'Tis the season to be... wasting energy?
Between shower-hogging out-of-town guests and illuminating the night with holiday lights, December can mean a big spike in our electricity and gas bills. But with a few proactive moves, you can keep your home’s energy consumption on the low. You'll save cash (which means more money to fill stockings), and do the planet some good while you're at it.
Feeling motivated to deck the halls with energy savings? Here are 10 ways to cut down your usage while you’re fa-la-la-la-la-ing:
1. Check your furnace – Do yourself a favour and make sure your furnace is in top shape before the weather gets too frigid. “It’s usually this time of year we realize that furnaces are very important to us and we’ve maybe neglected them over the summer,” says Andrew Pride, the Ontario Power Authority’s vice-president of conservation. “It’s that time to change your filter, keep it clean. Furnace fans may need to be changed and the furnace maintained.”
Dave Walton, director of home ideas for Direct Energy, says that it’s estimated you can save about five per cent on your energy bill just by changing your filter every three months. And if that furnace is ancient and unpredictable, you might even want to think about replacing it before your heat gives out on Christmas Eve with 16 people over for dinner.
“I don’t think too many people would want to wake up and see a furnace under the tree,” says Walton. “But strictly from an energy point of view, if you’ve got a 25-year-old furnace, it was manufactured to operate at 60% efficiency. And what I mean by that is 40 cents out of every dollar is going right up the chimney.”
2. Look for leaks – Since the really chilly weather will soon start walloping us, you’ll want to take a few minutes to check the windows and doors in your home for drafts. Walton suggests checking to make sure there is proper caulking around windows between the wood trim and the wall, particularly on the top of the window.
“Chances are good you will find a gap and there’s no caulking, because they often get missed [on top],” he says. “The door sweeps on exterior doors, and other little leaks and crack in the home -- if you add all of them up, in a typical older Canadian home, you’ll end up with a hole the size of a basketball. You’ll be heating the outdoors for most of the winter.”
3. Put your programmable thermostat to work – “While most consumers have put in programmable thermostats, make sure they’re actually working,” says Pride. You can program your thermostat to be a couple degrees cooler during the day (when you’re at work) and at night (when you’re sleeping). You can also program your furnace fan to not go on during the day. And, if you have a full house, consider taking the temperature down a notch or two. More people leads to more body heat.
4. Make sure your fan’s in the right direction – Ceiling fans can be great to cool you off in the summer. But they can also help distribute heat in the winter, says Walton. “They can help it feel warmer by pulling the warm air down from the ceiling,” he says. “But the trick is knowing which way the fan should be running.” Rule of thumb: Clockwise in winter, to pull warm air down.
5. Install dimmers – To promote energy savings for the non-holiday lights in your home, put some dimmer switches under the tree this year. “Simply dimming a light by 10 per cent more than doubles the bulb’s life,” says Walton. “So you’re extending the life and using less electricity.”
6. Go low-flow – If you’re hosting a pack of relatives or friends this holiday season, there are going to be a whole lot more showers going on. If you haven’t already, be sure to install low-flow showerheads, says Walton. “Not only will it save energy, but it will stretch your hot water supply as well,” he says. And don’t forget aerators for the taps as well.
7. Buy Energy Star – When you’re thinking about purchasing a gift this year, consider making it an energy-efficient one, says Pride. “A lot of people are buying electronics today and migrating your selection to Energy Star to me shows you care,” he says. “Why am I burning someone with a huge cost of electricity when they could have a lower cost through Energy Star products?”
8. Monitor your energy use – If you really want to get a handle on the true cost of your energy consumption, purchase an electricity monitor for your home. This gadget can be connected to your electricity meter and displays electricity use in your home, minute by minute, in dollars or kilowatts (here’s one offered by Home Depot). It could be a great learning tool for kids, as well as a way to price out the true cost of your energy consumption.
Also check to see if your province offers discounted electricity monitors. For example, if you sign up for the Ontario Power Authority’s Peaksaver PLUS program, you are eligible to get an "Energy Display" electricity monitor for free.
9. Poke your head in the attic – Got a bit of extra time on your hands this holiday season? Take a trip up to your attic to ensure you’ve got sufficient insulation, says Walton. You should have 12 inches, he says, regardless of what kind you’ve got up there.
10. Keep the holiday lights twinkling…on a timer – For many people, it’s just not Christmas without strings of coloured lights in the front yard. If you are a fan of the outdoor glow, make sure it’s only happening at night. “It drives me crazy going through neighbourhoods and seeing the lights on during the day,” says Pride. “Timers are really inexpensive… and they work.”
And if you’ve been hanging the same strings you’ve been using for the last 20 years or so, consider a change to LED lights. They are 90 per cent more efficient, says Walton, “and you’ll save dramatically on electricity.” Plus they give off virtually no heat, which is safer for kids, dogs (and reindeer too?).