In cold Canadian winters, many of us burn voluminous amounts of fossil fuels to keep warm. A majority of heating systems in this country are either forced-air furnaces or boilers with hot water or steam radiators — most of which burn natural gas — and nearly 70 per cent of residential energy use comes from fossil fuels.
Experts say decarbonizing heating through electrification is key to reducing our country’s carbon emissions. But for many of us, giving up our furnaces and boilers is a huge step that we may not be quite ready to take. Fortunately, there are a number of smaller measures that can cut carbon emissions from our homes.
David Turnbull, a former home builder and current manager at Enerspec Energy Consulting and Home Inspections in Edmonton, suggests addressing heating the way we approach waste: first, reduce the demand; then reuse whatever you can; and then tackle full decarbonization.
Turnbull, who is also a board member of Built Green Canada, which focuses on improving sustainability in the residential building sector, recommends first stopping heat from leaving your home by improving the building envelope.
“That’s where you get pretty much the biggest bang for your buck up to a point,” he said.
This can be done by:
- Sealing gaps and air leaks with things like caulking and weather stripping.
- Improving insulation in the walls, basement and attic.
- Installing airtight, well-insulated windows.
Turnbull said the best options for decarbonizing your heating system, such as heat pumps, either won’t meet the home’s needs or won’t be cost-effective unless you’ve already reduced heat loss.
A few other options to reduce demand include:
- Setting your thermostat lower, especially when you’re away from home or sleeping. (Turnbull said the latter can save three to six per cent of your energy use.)
- Depending on your system, you may be able to do “zoning,” where you heat parts of the house you’re in more than parts of the house that are unoccupied (such as the basement).
- Choosing a smaller home.
- Low-flow fixtures such as shower heads or tankless water heaters reduce the need to heat water.
There are a couple of devices that can help you reuse “waste” heat:
- Heat recovery ventilators. Once your house is air sealed and insulated, you’ll need some ventilation. Heat recovery ventilators provide this while transferring heat from the stale air leaving the house to the fresh air coming in.
- Drain water recovery units. Turnbull said that when you typically take a hot shower, “you use that heat for truthfully a second — maybe less — and then all that heat goes down the drain.” This device recovers that heat and puts it back into your home.
All done with those? The next step is looking to replace fossil fuels with efficient electric heating options such as heat pumps. (We’ll have more on this next week.)