With a few minor changes to our habits and our lifestyles we can reduce the amount of energy we use. To understand energy conservation we need to know a bit about heat loss. The very basic explanation of cold weather is that it is simply the absence of heat. In the northern hemisphere we tilt away from the sun during the winter months, which means we don't get as much of the sun's heat as we did during the summer months. So we have to resort to artificially heating our homes, schools, businesses and places of worship.
When we heat our buildings we are creating a gradient; hot inside, cold outside. Heat will always move down this gradient; in the direction of less heat (which we'll call the cold). So, your vents disperse heat throughout your home and from there the heat searches for the areas of lowest temperature to escape. It flees outside through your walls, windows, doors, wall-floor joints, cracks, etc. There is nothing worse for your bills, and ultimately our planet than leaving a window gaping open while you have the heat on full blast!
Consider getting a Home Energy Audit. This will help guide your efforts in making your home energy efficient. The Canadian government has renewed the popular home ecoENERGY Retrofit program. Your home energy audit takes between 2-3 hours and costs $200 after a $150 rebate from the Ontario Government. Once you have conducted the audit you will have the knowledge needed to make the right decisions about making your home energy efficient.
Until March 31, 2012 call 1-877-732-9888 and you will also qualify for discounts of up to $5,000 for things you might have been planning to upgrade anyway. You can qualify for anywhere from $40 per window/door, to $1,875 for new wall insulation or $250 for a new central air conditioner to $4,375 for installing geothermal energy pumps. If you were in the market for a new furnace you could get $790 from the Ontario government or $1,250 for installing a solar water heater.
Top energy saving tips
Again the greatest advantage of this audit is to guide you in making the right decisions for efficient energy use and making the best of these energy saving tips:
1) Get a laser temperature reader. Point it around your house to identify where the heat is escaping from and take the necessary measures. This is especially pertinent in the basement, attic, around windows and doors, and wall-floor-ceiling joints.
2) Keep all doors and windows closed. If you have drafty doors and windows use insulation kits. A quick fix would be to stuff towels around windows and doors. Use caulking around the windows and doors to seal up cracks where hot air can escape. Use thick lined curtains.
3) Use your thermostat! Take to time to get to know how your thermostat works and use it properly. Some thermostats have timers and programmable setting. Set the thermostat to a lower temperature when no one is home, and have it kick-in just before you get home. Try dropping the temperature in the house by one degree and opt for a stylish warm sweater and goofy warm slippers. A drop in two degrees Celsius corresponds to about 20 per cent reduction in cost and emissions. If it gets too warm in the house, turn the temperature down. Don't open the windows!
4) Clean your ducts and clean or replace air filters. Dust and cobwebs will absorb heat reducing the heat that makes it to your rooms. This will make the furnace work harder and you wallet feel lighter. If you have a chimney, close the damper. Essentially it is a metre wide window that will let valuable heat escape from your home.
5) Get insulating sleeves for your hot water pipes. Remember heat will find a way out unless you trap it. You'd make better use of the hot water out of the tap than the cobwebs in the walls and floors.
6) Use your washer, dryer, and dishwasher during non-peak hours. This will correspond to nearly 50 per cent less energy cost. This will help reduce the load on the system and help you with your bills during these cold months.
One more tip for the road (pun intended). When you're in your car, I know it can be tempting to keep the car running and heat blasting. Please don't do that! It's not good for your car and it's not good for our planet. Don't make excuses like, my car needs to warm up, etc. This is not true anymore. Cars nowadays do not need to be warmed up for more time than it takes you to put your seatbelt on and adjust your mirrors. Plus, your car's interior heats up faster when you are moving.
Don't think about these tips as solely money saving tips. With that attitude we would do many terrible things simply because it is economical. We have to think of these efforts as part of our responsibility as trustees of the earth; a God-given responsibility that even the mountains declined to carry.
Omar Mahfoudhi has a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Ottawa. He is known amongst friends and colleagues as Green Kufi because of the green prayer cap he often sports and because he's a Muslim Environmentalist.