Are you tired of trying to budget for those payments only to find that you’re running short each month? There’s no need to get a second job or take out a second mortgage just to cover the shortfall. It’s easier when you understand how extreme cold affects your energy bills in winter. Take a look at this list of the common areas (spots) where your home may be vulnerable and some solutions you can use to reduce those high utility bills.
Starting at the top and working your way down makes a lot of sense. If you plan on doing any home improvement projects elsewhere in your home, you’ll definitely want to be sure your roof is sound. Ignore problem areas there and you’ll risk damaging everything below it. Check these areas as potential points of vulnerability:
- Leaks—Water intrusion will saturate insulation, reduce its density, and its ability to prevent heat and cool air loss. The less efficient the insulation becomes, the higher your utility bills will be. Check your attic for leaks with a flashlight. Look for water staining, mold or mildew growth, frost or ice build-up (in winter) or condensation (in summer.)
- Shingles—If you’ve discovered leaks on the inside of your attic, it’s likely due to missing or damaged shingles on the outside. It may be time for a roof replacement or at minimum shingle repair. Hiring a professional roofing contractor is generally the best option. Consider architectural asphalt shingles with a 30- or 50-year warranty. These come in a variety of colours, are more durable and provide a better warranty against blow-off during heavy winds.
- There are new Energy Star® certified roofing materials such as solar-reflective shingles. These are designed to reflect the sun’s infrared rays to reduce your home’s energy consumption and reduce its environmental impact. They look like typical shingles and can achieve as much as 40-percent solar reflectivity.
- Solar power—To obtain the maximum reduction in energy bills, you’ll want to convert to solar power. Adding solar arrays to your roof can provide a lifetime of affordable, energy spending. While there is a significant upfront expense to converting to solar power, many provinces offer rebate programs to help offset the costs. In addition, if you stay connected to the grid, your hydro company may even pay you for the power you generate.
- Shading—Planting trees in your yard in close proximity to your home can reduce your heating and cooling costs more than you think. Surprisingly, a tree you plant today can cut energy costs by 3-percent in less than five years and 12-percent in 15 years. Plant two trees and you’ll save more and have a nice place for a hammock to relax in.
Attic and Walls
When you were in the attic checking for roof leaks, did you notice how much your insulation had shrunk? If you have an older home, it’s likely you’re losing hundreds of dollars or more in heating and cooling costs. It’s more difficult to determine how much insulation has settled in your walls, but if the attic is low, the walls probably are too and it’s time for an insulation upgrade.
- Insulation—There are four main types of insulation and each has a different use and R-value. They are fibreglass, rock wool, cellulose, and spray foam. Contact your local home improvement retail centre or an insulation contractor to determine the best options to obtain the maximum energy savings.
- Ventilation—While it may seem counterproductive, proper attic ventilation can actually save you money. By allowing cool outdoor air into your attic in the winter will reduce snowmelt on the roof that can cause gutter ice dams. Ventilation in the summer allows hot air to escape preventing damage to roof shingles and reduce excess moisture that can cause mold and mildew growth.
- Attic fan—Regulate your home’s temperature. Install an attic ventilation fan to push hot air outside and draw in cooler air through vents. Install a whole-house attic fan to cool your entire house during hot summer months. Both options will save on energy consumption.
- Radiant barriers—Highly reflective material such as aluminum, kraft paper or plastic films are applied to the substrate in your attic and reflect either outside sunlight or heat radiating from inside your home. This will maintain the proper attic temperature and save on your energy consumption.
As you might imagine, your windows can be a major area of vulnerability and cause high utility bills. If during the winter you notice ice buildup on your windows it’s a sign that you may have air leaks. There are several things you can do to improve window efficiency:
- Check for and close air leaks with insulation around windows.
- Look for broken glass seals and re-glaze windows.
- Caulk and weatherstrip the exterior of your windows.
- Add storm windows to the outside or plastic film insulation inside.
- Install solar control film.
- Add insulated window treatments or blinds.
- Install awnings or overhangs over windows.
If you’ve done all of this and still have problems or are ready to replace your current windows, you’ll want to find a more efficient design. A certified local replacement window contractor can provide details on the various energy-efficiency options such as:
- Low-E coated glass
- Double- and triple-pane windows
- Argon or Krypton gas-filled
You’ll want to look for Energy Star® and NFRC labels. Choose a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) to reduce heat gain in the summer and a low U-factor for better thermal resistance in the winter.
Another common spot where precious home heating and cooling losses are found are at your doors. Check for seal air leaks with new weatherstripping. You can choose from foam-type tape, adhesive-backed felt, tubular (rubber, vinyl, or silicone). Caulk any exterior gaps along with trim and siding. Replace worn door gaskets along the bottom of the door or add a weather-resistant door sweep.
For HVAC systems that are less than 15 years old, you should seal ductwork seams with duct tape and have them professionally cleaned. Dust and grime build-up can make HVAC systems work harder, reduce air quality, and cost you more.
If your unit is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it with a more efficient system. New, energy-efficient models can save you up to 50-percent in heating and cooling costs and a zoned system can help make your home even more comfortable. Consider these issues:
- Make sure the new HVAC system is large enough to handle your home size.
- Look for Energy Star® certified units for most efficiency.
- Check with your local municipality for available HVAC equipment rebates and tax credits for even more savings.
Thermostats have come a long way from those analogue dial units you grew up with. At the very least, you’ll want to replace your current thermostat with a digital, programmable model that allows you to set a timer to reduce the temperature when you’re away from home or sleeping. To achieve the maximum efficiency, you’ll want to take advantage of home smart technology and change to a new Wi-Fi thermostat. These units come with an app for your Smartphone that allows you to adjust settings when you’re away from home. It also adjusts the temperature according to things like draftiness, how long your home takes to heat or cool, and even “learns” you usage patterns and preferences.
- Placement—This is more important than you might think. Avoid areas that have temperature extremes like in front of a window where the sun will shine directly on it or near a steamy bathroom. Keep it away from drafty doors that are constantly opened and closed. Don’t install it on an exterior wall as it will probably be colder than on an interior wall and register incorrectly. Don’t place it in a room or hallway that’s not used often as it won’t heat or cool the space to the comfort level you want in an occupied room.
- The best location is on an interior wall that’s unobstructed by doors or furniture and within range of your Wi-Fi router so it’s always connected to your account.
You’ve probably heard a lot in the news over the last few years about new energy-efficient light bulbs. These are great for the environment, provide better illumination, and last years longer than the traditional incandescent light bulbs. They’re good for all ages, but if you’re planning some age-in-place renovations or to have a reading nook for kids, you’ll definitely want to consider adding these lighting options:
- LED light bulbs that are Energy Star® rated use 75-percent less energy and last up to 25 times longer than regular light bulbs. This is a great feature especially for hard-to-reach bulbs.
- Motion/Time-sensitive switches are perfect for bathrooms, children’s bedrooms, garage, closets, and rooms that aren’t used often. Lights turn on when you walk into the room and off when you leave.
Replace your old appliances to cut your energy bills dramatically. Again, look for appliances with the Energy Star® label on dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers. Don’t forget that second fridge in the garage or basement. The savings you’ll gain from recycling it and buying a new efficient model will pay for itself in no time.
Your water heater is a big draw on your energy use. Adding a blanket will keep heat in and won’t kick on as often to reheat the water. Check for rebates from your local government office. If your tank is more than 10 years old, it’s time for a new one. Standard units are much more efficient and tankless water heaters provide the best savings overall as they only heat water on demand.
To really understand where your home is most vulnerable to wasted energy, schedule a whole-house energy audit with your local utility company. They’ll be able to alert you to the most common problem areas and offer solutions for improvement.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to save a fortune, but you’ll be amazed that even small changes in your daily habits and improvements in your home will add up quickly.