Tips provided on how to make your home energy efficient

Simple acts like turning off the lights when not using a room can save on your energy bills.

Emily Plihal
Local Journalism
Initiative Reporter

This will be a slightly different format of an article than you would normally see in the newspaper, it will likely read more along the lines of an opinion piece rather than a generic news article.

For the last four years I have been contracted to four municipalities in the Smoky River Region as their Municipal Energy Manager. Because of this experience and insight that I’ve acquired, a Home and Garden feature story is the perfect opportunity to help readers learn some of the tricks and tips to help reduce their energy use.

Through my time working in that capacity, I’ve spoken to several individuals who have limited knowledge of how they can reduce their energy bills. Although I specialized in corporate buildings, the basic principals of energy management are the same: make a schedule for basic maintenance, complete no cost or low-cost items immediately, plan for long term capital replacements.

First and foremost, I’d always recommend individuals to have an energy audit completed by a licensed professional in order to analyze the various imperfections your home has to help you reduce your energy use. This is particularly important if you are applying for the Greener Homes Grant the federal government has available to do renovations to your home up to $5,000. It will also help individuals who have limited knowledge of buildings, appliances, or how electrical systems work.

An energy auditor will come to your home and will analyze everything from your appliances to the insulation value of your walls and everything in-between. Although this is not a necessity for everyday individuals, it could be a valuable asset for you if you have astronomical energy bills. There could be a quick and easy fix you have either overlooked or unaware of that an auditor can find for you.

There are some no cost items you can ensure to do on a scheduled basis that will allow you to make sure your appliances are running in tip top shape. My first recommendation, especially if you have pets in your home, is to replace your furnace filter. Sometimes just vacuuming the filter will be enough to keep your furnace operating efficiently; however; if it has thick residue you will want to replace it.

Now, this may seem super commonsensical, but I’ve had friends mention to me they have overlooked the replacement. A lady I know called a repairman because she thought her furnace needed to be replaced, it turned out that she just needed to clean the furnace and start replacing her filters more frequently. Simple maintenance like this can save you oodles of money.

“I recommend people replace their furnace filters every three to four weeks in the summer,” says Coaltin Heating and Cooling Refrigeration Mechanic and owner Cody Turcotte.

“In the winter this can be switched to every six months, however it depends on if you have pets and where you live. It’s important to make sure the blower wheel of the squirrel cage gets cleaned, that way your fins are actually moving the air needed.”

Turcotte says he recommends 96 per cent efficiency furnaces.

Using hot water only when needed will help reduce energy costs. Consider replacing your hot water tank with an on-demand system.

When it comes to hot water tanks, ensure your tank is not turned up above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are replacing your tank, perhaps consider replacing the tank system with an on-demand system. You significantly reduce your energy consumption because water is not continually kept warm in a tank for use. Although the installation of an on-demand system is higher, you will notice an immediate pay back on your utility bill.

In your kitchen, things like being cognizant of how often and how long your refrigerator or stove doors are opened will help reduce your energy use. A simple trick I gave a few years ago during energy efficiency seminars was writing a list of what is in the fridge for your kids to see. This will allow them to pick a snack without even opening the door until it is necessary to do so.

If you’re cooking supper in the oven, utilize your interior light to check on the meal’s progress instead of opening the door. These two simple solutions seem unnecessary, but by ensuring warm air isn’t let out of the stove or let into the refrigerator, you will reduce the amount of energy that appliances require to do their job.

Just changing small habits can ensure you are saving money on your power and gas bills. One of the biggest energy users, that I identified in energy management documents I completed for the municipalities, was the use of portable heaters. If possible, do not use space heaters. Try to put a sweater on or even increase your thermostat by a degree. Those little devices can skyrocket your utility bills over the course of a 24-hour period.

An even better option in this case is to identify weatherstripping that needs to be replaced in your home. Make sure in the winter that you place plastic over any windows that are not airtight. You may also have some insulation issues in various parts of your home (walls, attic, etc.) but this repair requires more of a capital investment. If you are on a tight budget, ensuring weatherstripping and window plastic is done can reduce your energy consumption quickly with a small amount of money.

Replacing or upgrading weatherstripping can help avoid heat loss in your home or cool air coming in during winter.

Have you replaced your windows or furnace lately and you’ve noticed in the winter there’s an increased condensation on the inside of your windows? Are you worried? Don’t be.

Modern windows utilize a gas inside the panes that decrease the amount of air that can pass from the inside to the outside and vice versa. This is the whole point of replacing your windows, and likely why you think there’s an issue because there’s moisture. When you decrease the ventilation in your home and there’s a dry air on the exterior in Alberta winter’s, this is a natural occurrence and a super-easy fix (in most cases).

The reality is anything humans do inside their home creates some type of moisture. We respirate, we shower, we have hot tubs, we cook, and we have plants. In order to prevent those windows from having moisture on, ensure you have your bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans on. Simple fix, right? And the majority of the time having some type of added ventilation will help with the moisture on your panes.

This is not always the solution, however if you’ve installed the new type of windows or furnaces, this almost certainly what your issue is.

No cost measures can also help significantly reduce the amount of power you use. The most important, and also an important factor in reducing your fire hazard in your home, is ensuring your cell phone charge is unplugged when not in use. Most people have likely heard the term “ghost power”, and the cell phone
charge is unplugged when not in use. Most people have likely heard the term “ghost power”, and the cell phone charger is one of the biggest culprits of this. If you touch the block of your charger when it is plugged into a socket, it will likely be warm or hot even if not charging. You are using constant energy when this is plugged in, and it can also cause fires. Ensure when your device is fully charged that you pull the cord from the wall.

Although I normally recommend complete LED retrofits in all of the corporate buildings, I do energy audits in, I normally wouldn’t recommend this conversion immediately in homes (unless the budget allows for it). The simplest way to reduce your energy use for lighting is to shut your lights off when not in use. I do highly recommend swapping out any fluorescent lights that you may have in your home, particularly if they are T12s. The largest reason I don’t recommend immediate replacement in homes is because unnecessary waste and impulse buying is a large contributor to the environmental issues we are currently experiencing. Reduce your consumption and you will help reduce greenhouse gas
emissions (GHG) and will reduce your monthly expenditures.

Using some of the helpful tips in this article will save you on home energy bills.

Instead of doing a complete retrofit, when bulbs die, replace them with LED alternates. The LED bulb will utilize less energy and will help to reduce your power bills. With fear of being a nag, remind your children when they leave their rooms or bathrooms to switch their lights off. If it’s a major issue, you could consider lighting timer or sensor switches for various rooms in your home. These switches are also one of my biggest pushes in municipal buildings because they help to save significant energy, specifically in recreational facility washrooms, where most have lights and ventilation on all day.

Clearly, if you have a larger budget there are alternate energy sources you can add to your home to reduce your grid use. Rooftop solar panels have become increasingly popular in northern Alberta, and this author fully supports any installation for both residences and businesses. We are currently waiting on word for two large grants applied for in March that will provide enough energy to power two of the large recreational centres in the Smoky River Region, should they be approved. I’m happy to discuss alternate energy with anyone who has questions and have studied solar energy (in particular) quite extensively.

The two main sources of energy in Alberta are natural gas and crude oil, although we also use coal, hydroelectricity, wind power, biomass and now solar.

This barely touches the surface of what individuals can do to make their homes more energy efficient. It’s difficult to discuss all items in a home that can be altered or replaced in a short article. In addition to what I’ve already noted, reducing (or eliminating) the amount of air conditioning or space heating you use, reducing (or eliminating) use of things like hot tubs and saunas, and doing some of the basic items I’ve suggested can help reduce your bills.

Remember, if you reduce your energy (kWh) use, you will also reduce the administration and transmission fees on your bill.

Should anyone have any questions or want things addressed, please feel free to reach out to me at climatechangecoordinator1@gmail.com

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