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Home Energy Retrofits to Save You Money on Utilities

James Battiston

From grocery prices to gas rates, the cost of living is on the rise. With natural gas prices at a seven-year high, consumers can anticipate paying more to heat their homes as the winter season approaches. 

Luckily, there are a few simple ways that you can cut down on energy costs. And the government has special home energy retrofit programs in place to help with the costs of larger projects.

Before you begin: home energy audit

A great place to start your search for ways to save on energy consumption is by having an energy efficiency inspection performed. The government of Canada currently offers a Greener Homes Grant, and when you apply for it, you will also receive a pre-retrofit evaluation. If you live in Quebec, you can apply through Rénoclimat Quebec, and if you live in Nova Scotia, Home Energy Assessment Nova Scotia provides the service. Residents of New Brunswick can apply for an EnerGuide evaluation through the provincial energy savings program.

The retrofit audit will outline areas where higher-than-average energy consumption is occurring, directing you to areas where you can conserve use (and ultimately, save money).  

The audit outlines the key areas of home energy use, such as space heating and cooling, water heating, ventilation, lights and appliances, and other electrical. You may discover that your windows are letting an excess amount of energy be released or that your home heating system is inefficient. And whatever the findings, you’ll be free to undertake any of the energy-saving suggestions.

Once you have completed the job, an evaluator will return to your home ensuring that the job meets standards. They will then file their findings with the government, and you simply have to sit back and wait for your rebate cheque to arrive in the mail. In the meantime, you can watch as your bills start to decrease in cost each month.

How to save money on household bills 

Smart thermostats

Installing a smart thermostat is a great, affordable way to help reduce energy costs in your home. Smart thermostats allow you to easily control the temperature in your home, ensuring you reach maximum energy efficiency. Certain thermostats can learn from your behaviour and adjust the temperature throughout your space automatically. 

Not only are smart thermostats a great way to reduce energy consumption in your house, but it’s an easy way to save money. Natural Resources Canada estimates that you can save at least 8% of the energy used from heating and cooling your home – a saving that adds up over time.

As an added bonus, many local utility suppliers offer incentives for installing smart thermostats – you may even be able to get one for free. Be sure to look into your available options and find out what rebates you could be entitled to.

Windows

The windows in your home are a huge factor when it comes to heat loss and heat gain. In the summer, sunlight enters your home through the windows and heats the space up, causing you to crank up your AC. In the winter, weak window seals can let warm air out, resulting in an overworked furnace.

The building envelope is how well the interior of your home is protected from the exterior environment. The tighter the envelope, the more money you save. On the exterior of your house, look for gaps in the masonry or loose siding. Redoing the tuck pointing of the brick and repairing loose siding will create a tighter seal.

All windows have aluminum capping around them to minimize the gap between it and the exterior wall. Between the capping and the wall, there should also be caulking creating the tight seal. Exterior caulking should be checked yearly and reapplied every 5 years to keep the cold air out.

Windows should be replaced every 15-20 years. New windows are far superior and use argon filled triple pane glass to create a better energy rating (ER). In fact, adding one additional pane of glass with argon gas improves the ER by 20%.

Feel around your exterior doors for gaps and replace weather stripping and door sweeps as necessary.

Installing new EnergyStar windows in your home can greatly reduce the amount of energy loss you experience. Of course, windows aren’t cheap to replace, and undertaking that task might be out of your budget – even with the government rebates. However, re-sealing your windows is an affordable way to help prevent energy loss, as is adding heat control film or purchasing energy-efficient blinds. While all these strategies will cost you money up-front, you can benefit from lower energy bills throughout the year.

Insulation

Do you have icicles forming on your roof in winter? Are your walls cold to the touch? If you own an older home, you might find that the insulation isn’t what it once was. Over time, insulation wears down, and older insulation isn’t as efficient as newer insulation is. Re-insulating your attic and adding additional insulation to your exterior walls can help create a more energy-efficient home. You won’t be running the furnace as much in the winter as not as much heat will be escaping, and in the summer you’ll experience lower hydro costs as you won’t need to run your air conditioner as often.  

While reinsulating your home isn’t cheap, you can consider the available government rebates and the amount of money you’ll be saving on your bills – you might find that the costs make a worthwhile investment.

Basement upgrades

Typically, your furnace and water heater or located in your basement – also known as the heart of energy consumption. So to save on your energy use, consider adding a few upgrades to your basement. 

Check your ductwork to make sure that there are no holes or gaps. If there are, patch these up so that you aren’t wasting energy.

Additionally, your furnace has a filter, and this needs to be changed on a regular basis to ensure it’s functioning properly. Inspect the filter every four months or so, and if it’s clogged with dust and dirt, switch it out. Buildup prevents air from circulating, therefore requiring your furnace to use more energy to function.

If you’re not using an EnergyStar-rated hot water tank, you should strongly consider replacing it.  There are rebates available to help offset the cost of upgrading to energy-efficient ones, so be sure to check with both your provincial and the federal government. You might also want to consider going with a tankless hot water system. These work by only heating the water you use on an on-demand basis. This option may also save you money on your home insurance since it decreases the risk of flooding.

READ: Climate change and its effect on your insurance 

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Other tips: ways to save money on utilities

If you’re not ready to make major changes to your home, consider trying out some of the following options to help save money:

  • Wash your laundry in cold water to reduce your hot water consumption.
  • Only run your dishwasher when it’s full – do small dish loads by hand.
  • Turn the lights off when you leave the room.
  • Unplug your computer and phone chargers when not in use, or install smart outlets that can power the chargers off when not in use.
  • Change incandescent light bulbs to LED ones – not only do they use less energy, but they also last much longer.

The bottom line

Performing a home retrofit not only helps reduce the energy you consume, thereby saving you money, but it also is of great benefit to the environment. Take time to have a home energy audit performed, and find out what you can do around your house to help save energy.

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