How to make your home more energy efficient

When it comes to the cost of living, energy usage – particularly in the winter months – can make up a significant part of your monthly bills. Not only does the cost of energy affect the overall cost of living, the energy we use to heat and light our homes, run our appliances and (increasingly) charge our electric cars also comes at a cost to the planet. While Canada relies increasingly on renewable energy sources like hydro, wind and solar, much of the energy we use (nearly 20% nationwide) is still generated by burning fossil fuels, which is one of the main forces driving climate change. To fight climate change and lower your monthly energy bills, here are a few easy things any homeowner can do.

Change your lightbulbs

Incandescent lightbulbs are a heck of a lot more safe and efficient than the technologies they replaced in the 1800s (namely oil lamps and candles) but after more than a century, we’ve found an even better way to make light: the LED. Compact, inexpensive and up to 80% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, switching to LED lights is an easy way to make a dent in your energy usage without sacrificing the warmth or brightness of traditional lighting. Your municipality might even have a program to provide them for free.

Choose energy-efficient appliances

If you’re ready to go ahead with a kitchen or laundry room upgrade, swapping your old appliances for new ones can be a great way to cut energy usage. While pretty much any new model will be more efficient than one made 20 years ago, ones marked with the Energy Star logo (a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and recognized internationally) are certified for maximum efficiency. Improvements in insulation and compressor technology, for example, mean that a new Energy Star-rated fridge will use about half as much energy as an older, non-rated model.

Invest in a clothesline

There are few things more comforting than a load of clothes still warm out of the drier, but that pleasure does come at a cost on your electricity bill. While investing in a new, efficiency-rated dryer is one good way to cut your energy usage significantly, simply using it less can be even more effective. Hanging clothes to dry on a drying rack (or even better, on an old-school outdoor clothesline) is a great low-tech solution. And after sleeping on sheets dried in the breeze and sun, you may wonder why it took you so long to switch over.

Up your insulation rating

Heating your home uses a lot of energy, and if much of that heat is escaping through your roof, you’re not using that energy very efficiently. The best way to avoid this is by adding extra insulation to your attic. While pink fluffy fibreglass insulation was standard in eras past, blown-in cellulose insulation is more efficient (especially here in Canada where it gets really cold). Since heat rises, adding blown-in insulation to your attic is an excellent way to keep your home’s heat from escaping and keep heating costs down in the winter.

Seal up cracks

A “passive house” is an increasingly common term in home design for a house that uses very little energy for heating and cooling. By using things like triple-glazed windows, heat-exchangers and lots of insulation, passive houses are remarkably air-tight, allowing for much easier and more efficient climate control. You can utilize the same principles in your home by doing a “blow-test” and sealing up leaks in your exterior walls (particularly around electrical outlets, window frames, and light switches), and upgrading your windows.

Install a heat pump or ETS unit

When it comes to heating a home, few technologies can match a geothermic heat pump for efficiency. Whether your heating comes from electric baseboards, a furnace, or a boiler, installing a heat pump can take some of the load from these less efficient units and increase your overall energy efficiency. An ETS unit (electric thermal storage) meanwhile, takes advantage of off-peak electricity prices by storing heat when electricity is cheaper (usually at night) and releasing it throughout the day. This is particularly useful if your area uses wind power. Since the wind doesn’t blow on a schedule, these kinds of energy storage systems will become increasingly important by taking advantage of more renewable forms of electricity.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance. 
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