Get an energy audit

Maybe replace your clunker of a furnace, but maintenance is key for low heating bills…
Get an energy audit
Gini Funnell remembers the walls in her 42-year-old Manotick home were always icy cold in January, butter came out of the kitchen cupboard rock hard and oil bills to keep the aged furnace growling were red hot.

These days in winter the butter is soft and energy bills to operate the new high-efficiency natural gas furnace have dropped by two-thirds to $1,000.

“Now the walls are fine and, oh my God, the butter is so soft,” says Funnell, who details how an energy audit in September 2011 recommended new windows and front door, a high-efficiency furnace and more insulation.

“Our rating wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good and now it is much better,” she says, remembering the furnace fell apart when it was taken out of the house. Funnell, who shares the home with her two brothers, Peter and Mike Royle, tapped into popular provincial and federal funding to recover half of the $300 energy audit cost and about $1,700 for the $11,000 it cost for a new furnace, windows and insulation.

The rebates helped offset major renovations, including a new kitchen and hardwood floors. “Before, when it got cold, we would just turn up the heat and go around in sweaters,” says Funnell, grandmother to Blake, 2, and brand new granddaughter Payton.

“Currently, high-efficiency natural gas is still the most economical heating system where gas is available,” says Ross Elliott, president of Homesol Building Solutions and a veteran who has conducted energy audits on thousands of Ottawa-area homes.

Prices vary depending on location, but ac-cording to an Enbridge survey, it cost $941 in 2012 to heat an average Toronto house with natural gas, $3,095 with electricity and $3,439 with oil.

Elliott says a good wood stove is the cheapest fuel option for rural homes. “I like wood pellet stoves in rural areas or even in the city, as they burn cleanly and can be thermostatically controlled, at fuel prices below even natural gas.”

Buyers of new homes can count on low energy bills since Ontario toughened its building code in January 2012, demanding all new construction meet Energy Star requirements for a tight building envelope. The new standards improve a home’s energy efficiency by 25 per cent over earlier building standards.

New or old, natural gas, wood pellet or geothermal, all furnaces need regular maintenance checks.

“The trick is to maintain the heating and cooling system so it operates at maximum efficiency,” says Scott Byers, a service technician for Service Experts. “You would be amazed by how many do not do annual maintenance and then have to call when the furnace breaks down in the middle of the night.”

High-efficiency gas furnaces last 12 to 15 years, says Byers, who inspected the 10-year-old high-efficiency gas furnace that keeps our Kanata townhouse toasty warm for $1,200 a year, giving it a clean bill of health. “If something goes wrong, I would repair it until it is 12 years old and then I would replace it. It becomes too expensive to repair.”

Matthew Sachs, the general manager and green guru at Urbandale, remembers growing up in a drafty two-storey in the west-end community of Qualicum and his dad complaining about high fuel bills.

He is often frustrated that many put more money into maintaining their cars than regular maintenance on the heating systems of their homes.

There is also reluctance among buyers to pay for more sophisticated systems, says Sachs, who led Urbandale to being named Ontario’s R-2000 builder of the year in 2010. The company was also an early supporter of Energy Star, offering it as a housing standard well before it became legislation last January.

At one point Urbandale wanted to build all of its single homes to R-2000 standards, a $25,000 to $30,000 upgrade that is now an option for buyers and takes about eight to 10 years to pay back in lowered energy costs.

“We are finding it is a tough sell,” says Sachs. “We have to communicate the long-term benefits and the benefits of a home without air leaks, no drafts and where the basements are comfortable living spaces thanks to added insulation below the slab.”

Today, Sachs likes to kite surf over the ice outside his older bungalow, which sits on the edge of the Ottawa River near Aylmer, glad he can return to a home kept warm by a series of high-performance vacuum insulation panels (VIP) developed by Panasonic and a geothermal heating system.

“The panels are still experimental and not yet on the market,” says Sachs, who recommended them for an experimental house on the campus of Carleton University. The two-storey house, called C-Rise, will meet the tougher 2012 R-2000 standards and test innovative products.

New heating systems have improved by 20 per cent during the past five years, says Sachs, but now it’s going to cost a lot more to up the green factor.

Green advances are being tested and are popular among larger custom homes where budgets are bigger, says Roy Nandram, owner of RND Construction and named Green Builder of the Year and Renovator of the Year in 2012 by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.

“I would build a really good building envelope that requires very little heating and go with gas if a home is 2,500 square feet and go for a geothermal system if a home is over 4,000 square feet,” says Nandram, who prides himself on practical building solutions.

He built his own 3,200-square-foot home in Alta Vista in 1998, using a high-efficiency boiler fuelled by natural gas and an air-to-air heat pump that was 47-per-cent more energy efficient than a home built to code almost 10 years later.

Ross Elliott did an energy audit of the house, finding it paid back Nandram $1,427 in savings every year. “I always think long term and make sure the house is energy efficient. I don’t want to spend money I don’t have to,” Nan-dram says.

“I wanted to make sure it is comfortable, so I used the best windows at the time, but now am going to start replacing them,” Nandram adds. “It’s all about maintenance.”


If you are thinking of upgrading the energy efficiency of your home, check out these websites for cost comparisons and energy audits:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s