Heating your home efficiently

Reviewed by George Baral

When the leaves begin to fall and the air turns colder, many Canadians reach for the thermostat. But keep in mind that there’s more than one way to stay warm this winter, and some ways can help you take it a little easier on your bank account—and the environment. Here are a few ways to improve comfort and save energy this heating season.

Woman sitting in front of a fireplace

Insulate your home

By properly insulating your home, you can ensure that heat stays in and cold stays out.

  • Check for gaps around fans, vents, and pipes. Heat can easily escape if these go through to the outside. Check your home for air leaks and block them; even small leaks through keyholes or light switches can make a difference in temperature. Test for leaks by walking through the house with a lit candle and holding it near doors, windows and any other openings. Hold it still; if it flickers, there’s cold air coming in or warm air going out. Smoke (from a cigarette or incense stick) works well for detecting unwelcome air currents, too. Check for air leakage around recessed lights, especially in the ceiling below the attic, and seal them if they leak.

  • Place your furniture closer to the center of the room where it’s warmer, not near the external walls. However, keep couches and chairs away from radiators or heating vents or they’ll absorb precious heat that could be used to warm the entire room.

  • When renovating your home, upgrading its features or repairing broken windows, consider installing low-energy windows. New technology can dramatically reduce energy loss to the outside, keeping rooms warmer and reducing drafts.

  • If a floor isn’t insulated, about 10 percent of heat loss in a room can be attributed to it. Our ancestors knew this; hooked rugs were a fixture in colonial homes. If you have wood floors, consider purchasing area rugs, which are both decorative and functional.

  • Prevent cold air from leaking in beneath your outer doors by blocking it with door snakes. These snakes are nothing more than a long tube filled with dense material such as sand, which keeps the tube in place across the bottom of the doorway while blocking the chilly air.

Insulate yourself

  • Dress in layers, including a warm sweater and slippers. Or, grab a good old-fashioned blanket with arms. Do what you can to stay nice and warm while you’re watching TV. No need to turn up the heat.

  • Using an electric blanket at night is less expensive than heating your whole room. Better yet, how about a cozy down duvet?

Windows and doors

  • If your windows are single-pane, you may want to replace them with double-glazed windows. Plus, this helps keep unwanted noise out.

  • Use window coverings that keep in warmth. Drapes and blinds act as an extra layer of insulation.

  • Check around windows and door frames for gaps. You may need to apply a sealant.

  • Use plastic window covers to help prevent heat loss.

  • Check your door and window seals annually to make sure they haven’t worn out or become brittle. Replace worn or brittle gaskets as you find them; this helps seal windows and doors tightly, preventing air from slipping through and keeping insects outside.

  • Check your window wells to make sure there is a proper seal so water does not leak into the basement.

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Furnace

  • When the temperature drops, keep your furnace running efficiently with annual maintenance. It shouldn’t be hard to find a qualified technician to come have a look.

  • If your furnace is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a modern ENERGY STAR furnace.

  • Clean and replace your furnace filters regularly. A clogged filter can significantly reduce the airflow through your furnace, reducing the heat available for your home, and potentially causing other problems.

  • Have your ducts cleaned periodically. This reduces the buildup of dust that clogs filters, aggravates allergies, and produces that distinctive hot dust smell when your furnace runs.

  • Get the most heat from your radiators—especially those located on outer walls—by placing heat reflective aluminum foil behind the radiators. Rather than allowing the heat to escape through the walls, the foil reflects it back into the room. Hardware stores should have this special foil available, but good quality kitchen foil can serve, too.

  • Place a shelf above the radiator, especially if you have high ceilings; it can channel the heat and prevent it from rising too high. However, don’t place items directly on the radiator because it will prevent some of the heat from warming the room.

  • Although you may think closing doors to unused rooms or closing off the vents in unused rooms will save energy, don’t do it. You will be unbalancing your system and potentially causing serious problems, in addition to making the fan work harder and use more electric energy.

Thermostat

  • Before you go to bed, or when you’re leaving the house for the day, turn down your thermostat or consider installing one that is programmable. To avoid frozen or burst pipes, never turn your thermostat below 15 °C.

  • If constantly adjusting your thermostat is too inconvenient, consider purchasing a new smart thermostat. Many new thermostats actually learn when you come and go, and automatically adapt your home’s heating schedule.

Weather-stripping

  • A little bit of weather-stripping around windows and doors can stop drafts from coming in and warm air from going out. Weather-stripping is inexpensive and easy to install. Plus, it can last for years.

Wood fireplace

  • When you’re not using your wood fireplace, be sure to close the damper. If you don’t, the effect is similar to having an open window in the room. This will stop cold drafts from entering the house. Just don’t forget to open it when you light a fire.

  • Installing glass fireplace doors can also help prevent heat loss.

  • Consider investing in a chimney balloon, which is made from laminate and inflated in the chimney, just out of sight. It prevents cold air from entering and warm air from escaping. However, if you do decide to build a fire, be sure to remove it first.

  • Have your chimney regularly cleaned and inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Soot, dust and even birds and animals can clog up chimneys, which can result in poor performance and lead to house fires.

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