Courtesy David Dodge
Jan. 17, 2018 | David Dodge and Scott Rollans
10 energy-efficiency tips for the home
- Conduct a home energy assessment
To save energy in your home, it helps to understand how you're currently consuming – and possibly wasting – heat and electricity. A professional home energy assessment will provide comprehensive data on your home energy use and help provide a road map for improvements. The investment – $500-750, depending on the size of your home – will pay off in the long run. Some municipalities offer rebates to help cover the cost. You can also self-audit your home. The trick is to understand real data, so your improvements make a difference.
In a cold climate like Alberta's, home heating accounts for about 63 per cent of your total energy costs. So, if you're losing heat, you're effectively burning money. Cold walls, uneven heat and high indoor temperatures in the summer are all signs of a poorly insulated home. In older homes, attics and unfinished basements are an easy place to start – simply add insulation. Then, move on to tackle the other areas. Depending on the scale of your insulating job, you may qualify for up to $3,500 in current Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates.
- Seal the envelope
If your house is leaking air, it's also leaking energy. A home energy assessment can measure and identify the key problem areas, but basic improvements can begin with a caulking gun, to seal gaps and cracks, and weather stripping, to prevent drafts around doors and windows. If you get an EnerGuide assessment, they will depressurize your home and use an infrared camera to see where cold air is seeping into your home. This can be significant in older homes. A 50-year-old home has close to 10 air changes per hour, while a new home built to code will have about 2.5 air changes per hour. Net-zero homes typically have less than one air change per hour, plus air exchangers that recover 65 per cent of the heat from exhaust air.
- Upgrade your windows
Windows represent a big investment, and a long-term payback, but they're a key element in any energy-efficient home. As a bonus, better windows will also reduce noise from outdoors. Look for triple-glazed windows with an ENERGY STAR® high-efficiency rating and be sure to check for rebates in your area.
- Install a high-efficiency furnace
Until recently, furnaces were inefficient. A 20-year-old home, for example, may have a 77 per cent efficient furnace. Many newer furnaces operate at 97 per cent efficiency – saving you more than 20 per cent in heating costs over the life of the furnace. As usual, pay attention to EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR® ratings. Super-efficient, solar-powered net-zero homes use electric heat-pump furnaces, which are 250 per cent efficient.
- Use a smart thermostat
You can spend less on heating simply by heating less. With a smart thermostat, you can reduce the temperature in your home at preset times – for example, dropping the setting to 15 C at night, or during weekdays when the house is empty. Smart thermostats are very easy to set up, and automatically learn how you use your home, reducing heat when it's appropriate. Most smart thermostats are also Wi-Fi-connected, allowing you to control them even when you're away from home. They're simpler to use, but (not surprisingly) cost more. Rebates are offered in some jurisdictions.
- Tame your Appliances
Your clothes dryer, even if it's new, is likely your home's biggest electricity hog. Consider partially drying your clothes and then hanging them to dry the rest of the way (similarly, let your dishes air-dry instead of running your dishwasher's drying cycle). Other home appliances have improved dramatically over the years. For example, a fridge from the 1970s may chew through 1,750 kWh/year, whereas a modern fridge with an icemaker uses 500 kWh/year or less. Energy Efficiency Alberta currently offers rebates up to $100 on refrigerators and washers. Induction stoves and cooktops are another energy-saver – superior appliances that consume roughly half the electricity of conventional stoves, while heating many foods much more quickly.
- Water heating
The energy used to heat water can account for 20 per cent of your total home energy costs. Old water heaters are about 60 per cent efficient, whereas high-efficiency, tank-based water heaters can now reach 90 per cent efficiency. Tankless water heaters are 97-98 per cent efficient, and have made great strides in user satisfaction. Even better, tankless heaters currently qualify for Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates of up to $944. Hybrid heat-pump water heaters run on electricity (great for net-zero homes) and are 330 per cent efficient. Upgrading from a conventional heater to a tankless model will save up to 37 per cent on water heating.
- Light smarter
This is your simplest fix, and will pay for itself in practically no time. Many homes still use incandescent bulbs, despite the technical advances and increased affordability of LEDs. An LED bulb uses roughly 25 per cent of the electricity of an incandescent bulb, and generally has a drastically greater lifespan – paying for itself multiple times. In places where you use multiple bulbs (decorative fixtures, pot lighting) the savings add up that much more quickly. Energy Efficiency Alberta regularly offers instant rebates on LED bulbs, but they're a brilliant investment even at regular price.
- Be a Ghostbuster
Countless electronic devices – TVs, PVRs, computers, printers, phone chargers, etc. – draw power even when they're not being used. Energy efficiency experts call this phenomenon "phantom power." Exorcise these demons by unplugging chargers when they're not being used, or using power bars with single on-off switches. Newer "smart" power bars will actually shut off a circuit if it senses that a device is not in active use.
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