The past few months, in the prairies and eastern Canada, it seems like Mother Nature is binge-watching Frozen and trying to imitate Elsa. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but spring is just around the corner, and will, hopefully, bring warmer days. There are those who say they prefer the winter season over the summer months. I can understand the appeal, although I’m not entirely sold. In September, we anticipate everything the upcoming holidays have to bring: the last football games of the season, turkey dinners, carving out pumpkins and dressing up for Halloween, and the list goes on. In November, we look forward to the busy holiday season, gathering with friends and family and sparkling lights everywhere. We rarely see any daylight, but we comfort ourselves by thinking “look at all the pretty lights!” It seems like there’s miniature lights everywhere you look: surrounding our homes, glistening between the snow covered pine tree cones, along storefronts, and anywhere else you can think of.
We’re all in a festive mood, until we turn the lights off and that electricity bill hits us mid-January! Now that winter has us by the throat, we’re running the furnace on high, and it seems impossible that power bill will ever go down. So, every year, we curse at the provincial energy provider for their ludicrous rates and we vow to be more vigilant with our power consumption next year. We make plans to buy energy-efficient appliances, and, perhaps, not hang up so many lights around the house next Christmas. This is all fine and dandy, until October comes around again. By then, we develop selective amnesia.
You might be thinking it’s a bit too late to do anything about the power bill now, when things are finally starting to thaw out. But you can make a noticeable difference in your power bill if you make the following few easy tweaks around the house, even in March. After all, anyone living in the prairies knows not to put the winter parkas away until June!
- Use the sun for free heat. This one seems kind of obvious; but not all our readers are blessed with sunlight on a daily basis. Take advantage of the sun, as much as you can. That bright orb in the sky warms up the old bones and lifts the spirits. Open the curtains of your south-facing windows to bring free heat into your home, and close your curtains when the sun goes down, to keep the heat inside. Even when it’s -40 C outside, and it seems like we’re stuck in a never-ending snowstorm, just sitting in an armchair for an hour and enjoying the warmth of the sunlight helps soothe the soul. Draw open all the curtains and turn down the thermostat!
- Bundle up. This is one of the easiest ways to save on your heating bill. While you don’t want your home to feel like hell has frozen over, it isn’t practical to expect it to be a steamy sauna, either. Instead of turning the thermostat up whenever you get chilly, wear a cozy sweater and warm socks – the fuzzy kind! Keep throw-blankets on your couch and cuddle up with your canine or feline companion. Sorry, fish and hamsters won’t do the trick with this one. If you have laminate flooring in your home, add an area rug for insulation. An intricately woven area rug adds flair to any room; no one will suspect you’re trying to be frugal!
- Use ceiling fans to your advantage. Ceiling fans are not just for cooling down in the summer, like I naively thought. Homes with better ventilation and airflow are more energy efficient in the summer and winter months. If you have ceiling fans, you have more control over ventilation than you think. Ceiling fans can be used intentionally: counter-clockwise pushes hot air up, during the summer months, and clockwise traps heat inside to keep your rooms warmer, during winter. Turn your ceiling fan on a low setting to gently push hot air back down.
- Adjust the thermostat at night. According to Manitoba Hydro (n.d.), you can save up to 4% on your heating bill just by lowering your thermostat more than C for eight hours a day (Manitoba Hydro, “Energy Saving Tips,” n.d.). If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set it and forget it. When you crawl into bed, the temperature will go down by a couple degrees and by the time you wake up, it’ll be nice and toasty again. Chances are, you won’t notice the difference in temperature, but you will notice the difference in the power bill. Finally, consider investing in a set of flannel sheets and a warm comforter. This is your excuse (or mine) to justify that new set you’ve been eying on Wayfair!
- Only heat the rooms you use. Natural Resources Canada claims that energy bills for Canadian households in 2016 were, on average, $2,136 (Natural Resources Canada, “Energy Fact Book 2018-2019,” p.24, June 2018). If you have rooms that you never use, close and seal off those vents. This directs the air flow to the rooms you do use. Also consider using a space heater and setting the thermostat down a few notches. You can save quite a bit of cold, hard cash each year. No pun intended.
- Keep your furnace clean and unblocked. Gas furnaces collect lots of dirt, since they aren’t cleaned very often. They are usually connected with two vent pipes going outside—one vent brings fresh air in, the other vent sends furnace gasses out. These vent pipes get easily blocked with dust and debris, and sometimes even insects and rodents. It’s essential to clean out these vent pipes on a regular basis. It’s not necessary to have them professionally cleaned annually; but it is recommended by most HVAC professionals. Newer furnaces can probably get away with a bi-annual cleanup. The couple hundred you will spend to have them properly cleaned and winterized will pay off ten-fold. Your furnace will be running at optimal condition when it’s needed most, and you lessen your chances of any unpleasant surprises in the middle of January. Also, check your furnace filter monthly, and replace it when it gets dirty. An HVAC technician once told me a trade secret – there’s no need to buy the expensive furnace filters; the cheaper ones do the same job. Think of your HVAC guy as your family doctor – you don’t want to see them more than once a year, but you want their sound advice.
- Invest in insulation. People waste hundreds of dollars each year because hot and cold air escapes homes without proper insulation. As a summer project this year, buy some insulation from your local home improvement store and cover up all those areas where heat escapes. However, before you start randomly buying insulation and tearing down walls or crawling into attics, you should come up with a thought-out strategy, as things can get expensive fast. There are many types of insulation and you will need to consider the type of insulation material, where it needs to be installed, and how much is needed. Insulation should be placed in the floor of an unfinished attic, in the exterior walls (behind the drywall), and in the wall between the garage and the living space.
- Decorate with LED lights next Christmas season. LED holiday lights use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer, than traditional lights. You will pay a bit more for LED lights, but if you like to plan ahead you can definitely find them on clearance in January! Not only do LED lights consume less energy, they don’t emit as much heat and they’re more resistant to breaking, making them a safer alternative. Also, always unplug your holiday lights before going to bed. Like all electronics, your holiday lights draw power, even when not in use. This adds an unnecessary expense to your electricity bill. If you’re forgetful like me, you can also buy and set a timer, which I keep forgetting to get every year.
- Only use exhaust fans when necessary. Exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom pull the hot air out of your home. Use exhaust fans sparingly and turn them off when you are done with them. You can also use this to your advantage, during the upcoming summer months. Don’t turn the A/C on when it gets too hot for you inside. Instead, block the heat before it gets in by keeping the curtains drawn, and keep the kitchen and bathroom fans running. In the evening, when it starts cooling off, open sliding doors in the living area a few inches and turn the stove fan on. It will draw evening air from outside through, and cool down the house. Venting from a bathroom upstairs is even easier, since hot air rises.