This week was it for us. It was the latest into the year we could go without turning on our heat. Depending on where and what type of housing you live in, you might have had your heat on for weeks or you might not even be thinking about turning it on yet. But for us, as I said, it was this week.
It’s always a sad time, realizing the sun’s free and non-polluting heat is no longer enough to keep us warm. Plus, there is the spectre of future heating bills lurking.
This seems like a good time to examine what we can do to reduce the amount of heat-related energy we use this winter. For us, a key tool for energy conservation is a programmable thermostat. These ingenious little devices mean you no longer have to remember to turn the heat down before you go to bed or go out for the day. Plus, and this is huge, it means you can wake up to or come home to a warm house.
If you have a regular routine (get up, go to work, etc.), simply program the thermostat to have your house warm for you when you get up, cool it down again when you go to work and then have it warm again when you come home. Many models can be set with a different program for weekdays from weekends since requirements may be different for those days. Some can even be set for different programs for each day of the week, if your life and schedule are that complicated.
All thermostats also have manual overrides for when you step outside your routine. When used properly, programmable thermostats can significantly reduce energy use and heating bills. Plus, they are not that hard to install or program.
Thermostats should also be set as low as possible (within the limits of comfort). Not higher than 21 C is suggested for the daytime (when you are home) and two to three degrees lower at night. Obviously, the health and age of the occupants of a home will play into that decision, but we should try to go as low as we can.
Another energy saving device is the ceiling fan. As we know, hot air rises, therefore, the heat we pump into our rooms can end up near the ceiling while we shiver in the cooler air below. A ceiling fan can move this hot air around and redistribute it into the room.
Lower tech energy saving tips include blocking drafts. If you have older windows and don’t see yourself springing for new well-sealed ones this year, consider sealing them with plastic. You can buy these window sealing kits in hardware stores. It doesn’t look great at first, but in a couple days you won’t even notice it and you will be warmer.
Blinds and thick curtains are also good for sealing in heat, especially at night. Don’t heat unused space: Close doors and vents in rooms that are not used or curtain off unused areas.
Saving energy used for heating lets us actively participate in conservation and also save money.
So, dig out the sweaters and bundle up, and have a warm, safe, and less costly winter.
Andrew Laursen is an assistant professor at Ryerson University, studying ecosystem ecology. Sophia Dore is an environmental scientist with Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, an environmental consulting company.