How to be environmentally friendly while keeping your home heated this winter

Nathan Howes
·3 min read
How to be environmentally friendly while keeping your home heated this winter
How to be environmentally friendly while keeping your home heated this winter
How to be environmentally friendly while keeping your home heated this winter

Most of Canada enjoyed a milder, gradual start to winter, but now that we're in the thick of things in February, temperatures and conditions have turned to the extreme cold side of things -- especially if you're in Western Canada, where a prominent lobe of the polar vortex has created the coldest temperatures in years, and in some cases, record-breaking cold.

But keeping your home heated during the cold months can be costly, both financially and environmentally. The latest Statistics Canada findings indicates most Canadians use a forced air furnace, electric baseboard heater or a boiler with hot water or steam radiators as their primary source of heat.

READ MORE: Polar vortex pounces over all-time Canadian temperature records

However, the majority of these sources burn natural gas. According to the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, close to 70 per cent of residential energy consumption is from fossil fuels. But there are ways for you to maintain heat in your home this winter while being environmentally mindful.

REDUCE DEMAND

David Turnbull, a former home builder and current board member of Built Green Canada, spoke to CBC last year with some suggestions for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint from their home.

What he first recommends is stopping any heat from escaping your home by improving the building envelope. This can be done in three ways -- sealing gaps and air leaks with caulking and weather stripping, improving insulation in the walls, basement and attic, and installing airtight, well-insulated windows.

You can also consider setting your thermostat lower, especially when you're not home or are sleeping. The latter can save three to six per cent of your energy use, according to Turnbull. Depending on your system, you may also be able to do "zoning," where you warm up parts of the house you're situated in more than the areas that are unoccupied, such as the basement.

Thermostat/Unsplash - Courtesy:  Dan LeFebvre/@danlefeb. Link: https://unsplash.com/photos/RFAHj4tI37Y
Thermostat/Unsplash - Courtesy: Dan LeFebvre/@danlefeb. Link: https://unsplash.com/photos/RFAHj4tI37Y

Courtesy: Dan LeFebvre/Unsplash.

As well, you can opt for a smaller home when looking to move and low-flow fixtures such as shower heads or tankless water heaters cut back on the need to heat water.

REUSE AND DECARBONIZE

Another step in the process to cut down on emissions is to reuse "waste" heat, which can be done through heat recovery ventilators. Once your house is air-sealed and insulated, some ventilation is required. Heat recovery ventilators offer this while transferring heat from the stale air leaving the house to the fresh air coming in.

Drain water recovery units. Turnbull said that when you typically take a hot shower, "you use that heat for truthfully a second — maybe less — and then all that heat goes down the drain." This device recovers that heat and puts it back into your home.

The next step is looking to replace fossil fuels with efficient electric heating options such as heat pumps.

HYBRID HEATING SYSTEMS

According to CanmetENERGY-Ottawa, 35 per cent of homes (5.1 million) in the country are currently heated with natural gas furnaces in areas with where there is low-cost natural gas and higher-cost electricity, such as Ontario.

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As a alternative, hybrid systems are a cost-effective option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these homes. Using an electric air-source heat pump to reduce reliance on natural gas for space heating can be beneficial economically and environmentally.

In Ontario, to operate a hybrid system is comparable to that of a natural gas furnace heater, with "modest" utility bill savings for stable outdoor temperatures and off-peak time of use, Leila Lemghalef and Jeremy Sager stated in an article on Natural Resources Canada's website.

"Homeowners ready to replace an aging air conditioner can consider replacing it with an electric air-source heat pump, designed to provide efficient space cooling, as well as space heating," the pair wrote.

Sources: CBC | Statistics Canada | CanmetENERGY-Ottawa

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Thumbnail courtesy of Dan LeFebvre/Unsplash.