My Home Energy Project: Step 2 - Heating

Posted by Laura Paul on February 06, 2015
My Home Energy Project: Step 2 - Heating

Recently, when it really started to feel like winter (cold, crisp mornings, snow-filled streets, and a pitch black ride home), I knew what it meant.

Now was the perfect time to optimize my heating. Regardless of what region you live in, heating and cooling are likely your largest energy loads. The U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that it accounts for a whopping 48% of our household use.

It’s a big job to take on, but try not to get overwhelmed – this process might take a month or multiple years. Do your research. Stay within your budget. Remember that even the smallest step forward is better than nothing at all. Look for the low hanging fruit first – the no/low cost, easy pay backs – working up to the more expensive initiatives (when/if you are able).

Let’s take a look at heating.

Before purchasing my condo, I knew there were features that would work in my favor to reduce my heating bill: having south facing windows, neighbors on four sides generously sharing their heat with me, not to mention all those under me (I live on the 5th floor, and we all know heat rises). Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages to living in a condo as well, which impact my energy initiatives. The shell of my building (insulation, windows, etc.) are controlled by the condo – and so little to no savings can be found here for me.

When purchasing a house, be sure to consider the shape, orientation, building envelope, and HVAC. These items are key to the potential energy efficiency of your home.

Beyond the “bones” of the building, there are still many other initiatives we can control and improve:

  • Conservation – This is always the least costly way to reduce energy for any category. No fancy tech needed, zero cost.
  • Social benchmarking – Get a little support and encouragement to continue your personal efforts to reduce energy consumption. Using social benchmarking helps you to understand how your energy consumption compares to others and creates community around common energy reduction goals.
  • Programmable thermostats – There are an abundance of innovative programmable and “intelligent” systems out there such as the Nest; unfortunately, many do not work for baseboard heat. They are certainly flashy, great for engagement – particularly with the tech savvy – but if your budget is tight or you’d prefer low tech there are other more basic and cost-effective products which will do the trick just as well, if not better. I purchased Honeywell’s RLV4300, which is a 5-2 day programmable thermostat for baseboard heaters. You can pick them up at local buildings stores for about $30 each. For spaces I anticipate I’ll regularly use, I programmed them at 21 Celsius (~70 Fahrenheit) and 19 Celsius (~66 Fahrenheit) for rooms I rarely use. I lowered this to 16 Celsius (~60 Fahrenheit) for periods when I won’t be home, or am asleep.
  • Insulate your hot water tank – You can purchase insulation for hot water tanks and pipes at local building stores for about $25.
  • Blackout curtains –  These are made with thermal-backed material that provide insulation. In the winter, close the curtains after dark (to keep the cold out), and open during the day (to gain some solar heat). You can also use these during the summer, by reversing the time when you open and close. They can be purchased at general department stores as curtains for ~$20, or you can pick up fabric and make them yourself (as curtains or adhere them to existing blinds)
  • Weatherproofing – Air leaks account for the largest energy loss from your home. Seal everything that you can, such as exterior doors, windows, light fixtures, electrical outlets, even ceiling fans.
  • Behavioral – This is where energy conservation gets awfully fun, and potentially downright stylish. Rock an ugly Christmas sweater all season long. Snuggle with your dog (or partner). Learn to love socks. Use it as a perfect excuse to splurge on a handmade rug from Etsy. Use your imagination!

Additional initiatives for those who own homes:

  • Energy audit – Provides insight into the initiatives that would have the most impact in your home.
  • Insulation – Remember to compare the R-value when purchasing (higher is better).
  • Windows – Consider triple or double glazed windows.
  • HVAC system – how efficient is your furnace or air conditioning system?

I think it’s important to remember that energy reduction should start at home. If you are passionate about sustainability, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions, climate change, air pollution, water contamination, or the destruction of natural habitats, take this into your own hands. Many people agree these are important issues, but few are willing or informed enough to make changes in their personal lives. Saving energy is not just about reducing your energy bill, it’s about investing in our future and living out our beliefs.


Laura Paul, Sustainable Consultant P.Eng and MBA candidate is a change agent and is plant-powered. She is passionate about compassion, gender equality, and all forms of art. She is also president of the Canada Green Building Council Ottawa Region Chapter.

This blog was reprinted with permission. You can view the original post here. 

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