Identify air leaks
Doors and windows come to mind first when thinking about lost heat during the winter months (looking at you door to door salespeople!). While these are likely (and repairable culprits), there are other ways warm indoor air can escape outside. Any cuts or gaps in your walls or ceiling can give warm air (which likes to rise) an easy escape route into your attic and, of course, right outside. Replacing light fixtures is a common, yet rarely thought about, opportunity for exactly that to happen. Make sure your new light completely covers the opening in the drywall for your electrical box. Even a small gap or seam will contribute to heat loss. Be sure to seal any and all imperfections with sealant of caulking.
Proper amounts of attic insulation
Speaking of attics, I was once asked by my little brother why we have cotton candy in our ceilings. After collecting myself, I explained to him what insulation was all about and how it keeps our homes warms during the winter and cool during the summer. Ensuring that you have enough of the right stuff up there can result in big savings. Check out the R-value on the next bag of insulation you see or buy. Basically, the higher the number, the better the insulating material is at resisting the transfer of heat.
Curtains and other window treatments
Curtains and drapes, man I’ve seen some ugly ones. But when you think about it, there’s more than just aesthetics at work here. Curtains made of particular materials, like wool and cotton, can act as great insulators. When your curtains are open on a sunny day, the different wavelengths of light from the sun will penetrate your window and heat up inside materials, making it feel warmer. At night, closing your curtains will help trap warm air inside and prevent it from leaking back out through seams in windows.
These are also a great way to insulate, in this case a floor, for example. If you have hardwood, laminate or some variant between, consider using an area rug to help keep your feet warm and rising warmer air from the level below down where it came from.
This is a tough one, and one many people struggle with. The higher your temperature settings during the winter months, the higher your energy bill will be. Plain and simple. If other items on this list are not in check, your furnace will work harder to maintain the desired temperature. Every degree lower that you can comfortably live with will help you save little bits of money each month. This would be a great time to pull out that ugly but thermally impenetrable holiday sweater that Grandma made for you when you were little, just be sure to blow off the dust.
If you have a fireplace, you’ve probably appreciated the quick and scorching heat that they can deliver. Since we’re talking energy savings however, these need to be used in moderation, especially if other aspects of your homes energy efficiency shield are not in check. Heat in will certainly become heat out. But make no mistake, if you put in the effort to ensure that your windows and doors are thermally up to speed, fireplaces can be a great way to keep your furnace dormant for periods of time. If your fireplace is the traditional type equipped with a damper, be sure to close it after each use so that your newly produced heat doesn’t escape back where it came from.
There’s a silent (or sometimes silent) accomplice when it comes to keeping your heating source at bay, and it’s hanging right above your nose. Your ceiling fan is designed to move air about in the room in which is resides. How it does that depends on the orientation of the blades. Standard operation dictates that air is pushed downwards (from the fan's centre) as warm air is pulled up the walls and trapped at the ceiling. Reversing your blades will do the opposite and push warm air back down the walls, making our (and the thermostat’s) level of the room feel warmer, alleviating the furnace from constantly kicking in. Try it out.
Have a certified ecoENERGY advisor come through and inspect your home. He or she will inspect all of the nooks and crannies, including the main areas, attic, crawl space and functional systems (ie. furnace and air conditioning units) and look for ways to improve your energy efficiency. These consultations will run you about $350 but it’s money well spent if you implement some of the tips and tricks into your home’s everyday life to realize the anticipated energy savings. Government rebate programs were popular methods of offsetting some of the costs of implementing energy efficient changes, but such programs are always changing and have recently been subject to cancellation. Check out www.saveonenergy.ca/Consumer/Programs.aspx for a list of available programs and a useful interactive tool that offers some tips for minimizing energy consumption around the house.
Special mention: Space heaters
Would you carry around a portable fireplace? That’s crazy, right? It gets very hot, could burn you, or worst yet, could be dropped and cause a fire. Well guess what, we also just described your typical space heater. There have been a number of house fires, which have taken several lives, that were attributed to space heaters, either malfunctioning or being knocked over. While these might seem like a viable option when it comes to heating a small space within a home, they too pull energy, aren’t overly effective and come with serious risks, which are often neglected until it’s too late. My personal recommendation is to avoid them and take advantage of some of the other topics in this post to keep your house warm.