Is your high utility bill getting you down? It doesn’t have to be this way. Take these 10 easy steps to reduce your household energy consumption and save big!
Before you begin, a Home Energy Audit is a great way to locate all of those sneaky leaky spots where your hard earned cash is literally flying out of your pocket and into the great blue yonder. An HEA usually costs between $180 and $600 and takes 1 to 5 hours. Using some Ghostbuster-esque paraphernalia, a professional home auditor can easily evaluate how much energy your home consumes and then outline steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient and SAVE YOU THOUSANDS. However, if you want to skip that part and get right to the savings, read on!
#1 Add More Roof Insulation
Adding insulation to your roof is the number one way to reduce energy consumption and most importantly your monthly utility bill! With an estimated return on investment of over 100%, adding additional insulation to your roof will quickly pay itself off in significant savings.
Building code changes from region to region, but as a rule of thumb, you will find that the roof of a production house built after 1970 will contain enough insulation to warrant what is known as an R28 rating. (R-value is a common benchmark used to express the ratio of resistance to heat flow to thickness of a material.) As of 2012 houses in Ontario are required to have an R31 rating. Given that most houses were built before 2012 we will assume an R28 rating for the purposes of this article. An R-28 rating equates to an average of 216mm or 8.5 inches of attic insulation, most commonly in the form of loose or granular pink insulation. Adding more insulation is an effective, cheap and easy way to save big money on utilities. Make one quick phone call and a couple of masked men will show up with a giant hose and fire insulation into your attic through the attic hatch. The entire job will take under an hour and a half and it should cost you roughly $480 per 216mm / 8.5 inches of thickness over a thousand square feet. Adding an additional R-28 to your roof will double its performance, which will make it toasty warm in the winter, cool in the summer and put loads more money in your pocket!
If you stop reading now and do this one thing, you will be pleasantly surprised the next time you open your utility bill. But, for those who want white doves and confetti to fly out of the envelope, read on.
#2 Foam Those Sneaky Leaky Spots
If you are hunting for secret passages that your money is using to escape your bank account, the basement is a logical place to start. For the uninitiated, a joist space is a pocket between the structural members of your subfloors. If you just went, “huh?” Check out this handy diagram:
For the most part, these pockets terminate at the exterior walls of your house. These points are often left under-insulated, poorly insulated, or not insulated whatsoever. Picture in your mind the coldest day you can, and then imagine that in your mad dash to get to work so you can pay your enormous heating bill that you have left the front door of your house wide open with the furnace on full blast. Are you picturing it? Perfect. And now brace yourself, because in all likelihood this is precisely what is occurring right now in your basement. The total heat loss from mildly or completely un-insulated joist spaces equates roughly to leaving your front door wide open. The bad news is that you have probably been heating and cooling the great outdoors for years. The good news is that, (providing your basement is not yet dry-walled), using a bag or two of insulation, or high-density foam, you can easily insulate this problem area for under $60 and a few hours of your time.
IMPORTANT: When installing fibre and foam insulation, always wear protective eye goggles with a mask, and keep windows open for air circulation.
Once you are ready to insulate it is important that you get things right. On the diagram below you will note that the 6mm poly goes on the interior or warm side. The fibre insulation should face outside with the air barrier or what is commonly known as ‘house wrap’, covering it. The house wrap lets vapor escape while protecting the insulation from exterior air and moisture. The 6mm poly installed on the interior side will protect the insulation from moist interior air and prevent molding, provided it is installed correctly. Note that the poly should be well secured to the joists with a continuous bead of acoustical sealant and staples.
If you are looking for a quicker and easier fix, you can forgo all of that and use high-density foam, which will do everything you want in one fizzing step.
IMPORTANT: The foam must meet the performance requirements of an air barrier. If the foam does not meet the performance requirements of an air barrier, you will have to install house wrap on the exterior and 6mm poly on the interior just the same as if you were using fiber insulation.
#3 Install A Smart Thermostat
Smart thermostats can regulate the heating and cooling of your home so that you only use what you need when you need it. Smart t-stats can be controlled remotely via your smartphone or computer. More sophisticated systems can regulate the heating and cooling of individual rooms. This is called zoning. Why heat or air-condition your entire house when you can just heat or cool the room you are using? This type of technology has the power to save consumers billions of dollars in the coming decades.
#4 Capture Usable Heat
Did you know that heat loss could be captured and reused? Wastewater heat recovery systems can be easily installed by a licensed plumber and will decrease the energy used to heat household water. This will decrease energy usage incrementally, but nonetheless significantly over a long period. See the diagram below to see how it works!
#5 Insulate and Weather Seal Doors and Windows
Installing proper insulation and weather sealant around door and window frames is equally as important as installing a high quality window. If the edges of a window are poorly insulated and improperly sealed it will not matter how well the window performs. There are various ways windows and doors are insulated, from caulking, weather stripping to fiber or foam insulation between the window and the window opening hidden beneath your trim. Again, the hand test can determine if you have sneaky leaky areas around the edges of your doors and windows.
#6 Upgrade Your Windows
Windows are major culprits in the battle against heat and cold loss. While it can be a significant investment, replacing your old windows with energy efficient ones will put a dent in your utility bill and will save you big money over the long term.
#7 Plant Trees
Strategic tree planting will provide shade in the summer and protection from icy winds in the winter, naturally cooling and heating your house all year round. Do some research before you plant! The height of the tree, as well as its proximity and position relative to the house, are important factors when planting for shade and wind protection. Different combinations will have different effects. For example, a smaller evergreen tree planted on the northwest of a building will provide early morning and late afternoon shade, while a tall evergreen tree planted to the east and west of a property will provide protection from strong summer sun mid day.
#8 Install Solar Panels
The installation of solar panels is becoming less costly every year as more consumers choose solar. And depending on your area there may be significant government rebates available. Even in cloudy climates, solar panels are proving to be valuable long-term investments for homeowners who are seeking to significantly reduce energy consumption over the lifetime of a house.
#9 Upgrade Your Furnace and Hot Water Tank
As with old windows, old inefficient furnaces and hot water tanks guzzle energy and money. Again, depending on your location, there may be significant government rebates available for the installation of energy efficient furnaces and hot water tanks. Leasing a new appliance may also be an option. If you are feeling ambitious you may want to explore other heating and air conditioning options such as geothermal. However, these systems can be expensive and difficult to service. Replacing old appliances with Enery-Star rated ones will significantly reduce energy consumption without incurring undue upfront and servicing costs.
#10 Create Strategies That Save
The biggest return on investment will come from insulating your roof. Regulation of heating and air conditioning through smart technology and upgrading windows will also fetch you significant savings for a relatively modest investment. However, there are additional strategies you can take to save even more!
- Be vigilant with your thermostat settings. Determine your maximum seasonal temperature and stick to it, even if it means putting on a sweater
- Instead of blasting the air conditioner, try taking advantage of naturally occurring crosswinds by opening your front and rear windows. This will create a draft that will cool the house free of charge.
- For those with un-insulated basement floors, (houses over 100 years old), try closing up all of the doors and windows without turning on the air conditioner, and you may be surprised at just how cool it gets. This method of cooling is widely used in Europe where houses are built without any form of insulation in the floors and walls.
- Closing the blinds during peak summer sun hours will keep the interior cool.
- Letting the sunshine in during the winter will help keep things nice and warm without the use of the heater.
Now you are set to start saving!
Ontario residents see the link below to access government rebates: