10 Ways to Lower Your Winter Power Bill

This winter has delivered some of the coldest temperatures on record across North America. While it’s never a bad time to learn new ways to improve the efficiency of your home, you’ll likely be feeling the need now more than ever. Here’s some excellent ways you can lower those winter bills without sacrificing your comfort level:

1. Use Those Ceiling Fans

Proper airflow within the home is extremely important at all times of the year, but especially during the summer and winter. If you have ceiling fans, you can better direct ventilation, and heat, to your advantage. In these cold months, a clockwise rotation at low speed will help keep hot air trapped inside the rooms below. If your kitchen or bathroom has an exhaust fan, be sure to use it very sparingly if possible and to shut it off completely when not in use (they pull hot air out of the room/house).

2. Fix Gaps & Cracks

There are many areas of the home where heat can be potentially lost to the cold air outside. You should perform an inspection of the entire house, inside-out and top to bottom. Take note of any temperature discrepancies, breezes, or drafts. Electrical outlets, flues, windows, doors, and attics are the likeliest spots to be leaking heat. If you have a fireplace or chimney you should pay extra attention to these areas as well. Smaller gaps, cracks, and holes can usually be filled with caulking, while spray foam is ideal for larger openings.

3. Program the Thermostat Srategically

This seems self-explanatory, but many people underestimate the savings they can create by adjusting their thermostat. The cost of home heating is responsible for about 50% of your overall power bill - that’s a massive portion. One thing you can do fairly immediately to lower costs is decrease the temperature on your thermostat at night, when you are away from the house, or in rooms that you rarely use. Try dialing back by 5 to 10 degrees, or go as far as 15 if you’ve been keeping the abode particularly toasty. No more energy is required to reheat a cold building than is required to maintain an already warm one, so don’t be afraid to let it get cool during dormant hours. The more time the house is at a lower temperature, the more money you’ll save. It is highly recommended that you also invest in an electronic thermostat; they cost anywhere from $25 to $100 and can be programmed to automatically adjust your temps as needed, ensuring a smoother transition. Consider the long-term savings that will result from a newer, more efficient device.

4. Lower the Water Temperature

The recommended maximum temperature for your water thermostat is 120F (49C). Anything higher than this is not only considered to be a waste of energy but also a potential health risk (such as scalding and burning). It’s still not uncommon to find water thermostats set to 140F (60C) and above, but it’s very likely you won’t notice a difference if you gradually lower the temperature by several degrees over the course of a month. In fact, every 10 degree reduction can help save up to 5% on your bill. Don’t forget to consider limiting the amount of time you spend showering and bathing to further the savings.

5. Become Familiar with the Heat Pump

Making smaller, minor adjustments to the settings of most heat pumps tends to be far more efficient in the long run. Lowering by just a couple degrees at a time is key, as opposed to lowering by 10 degrees or more at once. These small drops are also recommended for utilities like radiant floor and electric resistance heating. Keep in mind however, certain newer heat pumps have programmable thermostats that reward larger setting changes with larger savings. Every brand of heat pump will have its own operating guide (review this with your contractor if possible).

6. Have a Home Energy Evaluation

If you’d like to take the savings a step further, there are professional services and incentives available to you. In the province of New Brunswick, NB Power - for $99 - will enroll you in Total Home Energy Savings Program. They will send a Certified Energy Advisor to evaluate your entire home to target areas in need of upgrading. You can receive customized recommendations that will improve your overall home energy efficiency, and you may even be eligible for free energy savings products. To top it off, this program offers a partial refund on the cost of your mortgage loan insurance. “Renovate with energy efficiency in mind and you may be eligible for a refund of up to 25% of your premium.”

7. Get a Humidifier

As the air in the home can become too humid in the summer, it can also become far too dry in the winter. Moist air retains heat better and feels warmer as a result. Once you’ve lowered the thermostat and set the ceiling fans, you can use the humidifier to increase moisture and warmth. These can be purchased in many stores (Walmart, Home Depot, Home Hardware, Costco, etc.), ranging from $25 to $100+. House plants not only filter the air in your home, but they also do a wonderful job of retaining moisture, so consider growing some or acquiring more to maximize their effectiveness (they also make excellent natural air filters).

8. Install 'Window Film'

Replacing inefficient windows is generally very expensive, but one way to increase their energy efficiency without outright replacement is to install window film. Window film helps retain heat by covering the cold glass; it looks quite similar to plastic wrap, but is far stronger and very effective (heat loss through windows can be reduced by as much as 55%). Different versions of this film can be found at different hardware stores, but all can be installed fairly easily by any homeowner. It should be noted that the windows cannot be opened again until the film is removed.

9. Maintain the Furnace

Dirty furnace filters and blocked vents will increase the home’s overall energy consumption. Check your furnace filter at least once a month and always have a new one at the ready to replace the dirty one. As a general guide, 4 inch filters will need to be changed approximately every 2 months and a 5 inch filter approximately every 3 months. Depending on the size of the filter, the condition of the furnace, and the number of animals in the home (i.e. cats or dogs), you may need to change the filter at an increased rate. Homes with no animals tend to require fewer filter replacements over the course of a year.

10. Insulate the Basement and/or Attic

You may be surprised to learn that almost one third of total heat loss can occur through the basement walls (as much as $170 worth a year). If you have a chilly basement, you may want to consider having it professionally insulated. The cost will vary depending on the several factors, so it may be beneficial to look into having a quote or estimate performed. If insulating the entire basement is too costly or difficult, keep in mind that the ceiling of the basement alone can be insulated to increase the efficiency of the upper levels of the home. As heat rises, insulating the 'floor' of the attic, if not the entire attic (including the door), can further cut costs.