August 26, 2011

Saving Energy – and Money

There are many ways to reduce energy costs in the home, including some that involve no expense at all – just good conservation habits.

BY TONY WHITNEY

Ask anyone who has bought a new home recently what surprised them most when the first energy bills came in and a fair number will come up with the same response – they can hardly believe how much their costs have plummeted.

This is especially true if they’ve made the switch from an older home with its ill-fitting, single-glazed windows, outdated insulation and inefficient HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system. Today, whether you buy a new apartment, townhouse or single-family home, it’s likely as energy-efficient as any structure can be.

Many government, utility company and equipment supplier websites are a rich source of information on energy-saving tactics around homes old and new. The website of Natural Resources Canada focuses on the EnerGuide program for appliances and HVAC equipment and also Energy Star, which monitors major manufacturers of energy-efficient products, utilities and energy retailers. BC Hydro’s website has a wide range of tips on saving energy around the home and emphasizes that day-to-day energy use patterns often can have a significant effect on cutting costs in any home. There are countless ways to conserve energy more effectively and many of them don’t involve any expense at all – just good conservation habits.

As efficiency and conservation become a bigger priority for today’s homeowners, natural gas supplier (also electrical power in the B.C. interior) FortisBC is introducing programs and creating partnerships to make it easier and more affordable for customers to improve their home’s energy efficiency.

LiveSmartBC, for example, is a joint venture between FortisBC, Ministry of Energy & Mines and BC Hydro, where homeowners can get substantial rebates on retrofits and upgrades. LiveSmartBC participants may also be eligible for Natural Resources Canada ecoEnergy grants, but only until March 3, 2012. The utility is also launching an energy efficiency program this fall offering rebates for new home construction – information will be posted on the FortisBC website. The company also encourages homeowners to make simple changes that will result in energy conservation, such as turning down the thermostat, putting on a sweater, keeping the heat in and the cold out. Like other utility firms, FortisBC is making great strides in helping customers conserve energy.

For maintaining a comfortable year-round temperature, homeowners are increasingly favouring electrically based heat pump systems such as those produced by industry specialist Trane. According to Trane, more than 90 per cent of people in the B.C. Lower Mainland looking for answers to temperature problems are turning to heat pumps. Heat pumps are versatile units and take care of both winter cold and summer heat with surprising economy. Another bonus is highly efficient filtration and better air quality around the home – an important benefit for allergy sufferers.

Heat pumps don’t come cheaply, but the federal government has recently announced that the ecoEnergy retrofit program is back. Add to this the aforementioned Live-SmartBC program with its additional rebates and the burden begins to lessen. A homeowner qualifying to go this route can save between 15 per cent and 30 per cent on the cost of a new heat pump system. One recent development in heat pump-based HVAC systems is that everything can be controlled remotely using an iPhone app if it’s set up to handle wireless inputs.

Energy saving is often a matter of common sense once the basic infrastructure has been installed or upgraded but even if a home is thoroughly up-to-date, there are always a few extra steps that can be taken to cut costs and save energy.

Websites to study and save:

Natural Resources Canada

FortisBC

BC Hydro

Trane Canada

LiveSmartBC

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