As Canadians, we rely on heating systems more than most nations in the world. But our need doesn’t necessarily translate into knowledge. If you’re unhappy with the comfort or cost of keeping your home warm in winter, here are some things to consider.
Insulation is key. While the kind of energy source and heating equipment you have can affect annual costs a lot, don’t even think about upgrading your system until you’ve optimized insulation levels in your home. For most places in Canada, 22 inches of batt or loose-fill insulation in the attic makes sense. This is more than many homes have, but it pays to go beyond the basics when it comes to insulation.
Choose natural gas if you can. Natural gas is abundant in Canada and also burns cleanly in furnaces and boilers that operate at efficiencies greater than 95 per cent. Although prices fluctuate, natural gas always averages out to be the cheapest and most stable source of energy for home heating.
Consider heat pump technology. If you don’t have access to natural gas where you live, electric heat pumps make sense because they offer the next most economical source of heat. For every dollar you spend on electricity for a heat pump, the system delivers $2 to $3 worth of heat, compared with electric baseboard resistance heaters. Most heat pumps can also operate in reverse, cooling your home in summer.
Explore smart controls. We’ve had programmable thermostats for a long time, but the electronics that control heating systems are advancing beyond these basics. Wireless thermostats, for example, make it easy to control the temperature of different rooms independently. Why heat a room you won’t be using at certain times of the day? Today’s best control systems also deliver temperature levels that are more stable and consistent than ever, especially with hot water heating systems.
Hydronic heating conversion. “Hydronic” is a fancy word used to describe hot water heating systems. Hot water radiators and infloor heating provide some of the nicest and most even heat you’ll experience. Since there are no fans involved, there’s no moving air to kick up dust. Hydronic heating is also one of the best options for converting from electric baseboard heaters to natural gas.
Regardless of what insulation or heating system changes you want to make to your home, be sure to hire a qualified contractor to do the work. Home heating systems are not DIY projects — you need an expert who knows all the safety requirements. Electrical and gas contractors need to be licensed, so never hire someone who isn’t.
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