March 28, 2016

10 tips to conserve energy in cold weather

By Selene Wilkinson

How to stay cozy at home without warming the planet?

Winter is here and you have already pulled out your warm, woolly sweaters, hats and mitts. Sure, you might be prepared for the cold, but what about your home? It’s about time we all got our homes ready for winter – eco-style. Conserving energy is one of the best things you can do for the environment and your bank account, as it can help reduce your utility bills as well.

Here are 10 ways to prepare your home for the cold months ahead while treading lightly on the Earth:

1) Automate
Almost half of a home’s energy consumption is due to heating and cooling. If you turn your thermostat down by just one degree, you will save energy and up to ten per cent on your home heating bill. And, for each degree you drop below 20 degrees Celsius during colder weather, you will save three to five per cent more on heating. An easy way to control temperature is to install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts to cooler temperatures during the day when you are at work or at night when you are sleeping.

2) Assess
In many homes, an enormous amount of energy is wasted as heat radiating from the furnace quickly escapes out of cracks and windows. A home energy audit can help assess how your house uses energy while prioritizing actions you can take to make it more efficient and comfortable. The federal government offers assessment and grant programs as incentives to homeowners who make changes to improve energy-efficiency.

3) Eliminate drafts
Draft-proofing will keep you warm while saving energy and money. It has been said that if you add up all the cracks and the gaps between doors and windows in an average home, it is equal to leaving one window open. To help stop drafts, install weather-stripping around doors and caulk cracks around windows. During the winter, air conditioners installed in windows can be a large source of cold drafts. It’s always a good idea to remove window units during cold months or, if you must leave them in, insulate them in tight-fitting covers available at most home improvement stores.

4) Lower water temperature
Your water heater is the second largest energy consumer in the home. Turn it down to 60 degrees Celsius, the minimum storage temperature, to conserve power and you will still find yourself with plenty of hot water. To save even more energy here, consider wrapping your water heater in an insulating jacket that can save up to 10 per cent on water heating costs.

5) Keep it closed
Closing your curtains in the evening will help stop heat from escaping through windows. Keeping closet doors and dresser drawers closed is also a good idea as it prevents heat from entering areas that do not need it. If you have rooms in your home that you don’t use, you may consider closing the doors and, depending on the type of heating your house has, blocking vents or turning off electric heaters.

6) Timing is everything
When you are preparing some delicious cuisine in the kitchen this winter, be sure to time your cooking so that everything you are making can go into the oven at the same time. This will decrease the overall amount of energy that the oven needs to cook your meal.

7) Insulate
Save energy and feel more comfortable by increasing insulation in the perimeter walls and ceilings. Look for eco-friendly recycled materials with no added formaldehyde when shopping for insulation. By insulting the cavity walls in your home, you can save up to 15 per cent on your energy bills. Most homes built after 1920 have external walls which consist of two layers of brick with a small gap between them. Filling the gap with insulating material significantly decreases the amount of heat that escapes and helps to create a more even temperature throughout the home. Attic insulation prevents up to 15 per cent of a home’s heat from escaping through the roof by acting like a blanket, trapping the heat as it rises from the house below.

8) Radiant flooring
Radiant floor heating systems increase indoor air quality because unlike forced-air systems, they don’t blow dust and other allergens around your home. They have warm water circulating in flexible tubing that is installed below the floor allowing heat to radiate upwards providing quiet, steady warmth while using less energy. This project may have to wait until you are renovating as it can be pricey depending on the area you want to cover, but if the opportunity and funds arise, it will pay off in the long run.

9) Your furnace
Clean or replace your furnace filter as recommended, especially during months of heavy usage. Energy is lost when hot air furnaces have to work harder to draw air through dirty filters. You may also consider purchasing a new furnace. There are furnace models available now that are 25 per cent more efficient than they were back in the 1980s.

10) Double up
Installing double-pane windows involves a bigger investment, but it can cut the heat lost through windows by half. Some of the government programs mentioned above will subsidise a percentage of the cost of the windows if your assessment concludes that new windows will make your home more energy efficient. If you don’t think a new set of windows will work for you right now, a simple and effective seal for your existing single-pane aluminum windows (at a fraction of the cost) is clear plastic.

Getting your home winter-ready can make a large impact on both the environment and your utility bills. It’s certainly easy to turn up the thermostat and have your furnace pump out the heat, but it’s crucial to consider the environmental impact. There are many small things you can do around your home to make it more energy efficient. Larger projects may seem costly to implement at first, but if you use the government programs available and look at the big picture, you will see it is well worth the money and the effort for you and the planet.