Energy efficient: Simple tips to bring down your bill

It's surprisingly simple to bring down your bill. Check out our tips.

When we moved into our drafty wartime home six years ago, we made a few big changes to keep our energy bills low: We insulated an exterior wall, installed a high-e fficiency furnace and bought new appliances that don’t suck as much electricity. And while our renovation budget shrunk a fter we had kids, we’re still finding ways to save money on our winter energy bills.

“ The more ine fficient your home is, the easier and more cost e ffective it is to start seeing energy savings,” says Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green Solutions, a BC non-profit that offers home energy assessments. “Almost everything you do is going to help you start making huge leaps and bounds.” Consider these suggestions to keep your family cozy.

GETTING STARTED

High end:
If you’re opening up your walls to remodel or to do electrical work, use the opportunity to insulate. That’s what Marisa Lamb’s family did when they bought an almost-century-old home in Port Credit, Ont., and invested in an energy audit. When Lamb and her husband had their walls opened up for electric work, they ended up spending nearly $9,000 on new insulation to replace the newspaper and wool that was found. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the pretty things, but there’s a lot of value in renovations that you can’t see,” Lamb says.

Low end:
Reducing drafts can save you up to 30 percent a year on your heating costs, according to the Ontario Power Authority. Buy a few inexpensive tubes of caulk to seal up cracks around your windows and doors — it’s easy and keeps out cool air currents.

Electrical outlets are another target: Install special foam pads inside them, and seal the faceplates with caulk. Victoria homeowner Madeline Dams also installed the plug covers she had kicking around from childproofing. “ The energy advisor helped me realize that each little place that there was air leakage added up to a big window being open in our house all the time,” says Dams, a mother of two. “I could feel the difference.”

LAUNDRY

High end:
Young families do endless loads of laundry, so investing in new machines can save you a bundle. A new front-loading washing machine uses up to 50 percent less water and hydro than an older, top-loading model, according to BC Hydro.

Low end:
You can cut drying costs — even in the winter — by setting up a drying rack in a well-ventilated room. The resulting humidi ty means you can set your thermostat a degree or two lower, saving you up to 10 percent on your heating bill, says Andrew Pride, the Ontario Power Authori ty’s vice-president of conservation. Washing your loads in cold water and at night or on the weekend (in Ontario), when power is the least expensive, is also wise.

HEATING

High end:
About 40 to 50 percent of your home’s energy is spent warming the space, according to Sundberg. If your furnace is more than a decade old, you might want to consider a new, Energy Star-rated model. According to Direct Energy in Alberta, replacing your old, 60-percent-e fficient gas furnace with a 95-percent-e fficient model will save you $700 a year on gas, and another $289 on electrici ty. A new furnace can cost several thousand dollars, but don’t let that scare you; many utility providers and various levels of government o ffer significant grants or rebates.

Low end:
Switch out your old thermostat for a programmable one starting as low as $40. Some agencies, like the Ontario Power Authority, will actually outfit you with a free one. Set it to automatically reduce the temperature by a few degrees when you’re sleeping or not home, and you can save up to 15 percent on your heating costs, according to the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology. “We’re always in a warm house and don’t need to think about it,” says Dams. Also, make the most of your furnace by changing the filter every month or two.

IN THE KITCHEN

High end:
Swapping out your refrigerator for an energy-e fficient model can save you $100 a year. But don’t hang onto the old one for a beer fridge, Pride warns. (Bonus: The Ontario Power Authority took away our clunky old fridge for free.)

Low end:
Removing the kickplate on your fridge and sucking dust o ff the coils with a vacuum can improve its e fficiency. So can using your stove correctly: Choosing the right-sized burner for each pot can save you $30 annually, Pride says. And avoiding the heat-dry setting on your dishwasher can save you up to $100 a year, he adds. Just crack the door and let the dishes air dry — a good soap should take care of spots.

BATHROOM

High end:
It may be hard to take fewer baths and showers with a growing family, but you can take smarter ones. Replacing your shower head with a water-e fficient model (for as little as $15) could save you up to 25,000 litres of water and up to $150 a year, Sundberg says.

Low end:
Inserting an aerator on the tip of your sink faucet to reduce your water use is also wise, particularly if your kids are too young to turn off the tap on their own. They’re easy to install and only cost a few loonies. Another good bet is installing a low-flush toilet, which start at about $100 . (Some cities, like Calgary, also o ffer rebates for their installation.)

Heating water accounts for another 30 percent of a home’s energy needs, according to Sundberg. Wrapping your hot-water pipes in foam and your hot-water heater in an insulated blanket will cost less than $50 and can simply be placed around the tank and secured with tape. Of course, taking shorter hot showers and baths will help, too.

At their new home, Lamb and her husband review the bills together — it’s incentive for them both to flick off the lights and unplug their cellphone charger and other appliances when they’re not in use. You might also find your kids are inclined to help; they’re growing up in a culture that values conservation. In fact, Dams’ six-year-old, Isaac, is o ften the one reminding her to turn out lights.

RESOURCES TO HELP YOU GET STARTED

Looking to save? Try out these cost-cutting strategies:

  • A great place to start is the Natural Resources Canada website, which lists the various provincial programs available to homeowners.
  • The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation also offers a rebate on mortgage loan insurance if you buy an energy-efficient home or make upgrades to the one you bought.
  • Your local and provincial utilities departments may also offer great incentives for installing programmable thermostats, purchasing new energy-efficient appliances and more.
  • Many of the companies that offer home energy audits also know all the ins and outs of the rebates and incentives available. Conducting an audit — the costs of which may be covered where you live — can also help you prioritize which jobs will bring down your bills the most.

A version of this article appeared in our March 2013 issue with the headline “Energy Efficient,” pp. 64-6.

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