Explore the alternatives.
Next to mortgage, rent and property taxes, utility bills account for a significant proportion of Canadians’ annual household expenses: 2.8 per cent or nearly $2,500, on average. And considering 2020 wasn’t an average year, homeowners can expect to face higher utility costs after consuming more heat, electricity and water during months of staying home to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
For all the challenges and hardships of the pandemic, the home-based isolation experience could have a positive effect on family spending habits. Assuming many people have shelved their plans to vacation abroad or buy a new house or vehicle this year, some homeowners may turn their attention towards making their homes more energy efficient to try and lower future utility costs.
More alternatives are now within reach
Alternative energy systems operate by consuming renewable resources, as opposed to non-renewable resources such as oil and coal. They’ve become more attractive to consumers in recent years as advances have been made in extracting energy from resources that are naturally replenished:
- Solar: generating electricity from the energy of the sun
- Wind: for powering electricity turbines
- Geothermal: extracting heat from underground, whether a few feet down or deep beneath the Earth’s crust
- Hydroelectric: producing electricity with water-driven turbines
- Biomass: producing electricity or heat by incinerating organic waste
As with the mass production of electric cars, we can anticipate that alternative energy products will become more affordable as their popularity increases in the years ahead. And cost savings are a key motivator for consumers to explore alternative options. After all, any investment in improving your home is a smart one. Energy efficiency can contribute to a home’s resale value, support the health of its inhabitants and be a model of responsible living that reduces carbon emissions.
Compared to most countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada has a high share of renewables in its energy supply. About 17 per cent of Canada’s energy comes from renewables.
Most homes in Canada use natural gas or oil to heat the premises through forced-air furnaces or boilers and hot-water or steam radiators. Today, a variety of efficient home heating technologies are among the most innovative new ways to avoid using fossil fuels.
One example is geothermal heat pumps, self-contained units that efficiently heat and cool homes and generate hot water. They use standard electronic thermostats and duct systems, making them appropriate for retrofits of standard heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and are an efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. Because a heat pump transfers heat from the air or the ground rather than generating heat, it can heat or cool a space for as little as one-quarter of the cost of operating a conventional system.
Solar panels are a reliable, low-maintenance energy source that generates electricity without on-site pollution or harmful emissions. As the technology improves, the cost to produce and install solar panels has become more affordable.
In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, the practice of net metering allows consumers to connect their home systems to the local energy grid and deduct the cost of the energy the panels produce from their hydro bill. Installing solar panels can be costly up front, but the benefits will eventually outweigh the cost of relying on a traditional power provider.
Replacing various water fixtures in your home, such as toilets, showerheads, faucet aerators and appliances, with newer, more efficient models can reduce the amount of water you consume. Try changing the way you use water, like taking shorter showers and collecting rainwater for the garden, and the savings will be noticeable by the time the next bill arrives.
Not quite living off the grid
“Living off the grid” has become a popular phrase to describe the practice of living self-sufficiently without the aid of public utilities. While this noble pursuit is achievable for some rural residents, it’s difficult for most urban and suburban dwellers to accomplish. All the same, more homeowners are interested in how they can reduce the residual effect of their energy consumption on the environment.
Since living off the grid remains an impractical option for many, investing in one or two solutions, such as driving an electric car or installing rooftop solar panels, while continuing to rely on local water and sewage services has become a more realistic approach. Even a few small changes can help save money on your utility bills that can be directed towards other expenses, such as paying down debt, investing or replacing a major appliance with a more energy-efficient version.
Assess the possibilities
Until the perfect energy source is discovered, alternatives that have the power to transform our lives and benefit our world are worth a closer look. Thankfully, advancements in technology have put more options on the table than ever before. Those who are interested can consider hiring a professional to conduct a home-energy assessment and begin learning more about the possibilities that could improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your most valuable asset.
Advancements in energy production are discovered every day as the need to curtail the world’s consumption of non-renewable resources grows more serious. Some new ideas currently in development show great promise and are well on their way to becoming available to homeowners:
- solar panel roofing tiles
- highly insulated, energy-producing windows
- refrigerators that use magnetic fields instead of chemical coolants to control temperature
- batteries that could supply an entire home’s energy needs
- Install ENERGY STAR® certified light fixtures and LED bulbs, which can last 15 times longer and use 70–90 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs
- Install motion-sensor outdoor lighting
- Turn off lights when not in use, or use programmable timers and dimmer switches
Make your home airtight
- Upgrade insulation and air seal areas in your home where air can escape, such as walls, ceiling, floors, windows, doors, ventilation ducts and attics.
- Install an ENERGY STAR® certified “smart” thermostat to take more control of your cooling/heating needs.
- Water-saving shower heads use less hot water than baths
- Low-flow toilets use less water per flush than regular toilets
- Use faucet aerators that expel fewer litres of water per minute
- Collect rainwater in a barrel for watering your lawn, garden and indoor plants, and to wash your car
- ENERGY STAR® certified appliances run more efficiently
- Use your dishwasher’s air-dry feature more often
- Keep your refrigerator away from heat sources like your oven and direct sunlight
- Washing machines operate most efficiently when full (but don’t overfill!)
- Don’t overfill dryers to ensure better air flow and reduce strain on the motor. Air-dry clothes and linens when possible
- Select cold-water wash cycles to reduce the energy needed to produce hot water
- ENERGY STAR® certified electronic appliances, such as TVs, computers and monitors consume 25–70 per cent less electricity
- Select low power settings wherever possible to reduce electricity usage and extend battery life
- If you have baseboard heaters with individual thermostats, set the temperature on each based on your activity in that particular area of the home
- Set ceiling fans to turn counter-clockwise to cool you down in warmer months
© 2020 Manulife. The persons and situations depicted are fictional and their resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. This media is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide specific financial, tax, legal, accounting or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. Many of the issues discussed will vary by province. Individuals should seek the advice of professionals to ensure that any action taken with respect to this information is appropriate to their specific situation.
 Statistics Canada, “Household spending, Canada, regions and provinces,” Table 11-10-0222-01, www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1110022201 (accessed June 6, 2020).
 Statistics Canada, “Primary heating systems and type of energy,” Table 38-10-0286-01, www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3810028601 (accessed June 6, 2020).