Seal up those hidden leaks
One of the simplest ways to retain heat and reduce energy costs this winter is by installing proper weather-stripping and caulking around the house. According to Hydro One, up to 40 per cent of home heat loss in winter is due to air leakage, and if you added up all the cracks and leaks in the average Canadian home it would be like having a hole in your wall the size of a basketball.
Once all doors and windows are properly sealed, it's time to plug those less obvious air leaks. An easy way to find hidden drafts is to hold a lit stick of incense around baseboards, light fixtures and electrical outlets – a strong leak will make the stick glow brighter and blow the smoke away, while smaller leaks will puff the smoke in a distinct direction.
Invest in a programmable thermostat
It's wasteful to heat an empty house, so why not take advantage of a programmable thermostat? The David Suzuki Foundation recommends automatically lowering your household temperature while you sleep or are away at work, and bringing the heat back up when you wake or arrive home. With proper use, you'll never notice the difference in temperature, but your bank account certainly will — you could end up saving more than 10 per cent on your home heating costs. And now, with so many easy-to-use Energy Star certified options, like the new Ecobee Smart Thermostat, you can change your home heating and cooling preferences whenever you want with at-home display panels or online through your WiFi network.
Adding extra insulation into your attic and crawl-spaces is another simple and effective way to reduce heating needs by up to 30 per cent. David Johnson, co-author of Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, says you can find out whether you have enough attic insulation by measuring its thickness in various locations throughout the coverage area. If you measure less than 20 centimetres of fibreglass or rock wool, or 15 centimetres of cellulose, you could benefit from additional insulation. Luckily, today there are many alternatives to the traditional pink fibreglass out there, and you can choose to insulate your house with eco-friendly cotton, recycled newsprint or soybean oil based products.
Tune-up your furnace and water heater
Now is also the time to check your furnace and water heater to make sure they are working at peak efficiency. By scheduling a professional cleaning and inspection each fall, your furnace will burn cleaner, last longer and save energy. Also, by changing filters at least twice each winter, you can improve both energy efficiency and air quality in your home.
Additionally, you can take this opportunity to wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket and insulate exposed hot water pipes. The energy it takes to heat water 24/7 can make up about 20 per cent of your electrical bill, and this added protection, along with turning down the thermostat on your water heater by a few degrees, can make a big difference to your energy consumption.
Mind your pipes and gutters
By making sure that your gutters are clean and pipes are protected, you can save yourself some major repair headaches down the road. Keeping your gutters free of leaves, sticks and other debris will help melting snow and ice to flow freely, and prevent ice dams that can cause water damage to your home's roof and walls.
Turning off the water to your outside garden hose spigots and draining the lines will prevent water inside from freezing and expanding, which could lead to cracked pipes, water damage and waste. Also, look for any pipes inside that aren't insulated and run through unheated spaces like garages and basements, and wrap them in insulation sleeves to prevent freezing and breakage — remember, there's nothing worse than being knee-deep in a flooded basement in the dead of winter.