As if our heating bills and energy costs in the Toronto Ontario area weren’t enough, the Canadian “powers at be” saw fit to slap on some carbon tax to the pile. Anything we can do as home owners, commercial or even as renters to enhance our property energy efficiency is definitely worth a little bit of effort.
On Energy Star’s Checklist They offer some valuable suggestions on where to look to find savings on home energy expenditures, and more specifically heating, here are some of their suggestions for reducing energy costs…
Maintaining HVAC Equipment – according to Energy Star – dirt and neglect are top causes of heating system inefficiency and even failure. They recommend routine maintenance such as…
Changing the air filter regularly – preventing dirt and dust building up in the system – if left unchecked can lead to larger system failure. Energy Star suggests checking the filter every month, or in the very least in the heavier usage months during summer and winter. Change it if it’s dirty or if 3 months have passed since the last change.
Inspecting the flue pipe – looking for any gaps, disconnections or rusting – which can cause back drafting
Checking furnace cycles to make sure the system starts up, runs, and shuts off properly.
Furnace Tune Up – by a qualified technician – checking connections, pressure, burner combustion and the heat exchanger – as a cracked heat exchanger or dirty burner can cause the equipment to operate less efficiently and more importantly less safely. Leaking oil or gas connections can also cause fires or contribute to health issues.
Sealing up Duct Work – using metal foil/aluminum tape (not duct tape as it loses adhesion quickly) – access can be tricky since duct work is often hidden behind walls, attics, basements (crawl spaces) and ceilings. Occasionally they can get disconnected altogether, or be kinked.
According to Energy Star, 20% air is lost through the duct system of houses with forced-air heating due to leaks, holes, or poorly connected ducts. Resulting in an inefficient HVAC system (and high utility bills) even with the thermostat set modestly.
Energy Star also suggests making sure the connections at vents and registers are well sealed where they meet the ceiling, walls and floors; which are common locations where leaks and disconnection occurs.
Energy Star goes so far as to suggest having a contractor inspect the entire system. An HVAC professional will have a better idea if the size of the system is suitable to the size of the house, but also for full inspection, properly evaluating the supply and air return balance – as sometimes the ducts are too small. And re-attach, straighten or detangle crushed duct work; and ensure there is no back drafting and do combustion safety tests, and use diagnostic tools to evaluate air flow.
Good quality maintenance can do wonders – Even Energy Star agrees that lubing parts to reduce friction in motors which reduces the amount of energy needed to run them. Lack of lube can also cause equipment to wear out more quickly and therefore requiring more frequent repairs and parts replacement. Therefore annual furnace maintenance can be wallet friendly in multiple ways in the long run on both energy and parts.
Choosing the right equipment – the age of the furnace and the efficiency of it may be related. If it’s old and constantly breaking down, a furnace that works harder costs more to heat the dwelling. Some clients have saved up to 50% on their heating bills just by changing the furnace alone. Energy Star suggests considering a furnace replacement of a furnace over 10 years old.
Checking the shell or envelope of the house – look for any leaks or gaps in the outer walls, ceiling windows and floor. Energy Star suggests this can save up to 20% on heating costs (and up to 10 percent on total annual energy bill). Sealing leaks with caulk, weather stripping or spray foam often has a great impact. The easier the furnace runs, the less stress on it and the system, the more savings to be had. If you choose to hire a contractor for this, be sure to ask if they have the special diagnostic tools to pinpoint and seal the hidden air leaks in the home. A home still needs a certain amount of fresh air, but in the right way, some homes are too tight and a fresh air ventilation system may be recommended, especially when using gas appliances, and that your combustion appliances are venting properly, also recommended as important from Energy Star. An IAQ or “Indoor Air Quality” professional can measure this for you.
Adding Insulation – it’s one of the easiest ways to get the biggest savings by adding insulation in an attic that needs more. One way to know is to inspect the attic and if any of the floor is uncovered or if your insulation is level or below the floor joists, you likely need to add more. General recommended insulation by the Ontario Building code has been raised recently from R-50 to R-60 in the attic. Depending on the type of insulation used will depend on the depth needed to obtain that R-Value. Exterior walls are a different R-Rating than the attic. If you are unfamiliar with insulation, it’s best to get advice from a professional or hire one as there are many codes around insulation and vapor barriers, where and how they are used.
Checking thermostat settings – Not just about having a good programmable thermostat operating efficiently, but and the connections leading to it, a DIY thermostat mis-installation can end up having air and heat on, on the same time (it has happened) – essentially cancelling each other out and costing twice as much for half the heat (or cooling). A properly installed and programmed thermostat can save approx $250CAD ($180US) per year in energy costs according to Energy Star’s heating and cooling guide.
Have baseboard heaters? Heat pumps can be a great cost saving alternatives. They provide zone heating, are often used in commercial applications, but there are great home / residential heat pumps available that are extremely efficient and a fraction of the running cost of baseboard heaters. They do not require duct work.
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