Building an energy-efficient home or doing eco-friendly renovations not only protects the environment but also makes your home more comfortable and economical. As an added bonus, it will make your home more attractive to future buyers when it comes time to sell. And, thanks to the subsidies offered by the government, it doesn’t have to drain your bank account!
Discover 11 ways to optimize your energy consumption and improve your comfort, from small initiatives to large projects.
How can I make my home greener?
You might be wondering where to start. Every house has its own unique features and history! If you live in an older home and some features have exhausted their life span (like the windows or the heating system), you could replace them with more energy-efficient products or systems.
Another option would be to get an advisor recognized by the Rénoclimat program to perform an energy assessment of your home. They’ll provide you with a customized report that includes an estimate of heat loss, a list of work to be done, and tips on saving energy.
You can take advantage of this service for both your primary residence and your cottage.
Reduce your bill: Subsidies for green renovations
Even if it’ll save us money, we’re often less interested in insulating the attic than we are in, say, designing a new bathroom. Fortunately, both levels of government have programs in place to encourage homeowners to carry out energy-efficient renovations.
The Canada Greener Homes Grant
The Canada Greener Homes Grant is a program designed to make homes more comfortable and energy efficient while combatting climate change. As a first step, you must have your home evaluated by an EnerGuide energy efficiency advisor.
Once the report is in hand, you can start your renovations. After they’re complete, you’ll need to have your home re-evaluated to see if your work made it more energy efficient. If so, you’ll be able to submit your invoices and receive a grant of up to $5,000. Note that Quebec residents will need to go through the provincial Rénoclimat program to benefit from this grant.
To learn more about the work covered by the grant and how to obtain it, check out our article on the Canada Greener Homes Grant.
Similar to its federal counterpart, the Rénoclimat program offers free home visits from a Rénoclimat advisor as well as financial incentives to improve the energy performance of your home. Several types of work are eligible: work on the building envelope (insulation and waterproofing), the replacement of doors and windows, and the installation or replacement of heating and ventilation systems.
If you own a water heater or a fossil fuel heating system (oil or propane), you could take advantage of the provincial Chauffez vert (Green Heat) grant to replace it with a renewable energy system, such as electricity.
Renovations to make your home more energy efficient
There are many projects that can improve your home’s energy efficiency, including changes to the building envelope and certain systems.
1 – Opt for Energy Star doors and windows to conserve warm and cool air
According to Natural Resources Canada, doors, windows, and skylights can cause significant energy loss in your home – up to 25%! This inevitably impacts your energy bill (heating in winter and air conditioning in summer).
One way to solve the issue is to choose Energy Star certified products when replacing windows reaching the end of their lifecycle. They can help you save money while making your home more comfortable.
Some signs that it’s time to change your windows:
- In winter, they’re cold to the touch and you can feel a draft.
- Condensation and frost appear on the panes and frames as the weather cools.
- South- and west-facing rooms become very hot during the day, but cool down quickly at night.
- The frames and sashes are cracked or warped and you can no longer open your windows.
In addition to opting for certified windows, ensure that you have them installed by a qualified professional. Faulty installation could lead to air infiltration and the loss of internal gas in the sealed part between the panes, causing problems that would cancel out all the benefits you’d be gaining from the replacement.
2 – Replace your fossil fuel heating system with a greener and more efficient system
You could replace your old oil or propane heating system with one powered by renewable energy, such as electricity.
Another option would be to use dual energy, a system that relies on both electricity and fuel. These systems use fuel on cold days when the temperature drops below –12 ºC or –15 ºC, depending on the region.
Milder days allow you to benefit from reduced hydro rates. The switch between modes happens automatically and is controlled by a temperature sensor positioned outside the home. The higher your heating costs are, the greater your savings from dual energy will be, particularly if your system is several years old.
3 – Install a heat pump
With summers getting hotter, it’s not just heating that can increase your energy bill – air conditioning can, too. A heat pump could be a major advantage for both heating and cooling your home.
In addition to consuming less energy than other heaters, a heat pump uses renewable energy, namely ambient air. It captures the outside heat contained in the ground and in the air, even when it’s cold out, and brings it into your home. In the summer, it evacuates interior heat to cool and dehumidify your home.
4 – Swap your manual thermostat for a smart thermostat
If your home is heated with electricity, replacing your manual thermostat with a programmable electronic model could save you up to $150 or 10% of your annual heating costs, according to Hydro-Québec.
In addition, smart thermostats have been around for a few years. While they are more expensive, you can use apps to control them. They also offer greater customization and potential energy savings. Some even have a learning function that enables them to adapt automatically to the changing seasons or your day-to-day life. You can also remotely control the heating of your home when you’re enroute, which is ideal when you’re coming back from the cottage!
Note that the thermostats must be installed by a professional member of the Corporation des maîtres électriciens du Québec (CMEQ).
5 – Make your home more airtight to prevent leaks
An improperly sealed home could have cold air leaks, which could cause your heating bill to jump by up to 15% per year according to Energy Transition Quebec.
Leaks can originate from several locations, such as
- doors and windows;
- range hoods;
- recessed lights and power outlets;
- mail slots;
- chimneys; and
- cracks in the foundation.
In the case of doors and windows, caulking and weatherstripping – an insulating strip attached along the edge of a door – don’t cost much but can make a big difference. In other cases, more extensive work will have to be done, such as blocking a chimney that’s no longer in use.
It’s also necessary to consider airtightness. Energy Transition Quebec provides tips on the installation of air and vapour barrier materials, the application of sealant, and how to improve the impermeability of foundation walls.
6 – Improve the insulation
Updating your home’s envelope to today’s standards is another good way to make it more energy efficient.
Under the roof void
Since attic insulation tends to sag and become less effective over time, it may be beneficial to add a few inches of cellulose fibre – a material made from recycled undistributed newspapers – to regulate the interior temperature.
At the rim joists
Another source of heat loss comes from the rim joists, which are often insulated with wool batts. In this case, a rigid polyurethane foam spray would provide the best continuous insulation.
From the envelope
Finally, if the exterior cladding needs to be replaced, consider adding at least 1.5 inches of rigid insulation to the structure with an integrated air barrier to seal most of the leaks and increase overall energy efficiency.
7 – Generate your own energy using solar panels
If you’d like to go a step further in making your home environmentally friendly, why not install solar panels? Although it’s difficult to be self-sufficient using solar energy exclusively, you could combine your energy production with Hydro-Québec’s. In addition, you could be eligible for net metering rates. If you feed surplus energy into the Crown corporation’s network, you’ll receive kilowatt-hour credits that are valid for up to 24 months.
Before diving in, contact Hydro-Québec to find out if the equipment you plan to purchase meets their requirements. Moreover, beware of travelling salespeople who promise you incredible savings while at the same time selling you solar panels that don’t comply with what Hydro-Québec requires to connect to its network.
How to reduce your energy consumption
Major renovations aside, there are many ways you can save energy on a daily basis.
8 – Choose energy-efficient appliances
When it comes time to shop for a new refrigerator or dishwasher, choose an appliance with the Energy Star logo. You can also consult the EnerGuide label found on appliances: it will tell you how much energy the appliance uses and how it compares to the consumption of similar models.
9 – Save water with a faucet aerator and a low-flow shower head
Reducing your water consumption, including hot water, will not only have a positive impact on the planet but also your energy bill. Hydro-Québec offers various kits that contain a low-flow shower head and faucet aerators for the kitchen and bathroom. These practical tools reduce water flow by up to 40% without affecting water pressure.
10 – Opt for energy-efficient lighting
Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a smart choice – they consume 70% to 90% less energy and last 15 times longer. They’re very practical in hard-to-reach places or in areas that need to be lit for several hours a day.
Moreover, consider installing dimmer switches at home. Not only do they allow you to adjust the lighting according to your needs, but they also extend the life of your bulbs. Motion detectors or timers are good options for keeping outdoor lighting in check.
11 – Plug your electrical appliances into a power bar
Did you know that your electronics continue to consume energy even when they’re switched off? This is known as phantom power. A great way to reduce consumption is by plugging your devices into a power bar that you can turn off when you’re not using them. Better still, group appliances that have the same function or that are used at the same time of day (for example, the coffee maker and the toaster) together on the same power bar.
There are also smart power bars equipped with a timer that can shut off the power at night. Others have a primary socket for the TV and secondary sockets for the DVD player and game console; when you turn off the TV, the other devices are also turned off.
Actions with multiple benefits
Whatever action you take – from installing a heat pump to purchasing LED bulbs – an energy-efficient home will improve your comfort, reduce your energy consumption, and help the fate of our planet. Why wait?
By Isabelle Pronovost
Isabelle Pronovost is a former statistical analyst that left the world of numbers to devote herself to words and writing. With a diploma in professional writing, she started working as a freelance writer and journalist in 2017. She has always been passionate about architecture, design, and, to a greater extent, everything house and home related – an interest that naturally led her to collaborate with RenoAssistance.