As the sunlight mellows and nature's autumn garland of colour spreads south across the land, it's time to heed the call to prepare for winter by making sure your home and motor vehicle are ready for the cold months ahead and by taking measures to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency.
Low temperatures and long winter nights increase energy consumption rates dramatically. Energy costs put the chill on family budgets everywhere. Unfortunately, most of us are paying more than we should to keep our homes warm and comfortable in winter, because a lot of what we use is wasted. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, own or rent, there are a full range of simple, cost-effective measures you can take to cut energy costs and improve the wintertime comfort of your home.
Where to start? NRCan's Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) can help. The OEE has several programs that are helping to increase the energy efficiency of new and existing homes, appliances, heating and air conditioning equipment, lighting, office equipment and private vehicles. Although we are making progress, more can be done. The simple and easy measures we can all take will go a long way to reduce the toll of energy waste on our family budgets and on the environment.
Our Fall and Winter Tips presents ideas to help you save money and make your home a warm and thrifty refuge from winter's icy blast. You'll also find out how to reduce fuel and maintenance costs by taking the time to prepare and tune up your motor vehicle for winter.
(N.B. figures from Energy Efficiency Trends, Breakdown of Energy Consumption)
Did you know that heating accounts for 60 percent of total at-home energy use? There are big savings to be had in making sure your heating system is operating at peak efficiency. In fact, our homes waste more energy due to badly sealed and insulated windows and doors than the energy output of the Darlington and Pickering Nuclear Plants combined.
Your heating system is more than a furnace or a series of electric radiators. It not only generates heat, it delivers measured quantities of heat throughout your home. Even a state-of-the-art high-efficiency furnace will cost more than it should to operate in a house that is drafty and poorly insulated.
Household hot water supply is the second largest energy user in the home, and in an exceptionally energy-efficient house the water heater can consume more energy than space heating. There are several simple steps you can take to cut the cost of hot water significantly.
The exterior of your home is your first defense against the elements. You'll want to make sure your exterior building envelope is ship-shape for fall.
|Gaps and cracks around exterior light fixtures, outdoor taps and other through-the-wall openings.
|Exhaust vents-make sure they are in good condition and operating freely; clean out accumulated dirt and lint.
|Storm/exterior windows-confirm that every window is in place and that all caulking around windows and doors is in good condition where frames meet the brick or siding.
|Exterior cladding-repair any damage promptly to prevent water penetration into the structure.
|If you have safe access to the roof, inspect the chimney flashing to ensure it is tight fitting and in good condition. Be sure to wear non-slip footwear and to secure yourself off with a strong rope to prevent falls.
|Examine the chimney for loose brick, mortar, structural integrity.
|Check flashing around all skylights, rooftop vents, plumbing risers.
|Confirm that all eaves trough gutters and downspouts are fully functional and run off water away from the foundation wall.
Seal all gaps and cracks around fixtures, openings, door and window frames with exterior caulk.
Use roof caulk to seal flashing around chimneys, skylights, rooftop vents, plumbing risers.
Arrange for chimney repairs to be completed in the fall, before winter freeze-up.
Never underestimate the power of a draft. A 1/4-inch gap at the bottom of an exterior door has the effective cooling power of a hole four inches square in the middle of a wall. A well-insulated, well-sealed house keeps cold air out, warm air in and controls moisture. Even a small investment in time and money can make your home more comfortable and make a big difference in your heating bills.
Safety Tip: Avoid the discomfort of direct contact with fibreglass insulation and high levels of airborne particulates. Suit up in safety eyeglasses, coveralls, gloves, a cap and a light-duty dust mask before you begin your attic inspection.
Good sealing in the attic is especially important. Heated air can escape from your home into the attic in several ways:
|Gaps around air vents, ducts, plumbing vent stacks, chimneys and electrical wiring penetrating the attic from the rest of the house. Be thorough in your inspection, even the smallest gap can cause frost or ice to form in very cold weather when warm humid air escapes into the attic.
|Wall plate junctions.
|Attic doors and entrances that are not well insulated and weather-stripped.
While in your attic, check that the roof joists, rafters and sheathing are dry. Be on your guard for signs of excessive moisture and condensation that could signal serious air-leakage problem.
Confirm that the air/moisture barrier is in good condition and that ventilation is adequate.
Above-Ground Living Areas
|Light fixtures and pot lights penetrating ceilings and walls.
|Bulkheads and dropped ceilings.
|Poorly-fitted window-frames and sills.
|Exterior doors, storm doors and door frames.
|Light switches and electrical sockets on exterior walls.
|Bathroom and kitchen exhaust vents.
|Baseboards, cove mouldings and other interior trim.
|Plumbing pipes, especially sink pipes and drains penetrating into outside walls.
|Window air conditioners.
|Wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.
Basement and Crawl Space
|The sill plate between the floor joists and the basement wall. Next to your attic, this may be the point of greatest heat loss in your house, especially if wood framing is in direct contact with concrete.
|Basement windows, doors and frames.
|Electrical, cable television and telephone cable entry points.
|Water service, floor drain and plumbing stack entrances.
|Cobwebs, a sure sign of drafts.
Once you've identified where the drafts are located in your house, take action. Caulk and seal all penetrations into your house. Use heavy-duty caulking and apply thick beads of caulk around gaps in the attic, and at the junction between the basement wall and the house. Use insulating foam to seal gaps larger than 1.27 cm (1/2 inch) across. Paintable caulking will work well around window-frames, sills and other high-visibility items. Clear silicone caulk will be almost invisible in places that will not be painted, such as the floor-baseboard junction. Peel-off caulk can be used to seal gaps temporarily.
The floor of your attic should have at least 10 inches of fibreglass insulation (or equivalent).
Insulate exhaust fan ducts passing through the attic to control ice accumulation and back dripping.
Install weatherstripping on drafty doors and windows. Storm doors and windows should have weatherstripping on all moveable joints.
Single-use stretch-seal, heat-shrink plastic sheeting kits for windows are an inexpensive and easy stop-gap measure to seal up warped or single-glazed windows and patio doors. Magnetic-acrylic interior storms are a more expensive but reusable alternative. Install insulating window blinds on persistently drafty or cold windows.
Low-cost, high-density foam gaskets are available to seal light switches and electrical sockets.
Expanding foam insulation can be used to fill up large gaps in walls. For maximum effectiveness, however, insulating foam must be applied before the weather turns cold.
Use duct mastic to seal gaps in heating ducts and flues.
Window air conditioners are conduits for cold air and should be removed, cleaned and put into winter storage. Where this is not possible, the unit should be encased with a thick layer of fibreglass insulation and sealed with polyethylene sheeting and duct tape to keep out moisture.
Good furnace maintenance is important. Clean or replace your furnace filters regularly throughout the heating season. Filters will need to be changed more frequently in homes with furry pets. Arrange for your heating contractor to inspect and service your furnace before the heating season begins.
Turn down the thermostat when going to bed or when you will be active around the house. Make full use of your own energy to stay warm. The savings can be substantial, up to 10 percent with a nightly setback of 4°C. Programmable thermostats can be used to adjust temperature settings up to several times per day according to a pre-set schedule.
Fireplace dampers should be tight-fitting and kept tightly closed when the fireplace is not in use. Glass doors offer increased protection against drafts.
Set the temperature setting on your hot water tank at 49°C (120°F) if you wash dishes by hand, 60°C (140°F) if you have a dishwasher without a hot water booster heater.
Wrap your hot water tank in a thermal blanket to reduce heat loss. Insulate the hot water pipes as much as possible to minimize radiation heat loss.
The next time a hot water serviceperson comes to call, arrange to have a heat trap installed on the hot water outlet pipe to stop hot water from rising up the pipe unnecessarily.
A household of four people taking daily five-minute showers consumes a lifetime supply of drinking water for one person every six months. Low-flow showerheads and tap aerators will cut that figure in half.
The family kitchen is the traditional centre of hearth and home in winter. Whether it is large and fully equipped or compact and basic, think energy efficiency when working in your kitchen.
Electrical appliances have two price tags, the purchase price and the long-term operating cost. Check the EnerGuide label when shopping for major appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves and laundry equipment. EnerGuide labels tell you how many kilowatt-hours of energy you can expect a specific model to use each year and present the information in a format that lets you comparison shop for maximum energy efficiency.
Do you still keep an old beer fridge in the basement? Getting rid of it will make a big difference on your electricity bill. Try keeping your winter stores of root vegetables and beer in the root cellar, instead.
Flip your refrigerator's anti-sweat heater switch to "Saves Energy" once the humidity drops in the fall.
Old-fashioned (pre-1957) refrigerators with mechanical latches have virtually disappeared from daily use, but units still in service remain a potentially fatal safety hazard to curious children and animals. Don't court tragedy. Make sure you remove the door from your old appliance before you take it out of service or throw it away.
The gasket seal on your refrigerator door should be airtight. The seal is too loose if it will not hold a piece of paper in place when the door is closed. It may need to be adjusted or replaced. Remember to mention the problem the next time you make an appliance service call.
The cooling coils on the back or behind the front grille of your refrigerator are dust traps. Vacuum them regularly for peak efficiency and to extend the life of the compressor.
Flip your refrigerator's anti-sweat heater switch to "Saves Energy" once the humidity drops in the fall.
Vegetables and roasts prepared in pressure cookers are flavourful and tender. Use one whenever you can to cut cooking time and save energy.
Improving the lighting efficiency of your home is a great way to cut electricity costs, indoors and out. Take action now to get ready for the long winter nights.
Indoor Lighting Tips
Replace heavily-used incandescent lights in your home with compact fluorescent bulbs. Compact fluorescents cost more to buy than incandescents but last much longer and consume a lot less electricity per lumen of light output.
Dusty or grimy light bulbs can reduce light output substantially; give them an occasional wipe to maintain peak performance.
Timers, photo cells and occupancy sensors will reduce the total amount of time your lights are in use.
Supplement low-level background lighting with high-intensity task lighting when you need it. In the kitchen, under-the-cupboard lights focus on the job at hand and look good, too.
Daylight is prized in winter, why shut it out? Draw back your drapes and adjust your vertical and venetian blinds to let the sun shine in.
Safety Tip: Halogen floor lamps-also known as torchières-operate at extremely high temperatures and must be used with care: they are a fire hazard and can cause nasty burns. Keep them away from drapes and other flammables. Make sure the manufacturer's glass shield is in place, and always wear safety glasses and gloves when handling or replacing light bulbs.
Compact fluorescent floor lamps are now available that are brighter, cast a softer light, operate at lower temperatures and use much less energy than halogens.
Install solid state dimmer switches. Avoid rheostatic switches, they cost less to buy but regulate the strength of an electric current by introducing different levels of resistance into the circuit rather than reducing the flow of current itself.
Outdoor Lighting Tips
Outdoor gas lamps are attractive and growing in popularity, but unless you like big gas bills resist the temptation to use them to light your property. They're very costly to operate over the course of a year.
Incandescent outdoor floodlights are cheap to buy but they are an expensive and wasteful way to light up the night. Install motion detectors to minimize use, or select less-expensive alternatives for lights that will operate for long periods.
Take advantage of the economy and reliability of compact fluorescent lighting outdoors; make sure you buy a lamp and transformer package with a cold-weather ballast.
Consider a low-voltage outdoor lighting system. They're inexpensive, easy to install, safe, and fixtures are now available in a wide range of styles. Low-voltage light bulbs generate soft illumination to highlight your property more efficiently than low- wattage120-volt bulbs. You can install your system transformer in a heated area for all-weather use; don't forget to seal the through-the-wall opening for the system's low-voltage electrical supply cord.
Fuel consumption soars in cold weather - sometimes by as much as 50 percent - and that's hard on your pocketbook and on the environment. Follow these easy tips and drive the Auto$mart way.
Turn the car off when it is stopped. Ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine. In winter, don't idle a cold engine for more than 30 seconds before driving away.
Aggressive driving saves little but increases fuel consumption and emissions. Tests show that "jackrabbit" starts and hard breaking reduces travel time by only four percent. However, fuel consumption increased by 39 percent and some toxic emissions were more than five times higher.
Use a block heater when the winter temperature drops to -20°C or below. A block heater keeps your engine oil and coolant warm, which makes the vehicle easier to start and can increase winter fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent. Use a timer to switch on the block heater one or two hours before you plan to drive.
Your tires need special attention during winter. Cold temperatures decreased the air pressure in tires which just adds to the rolling resistance caused by snow and slush. Check tire pressure regularly, especially after there has been a sharp drop in temperature.
Drive at the posted speed limit. Increasing your highway cruising speed from 90 km/hr to 120 km/hr will increase fuel consumption by about 20 percent.
Ski racks like roof racks, increased a vehicle's aerodynamic drag. It's a good idea to remove them when they are not in use.
Source: Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Office of Energy Efficiency