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10 eco-friendly ideas for living great, saving money and staying warm this winter

As the temperatures drop and the winds begin to pick up speed, it’s time to better winterize your home, maximize energy efficiency and save money on your heating bills. The following tips will help you and your family stay comfortable throughout our cold winter months, and love our planet in the process.

Install a programmable thermostat.

Regulating the heat in your home based on time of day is a great way to save money on your monthly energy bills. Your furnace will only turn on when you need it and can remain idle when you are away. Setting the temperature a degree or two cooler, and putting on a sweater and socks, can also conserve energy and lower energy consumption.

Consider a home energy audit.

A professional energy auditor can conduct a thorough review of your entire home to identify areas where heat is escaping, cold air is getting in or energy is being needlessly wasted. This can be an invaluable first step in preparing a fix-it plan. Your home energy audit report will also suggest ways you can get the most from the federal government’s ecoENERGY rebate program.

Seal cracks.

Check all windows, doors and walls—inside and out—for any cracks or gaps that allow drafts or cause heat to escape, and then seal them with the appropriate caulking. One way to check for drafts coming through cracks is to hold up a candle or lighter next to the gap and look for a flicker in the flame. Likewise, have any ductwork inspected to ensure it’s properly sealed so you’re not losing heat.

Protect your windows.

Double-glazed energy-efficient windows provide superior heat retention, but they can be an expensive upgrade. If that’s not in your budget right now, you can buy plastic-insulating kits at your local home improvement store. Failing that option, for a quick fix, hang extra-thick curtains to help keep the cold out.

Insulate. Insulate. Insulate.

Fill wall cavities and your attic space with foam insulation to help prevent any kind of heat loss. You can also install foam gaskets around electrical outlets on exterior walls for the same effect.

Change your furnace filter.

Yes it’s easy to forget, but it’s important to replace or clean furnace filters once a month during the heating season. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand. Here’s a worry-saving tip: make a monthly note on your calendar. Better yet, consider switching to a permanent filter, which will reduce waste and hassle. Did you know that disposable fiberglass filters trap a measly 10–40% of debris? Electrostatic filters trap around 88% and are much better at controlling the bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen that cause illness and irritation.

Clean your vents.

Ensuring the vents for your furnace, stove and dryer are clean and free of dust and debris will help them function more efficiently and effectively.

Replace your old furnace.

Consider buying a high-efficiency furnace, which can save you up to 40% on your heating bills. Check for the ENERGY STAR label, and look for a furnace with an AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating of 92% or greater. As a bonus, you can get up to $1,690 in government rebates when you replace your aging furnace with a high-efficiency furnace.

Install ceiling fans.

One of the best ways to evenly circulate heat in your home is to use a ceiling fan. They are able to direct warm air, which rises naturally, back down to where it’s needed most. Reversing your ceiling fans’ direction in the winter will push warm air down and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable. Here’s how you know the fan is ready for winter: when you look up, the blades should be turning clockwise. As an extra perk, those same fans will help cool you and your home in the summer.

Check your fridge door.

It may sound silly, but a poorly sealed refrigerator door can actually contribute to the cooling of your kitchen and subsequently increase energy costs, since the fridge now has to work twice as hard to keep its contents cold and your furnace has to work harder to keep your kitchen warm. To test your fridge door, place a piece of paper between the door and the body of the fridge and then close the door. If you can pull the paper back out easily, it’s time to re-seal your fridge door.

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Lyn Angulo December 2, 2011, 10:07 pm

    Thank you very much for the good recommendations.

  • Stephen M November 24, 2011, 10:29 pm

    Keeping your fridge door closed properly will save you electricity for sure. But leaving it open will not cool your kitchen. A fridge is a “heat pump” like your air conditioner. It pumps the heat out of the inside of the fridge and out its coils in the back into your kitchen. But nothing is ever 100% efficient so in addition to the heat equal to the cooling that it puts out, it also puts out some heat as a result of friction and inefficiencies in the motor. So the net result is that if you leave your fridge door open it will (waste lots of electricity and) heat up your kitchen a little more than the fridge normally does with its door closed. Back to Thermodynamics 101 for you, author of this article.

  • neena November 23, 2011, 6:23 pm

    I need to know more about how to set the thermostat temperature for different seasons. is the fan should be on or auto? Do we really need to set up the humidifier along with thermostat?
    who can provide us this info? Is anyone there who can visit us to show us all the functions set up?
    We are new to all these.

  • Jolene Murphy November 23, 2011, 1:38 pm

    Thanks Aaron.
    Also, I’m not a big believer in sealing your house so much that it doesn’t ‘breathe”.People with colds and flus might be harvesting the bacteria/virus in their warm cozy abode. Air out the house once in a while. This is just an opinion. I have no scientific data to back it up.

  • Bruce November 23, 2011, 11:37 am

    I must agree with Aaron D! Good article but the content doesn’t match the title. Should be titled: 10 eco-friendly ideas for living great OR saving money OR staying warm this winter.

  • sohailanwar November 23, 2011, 11:34 am

    I have one question , is tankless heating echofriendly , if so, why not you give me this option in your email. furhter is it worth to replace watertank with tankless option , if so Can I have this option at my home . give me details , how it will work . thanks

    • Rich Massingham November 25, 2011, 4:04 pm

      The efficiency you get from a tankless water heater in terms of lower energy costs really depends on how you use hot water in your home. The energy savings you get from the unit come from when you are not using. In fact, they actually use more energy than storage tank models when heating the water itself. The advantage comes from when you don’t need hot water because a storage tank model will continue to heat the water in its storage tank whether you need it or not. Conversely, in tankless models the water is only heated when you use it.

  • Aaron D November 23, 2011, 11:18 am

    While most of these suggestions are good, there are a few that shouldn’t be on this list if we are talking about saving energy. They include – installing ceiling fans (increasing the air flow in your house in the winter actually makes you feel colder), changing your furnace filter (this has been proven not to save any energy…. change your filter 2x a season is good for maintenance but even so will certainly not save enough energy to pay for itself)… Cleaning vents (may be good for improved health, but not energy savings)… Fridge door seal (unless it’s a complete disaster)… and most importantly, the comment left regarding the furnace fan is incorrect (keeping fans running 24/7 increases your energy bill – up to $400-$600 a year for older furnaces and it is only a comfort patch – you likely have under insulated areas in your home that need work or poor air sealing – a high performing home should NEVER have their fan running 24/7).
    Remember, if you can’t find items to fill up a top 10 list that actually make sense, stop the list short rather than giving incorrect advice to home owners.

  • DB November 23, 2011, 11:15 am

    Toronto Hydro and other local utilities offer conservation programs to helo you save money and energy. They even offer rebates and incentives when you participate in some programs! http://www.torontohydro.com/conservation

  • Douglas B November 22, 2011, 6:31 pm

    Like the suggestions. Another simple recommendation is to leave the furnace fan running 24/7. It keeps the house temperature balanced and saves money.

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