Does your energy bill frighten you each time you open it? Or do you just have an unexplained aversion to big numbers? From turning off the lights, to insulating against air leaks and heating your home passively, we've put together a list of five science-backed ways to cut your monthly energy consumption.
1. Turn it off
Everyone knows this one, but how much are you really turning off? In many cases, it's the obscure appliances we forget about that are the biggest power-drainers. CFL and LED lights already use little energy, and while it's good practice to flip the switch when you leave the room, they make far less of a difference than some other house components.
First of all, turning down your thermostat in the winter, when you’re not home, or when you're sleeping will decrease the amount of energy you use for heating. Just don’t turn it down so low that your pipes freeze! On the flip side, turning up your thermostat when you’re not home in the summer will decrease the amount of energy you use for air conditioning. Using a smart or programmable thermostat can also automate this by adjusting the temperature at certain times of day for optimal energy use.
Even better, consider what you’re wearing before even touching the thermostat. Wearing cozier or cooler clothes, depending on the season, and keeping your thermostat just a little closer to the outside temperature will save a lot of energy.
2. Avoid peak prices
When trying to decrease your energy bill in Ontario, when you use your energy is an important consideration. It is perhaps even more important than how much energy you use! Most homes in Ontario are now charged based on Time-Of-Use electricity prices.
You may have spotted charts provided by your utility company that highlight the various prices you are charged at different times of day. The prices reflect demands for electricity, with the highest prices occurring at times of highest demand when electricity becomes more costly to produce. Currently in Ontario, on-peak prices are 13.4 cents/kWh. That’s more than twice as much as the off-peak price of 6.5 cents/kWh! Mid-peak prices are 9.4 cents/kWh.
Shifting your energy use based on these prices could quickly save you money.
You may also want to take inventory of which major appliances you use at which time of day. Often, it isn't difficult to make small changes to your habits - like saving your laundry for the weekends or weekdays after 7pm, or waiting until after 7pm to run the dishwasher. If your schedule allows it, you may even consider cooking dinner after 7pm as electric stoves and ovens can use a lot of energy. If you subscribe to meal prepping, cooking the majority of your meals on the weekend will help as well.
3. Insulate air leaks
Homes aren't perfect; in fact, your home probably has many small inefficiencies that can be the culprit of drafts and air leaks. Basements,
electrical outlets, ceiling boxes, and windows are often responsible for leaks that drive up your energy bill due to an increased heating and cooling effort. Once you find these drafts, appropriate caulking or weatherstripping can go a long way. Loss through windows is responsible for about 25%-35% of heating and cooling use. You may even want to replace your old windows to increase efficiency. In this case, look for the Energy Star symbol when purchasing.
4. Make use of passive solar heating
Passive solar heating uses heat from the sun to save on heating and cooling costs. In the winter, keep the blinds open on your south facing windows during the day to warm up your house from the sun. Then, lower the blinds at night to keep heat from escaping, or on a sunny summer day to keep the heat out!
Some houses are built to optimize this effect. ECHO, a home designed and constructed by QSDT along with Carleton University and Algonquin College - together Team Ontario - was entered in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The house is designed to control passive solar gains with the layout and building envelope. ECHO won 6th place overall and 1st in the engineering category in the Solar Decathlon!
5. Install a rooftop solar system
If you’re dedicated and can afford the upfront cost, your own solar installation can drastically reduce your electricity bill in the long run, according to a 2018 study by the National Energy Board of Canada. Excess solar energy that you generate can then be sold back to the grid at Ontario's time-of-day prices. This equates to residential energy production costing you 95% of the price to sell it back to the grid, which can generate a small profit, or at the very least, subsidize your energy bill. By 2023 it is estimated that decreasing costs of solar technology will bring this number even lower, to around 79%. It clearly pays to invest in your own solar project, and it's good for the planet too!
Written by Chris Pennington, Engineering Physics '20.