In Canada, winter is synonymous with snowy landscapes, cold-weather sports… And soaring electricity bills. What if you could make changes to your house, or plan the construction of your next home to reduce the amount of energy you consume? From little fixes to major work, here’s how you can make your house more eco-friendly, increase your comfort level and save on heating and lighting.
“If you want to reduce your energy bill, your priorities should be ensuring that the house is well insulated and replacing energy-sucking appliances,” explains Martin Lambert, Founding President of Ecosolaris. “It always costs less to invest in conserving energy rather than producing it.” Guilty parties include incandescent light bulbs, which could be replaced by LED lighting, and old appliances that you’d be better to replace with Energy Star-certified appliances. Products that carry this certification are required to meet strict technical specifications related to energy efficiency and are tested extensively before being certified.
“Control systems can also be a good way to save,” adds Brian Wilkinson, President of Energie Matrix Inc. “A smart thermostat that can be controlled remotely could save you up to 20% of your electricity bill.”
Finally, regular maintenance of your heating system will help ensure that you don’t have to replace your appliances prematurely. “Poorly maintained heating systems break down faster and cost more, because when they get clogged, they consume more energy,” warns Louis-Philippe Lambert, technician and owner of Thermosphère. He recommends inspecting your furnace every year, replacing the filter every season and dusting your heaters regularly.
Many of the products and solutions built on renewable energy can also reduce your home’s electricity bill, whether your heating system runs on gas, electricity or oil.
“The cheapest system you can install is an ecodrain,” says Marin Lambert. “It costs between $600 and $900 and allows you to save big by recovering heat from greywater (lightly polluted water, such as drain water from a sink or shower) to heat, through a copper pipe, the cold water that’s about to enter the hot water tank.”
For those who wish to invest more, a thermal heater costs about $2,000 and allows you to reduce your heating costs by up to 25% by circulating heat recovered from a solar panel. On the same principle, a thermal water heater costs between $6,000 and $8,000 and is able to heat 40 to 60% of a household’s water.
“Don’t forget the popular photovoltaic panels,” adds Martin Lambert. “They can cover up to 60% of your electricity needs, and the cost is amortized over ten years.” This type of system has a lifespan of about 25 years and costs $8,000 to meet the the needs of a medium-sized four-person house. It can be attached to a battery that stores the energy produced so it can be combined with the main electricity grid.
Owners of new builds can take advantage by installing special cables in the walls to eventually facilitate the installation of solar systems. Making your home solar-ready costs between $2,000 and $3,000. A new build is also a great opportunity to install radiant floor heating, made up of hot water tubes that heat the space. “And don’t forget about orientation,” asserts Brian Wilkinson. “An eco-friendly house should face south, at an angle allows it to capture the heat from the winter sun but stay cool in the summer.”
In Canada, 50% of homes use gas heating, 39% use electricity, 7% oil, 6% wood and 1% propane. This distribution can be explained by the varying costs of energy from one province to another. Gas is cheaper than electricity in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, but the reverse is true in Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. “Oil heating is less popular because of the cost, the environmental impact, and its middling efficiency,” explains Louis Lambert. “As for wood heating, it’s still marginal, because it’s not really sufficient to uniformly heat most homes.”
Across the country, the average cost of residential water and space heating is: $1,239 for a gas system, $2,221 with an electric heat pump, $3,029 for propane, $3,573 for oil and $3,639 for electricity. This comparison from the Canadian Gas Association doesn’t take into account disparities in price between provinces, but confirms a national trend towards heat pump systems. “Whether gas or electricity, heat pumps are definitely popular, as much for their performance as for their economic value,” concludes Louis Lambert.
What if it were possible to be completely energy-independent? “For the time being, the idea of a self-sufficient home is still out of reach in Canada,” says Martin Lambert, “because our extreme winters are so demanding in terms of energy use.” He adds, however, that Canadians can realistically aim for “net-zero” energy consumption. This consists of producing at least as much energy as you consume over the year thanks to sustainable systems, while staying connected to the electrical grid to make up for seasonal discrepancies. Not a bad challenge to set yourself.
In short, whether you’re watching out for the environment or just your bottom line, there are lots of solutions available for all budgets!
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