According to the National Resources Canada, “17 per cent of all energy used in Canada goes toward running our homes.” The good news is that from the energy needed to heat laundry water to the electricity to keep your freezer ice-cold, there are possibilities for savings in every room in your home. While there are a number of specific areas that may be relevant to individual houses, it’s important not to take any one thing in isolation, but be sure you’re looking at the home as a system.
For example, focusing all your attention on insulation and draft-proofing without looking at issues such as ventilation and vapour barriers can cause moisture and mould problems. These updates are fairly simple for the home handyperson, while others will require a skilled tradesperson, so getting qualified advice before undertaking a new project is a good idea.
For many homes insulation is on the top of the list in terms of energy efficiency for people doing renovations. In many homes, built prior to 1980, there may not be any insulation at all in the walls, or what is there may have a very low “R” value – equating to the ability of the insulation to prevent the transfer of heat or thermal energy. The higher the number, the less cold air will make it into your home and the less warm air you’ll let out. Go to as high an “R” value as you can; and even for walls, the new spray insulation can make it possible to protect your home without a huge renovation. In terms of dollar for dollar, insulation is probably your best bet.
It is estimated that in many homes all the little cracks and gaps taken together would equal having a gaping 16 inch wide hole open all the time.
Generally, older homes are worse, but some newer homes also have significant leaks. Almost all houses can benefit from air leakage control, such as weather stripping and sealants to stop drafts, save money, improve comfort and protect the homes structure. Some air leaks can be easy to find, around window and door frames and fireplace dampers, for example. Others may be less obvious, such as attic access doors, ceiling light fixtures, around plumbing pipes and ductwork. If you notice a draft through an inside or outside wall electrical outlet it should be sealed; foam gaskets are available to fit behind the cover plates of electrical receptacles, switches and lighting mounts, reducing air leakage into walls and attics. Safety Note: Be sure to turn off the power to the outlet by turning off the circuit breaker before installing the gaskets.
Older, inefficient appliances, especially refrigerators, can be major energy guzzlers; newer models can be 15 to 50 per cent more efficient. If you are upgrading, think about spending a little more to upgrade to an EnergyStar appliance that will pay for itself in energy savings, and in the case of a dishwasher or washing machine, water savings. It’s time to move away from just the economic bottom line to thinking about some of the other benefits of energy efficiency such as reduced outdoor pollution or improved indoor air quality. A re-evaluation of habits can also help here; do you really need that older extra fridge keeping your pop cold in the basement?
While replacing all your windows is among the costlier home upgrades, it can definitely be worth doing, especially in an older home where you would be moving from single-pane to double-pane windows. While changing windows one at a time may not work with specific grants, it can be an option if a major renovation isn’t feasible. Even better, installed correctly, energy efficient windows will not only reduce cold drafts in the winter, but also reduce noise from the outside and in summer, help keep hot air out and cool air in. Look for windows with double glazing and low-E glass or triple glazing; a sealed or insulating glass unit filled with harmless inert gas, such as argon, a spacer bar between layers of glass that does not conduct cold into the home (typically non-metallic), and a frame and sashes made from a good insulating material, such as fibreglass, vinyl or wood.