How to reduce the carbon emissions from home heating


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.)



Bloomberg unveils plan to make new buildings ‘zero-carbon’ by 2025


One thought on “How to reduce the carbon emissions from home heating”

  1. You can see how all those are going at my blog:

    An increasingly serious problem: being female. Some of the work you need to do to drop carbon emissions involves replacing worn appliances with newer, more efficient appliances, and often there’s some construction or other trades work necessary. Even if I were capable of all the work, I probably wouldn’t do it myself: I’m in my 50s and I have a fulltime-plus job. But I find that working with the tradesmen is a nightmare. Apart from questions of “what flavor of criminal are you bringing into your home”, which is a real thing much too often, getting reasonable prices when you’re already taking a wage hit for, again, being female is a serious problem and deterrent.

    I’m on my third go-round with the heating/plumbing guy on a bid for a new tankless water heater and high-efficiency furnace; he doesn’t want to break out his bid into parts and labor. It’s fairly obvious why: he’s padded the bid by about 20%. Which I can see because I can find retail prices for the parts online. I’ve had this problem before with tradesmen who assume that they can just get away with this with me, and it’s exhausting. And no, I’m not going to bring a male friend over to pretend he’s the homeowner. We need to fix the misogyny problem, not hide from it.


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