is to light a candle, and watch how the flame acts. If there’s a draft, you’ll see the flame bend towards the leak. Be careful when trying this, however, as there’s a fire hazard with all candles.
For drafts around windows, you can also seal them with plastic sheeting and double-sided tape. For doors, install a weather stripping. Wall sockets and switches can be sealed using fitted installation pads. Expanding foam sealants are also good for large gaps around electrical work and plumbing.
You can also save more by sealing your ducts with mastic duct sealant. This is a non-toxic material that you paint onto your ductwork cracks. This will prevent air from seeping into your attic or crawl spaces. It can save you 3 to 10 percent on your heating bill.
Hiring a professional to seal your home will cost you more money, but they can measure the improvements. They’ll do an air seal test before and after so you can see how much these tactics worked.
5. Seal Your Chimney
- Cost: About $65, plus taxes.
- Potential Savings: Up to about $130 a year.
Chimneys are a big source of heat loss in a home. If your fireplace has a chimney, warm indoor air will escape when it’s not being used. Yes, you can close the chimney flue, but that still doesn’t prevent some warm air from leaving your home.
If you block the chimney’s airflow by using an inflatable chimney balloon when not in use, you can save more than $100 a year. These balloons can fit different chimney sizes. You simply blow the balloon up and place it in the chimney, and remove it when you start a fire.
If you forget to take out the balloon when you light your furnace, though, the balloon will deflate. This will prevent your house from filling with smoke. Be aware, however, that these balloons can become covered in soot. That’ll make them hard to manage after using them over and over again.
6. Tune-up Your Heating System
- Cost: $100 to $135, plus taxes.
- Potential Savings: 10 percent or more (possibly as high as 30 percent).
Natural gas systems should be checked every year, especially if they’re older. As furnaces age, the effects of heat and combustion residue can cause parts to wear down and they become less efficient as when they were new.
You’ll additionally save on repair costs because little problems often turn into bigger ones. Most experts believe that up to 75 percent of furnace breakdowns are caused by poor maintenance.
7. Install Storm Windows
- Cost: About $130, plus taxes, for a single storm window.
- Potential Savings: Reduces heat loss by 25 percent or more.
Installing storm windows can be a very cost-effective way of lowering heat loss if you can’t afford newer, high-efficiency windows. If you buy storm windows with low-emissivity coatings, you can reduce heat loss by 50 percent. Storm windows work best when they’re installed over single-pane windows.
Be sure to measure the width and height of the window you’ll cover from the outside of your house before buying them. You can easily install these windows yourself. It only takes about a half hour for each window’s installation.
Don’t install storm windows over aluminum windows, though. You can damage the aluminum due to the heat buildup. Drilling holes during installation can lead to leaks, too, so watch out for that.
8. Have an Energy Audit Done
- Cost: Between $300 and $500, depending on your home’s size.
- Potential Savings: Up to 30 percent per year or more.
An auditor will use a blower door test and an infrared camera to discover leaks in your home. They’ll also discuss with you ways you can improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Auditors will provide you with a detailed report listing potential upgrades you can make. Energy audits are usually scheduled through your local utility company. In some instances, you may qualify for a rebate on your audit if certain criteria are met.
9. Improve Your Insulation
- Cost: Generally $2,000 to $3,000, possibly more if your home is poorly insulated.
- Potential Savings: Possibly $130 to $175 a year, or six percent of your energy bill.
Generally, the more insulation you have in your home, the better your heating bills will be. How much you money you’ll save, however, depends on the heating system you have and how much insulation you install.
When buying insulation, look at the R-value per inch, which is a measure of the resistance to heat transfer. The insulation will be more effective if it has a higher number. If you’re putting insulation into cramped spaces, you’ll need a higher R-value per inch to offset the heat loss. You can use lower R-value insulation under the floor or in the attic. You might just need to add an extra layer or two of thickness in these areas.
10. Get a Programmable Thermostat
- Cost: Starting at around $50 or more than $200, depending on their features.
- Potential Savings: About five percent for every degree Celsius the thermostat is turned down.
Since you program the temperature in your home in advance, you don’t have to think about lowering the heat manually. This is how it helps save so much, year after year.
Once you have a programmable thermostat, the temperature can be set to be lowered automatically when you’re away or asleep. If you program the thermostat to turn the heat down by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours a day, you can save 10 percent or more on your heating bill.
Knight Plumbing has a wide array of programmable thermostats, from basic models to advanced with wifi connectivity. If you’d like to know more about them, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. We can demonstrate in-store how to install them and how they work.