Want to improve your home’s energy efficiency? Here’s where to start

A woman holding a tablet with a smart home software open on it.

As the cost to heat, cool and power a home in Ontario grows ever-higher, many homeowners are looking for ways to lower their utility bills.

While there’s no single product or magic solution for achieving savings and improving energy use, there are a number of simple options that homeowners can adopt that make can get the process started today.

John Liptak, OakWood’s president and CEO, says that it’s best to take a holistic approach to optimizing your home's performance, since there are so many factors that affect its energy efficiency.

“There are many moving parts to consider,” says Liptak.

These include: insulation, air sealing, roof, windows, doors and skylights, water heating, space heating, appliances and your home electronics.

Here’s where to start.

Home energy audit

An audit of your home’s energy use is a great place to begin. It sets a baseline for your home’s current usage and can uncover potential areas for improvement.

A good audit will examine insulation, inspect your furnace and ductwork as well as perform a blower test to help determine a home’s airtightness.

OakWood offers home inspection performed by the Holmes Group, the company of home reno star Mike Holmes.

This inspection documents a home’s existing condition prior to upgrades followed by a second inspection that includes thermal scans with high-end thermography cameras to confirm air tightness and performance gains.

OakWood offers this inspection as part of its end to end high performance design and build solution for custom homes and major renovations.

Simple ways to save

Even before you call a specialist, there are simple ways to start saving money and energy inside your home today.

Unplug unused electronics. “Phantom power” can account for up to 10 per cent of your home’s energy use. Your devices and appliances will draw power if they are plugged in, even if they are turned off.

According to Hydro One, the average home in Canada has 25 or more electronic devices that use phantom power that costs some $150 a year in electricity.

In the winter, one thing you can do is shut off the breaker to your air conditioning, which still draws power even when not in use.

Install smart thermostats. Smart thermostats use Wi-Fi and sensors to control temperature, ensuring comfort when you’re home and savings when you’re out. They’re called “smart” because they learn from your behaviours while allowing you to control the temperature remotely. They also show your energy consumption in real time.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency concluded that homes with programmable or smart thermostats can save up to $180 per year on heating and cooling.

Liptak says Internet-of-Things devices such as smart thermostats are one of the major trends to watch in the homebuilding and home renovation sectors.

“The disruption is coming,” he says. “It started with phones, then it went to cars, now it’s coming to homes.”

OakWood has partnered with the Holmes Group to identify an ever-growing list of “Holmes Approved” products.

At the top of their recommended list of thermostats is the Eaton xComfort Smart Home Controller. It provides homeowners with a complete energy management control system using your mobile phone.

Switch to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. This is the most energy efficient and rapidly evolving lighting technology on the planet. LEDs use at least 75 per cent less energy and emit very little heat, unlike incandescent bulbs that release 90 per cent of its energy as heat. Over a 25-year period, an LED light bulb saves hundreds of dollars and many trips to the hardware store for replacement bulbs.

Invest in Energy Star appliances. For those in the market for any new appliance, Energy Star-certified refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers are a great way to lower your electricity bill. Energy Star certified products are designed to save energy, lower your utility bill and reduce the impact on the environment. Some estimates suggest these appliances can save users more than $100 per year compared to other models.

Other options

These ideas barely scratch the surface of what’s available for ratcheting up your home’s energy performance.

Other options include improving the building envelope and ensuring a high R-value, which indicates the strength of a building’s insulation. For those interested, options include solar panels, geothermal, cool roofs with reflective technology and many more.

These are more complex solutions and should be considered as part of an overall design and build improvement project that’s focused on achieving greater home energy efficiency.

For example, if you’re thinking of solar panels to reduce or eliminate your dependence on the grid, in addition to photovoltaic panels, you’ll need an inverter and battery system. Technologies of this kind require careful consideration, and the expertise of a skilled contractor to properly install them without voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.

OakWood specializes in high-performance renovations, custom homes and buildings that are beautifully designed, energy efficient, healthy, technology-enabled and eco-friendly. Learn more at oakwood.ca or call 613-236-8001 to book a consultation at the OakWood Design Centre.