Oh, the weather outside is frightful and, well, hydro bills are far from delightful. Especially when coupled with Ontario Hydro's latest set of rate increases instituted in November, which promise to add about $4 to the average monthly hydro bill. Sure, cutting back on your energy expenses can be as simple as flicking off the lights or snapping up a few energy-efficient bulbs - but there’s more to it, if you want to see real savings. Toon Dreessen of the Ontario Association of Architects offers up a few tips ranging from proactive to pragmatic to help keep the chill out, and your hydro bill down.
Search For Heat Holes
The first order of business - find out where the heat is escaping. “Walk around with a smoke pencil or a candle, watch the flame and hold it near doors and windows to see if there is a draft by watching when the flame flickers," suggests Dreessen. Homeowners can also troubleshoot by checking and replacing their furnace filters, and replacing weather stripping - such measures may fix the issue. Dreessen also suggests checking outside for "sources of heat loss illustrated by patches of melted snow and ice on snow-covered roofs.”
Target Pesky Parasites
Did you know that plugged in appliances use energy even when turned off? Ensuring all are unplugged when not in use can go a long way in reducing your bill. “Look at the parasitic load (also called phantom load); TVs, phone chargers, laptops and other devices that remain plugged in draw electricity even when not in use; this can be five to 10% of the total electrical load in a typical house.”
Consolidate Your Efforts
You're not the only one exhausted by a disorganized schedule - needless running around and backtracking are huge and often overlooked, energy suckers. “Organize your errands so that you spend less time driving around from one place to another and spend less on fuel for your car (or take public transit when possible),” says Dreessen. This coordinated approach works well in the kitchen, too. “Organize your holiday baking so that once the oven is warmed up to make cookies, bake off pies, tarts, breads, and anything else you can think of (and freeze or store) so that the effort of getting the oven warm isn’t wasted, only to turn around and do it again a few hours later.”
Lower The Lights With Dimmers And Fixtures
Often, rooms are brighter than we need them to be. Consider installing a dimmer to lower the fixture output - for example, a dining room chandelier with eight 50-watt bulbs running at full tilt will sap 400 watts - output that can be trimmed substantially by running them only at 75%. "Consider switching out fixtures and using either LED fixtures or replacing regular incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs," says Dreessen. "If changing the fixture is possible, and you want the warm light of an incandescent-type of fixture, consider low voltage halogen; we use 20-watt bulbs throughout most of the house and many run for three to five years before needing replacement.”
Free Your Freezer
“Consider old appliances; if you have a 'beer fridge' in the basement that is largely empty, consider unplugging it and storing those items outside (at least until the weather gets really cold) or replacing the appliance with a new energy efficient one. The savings in electrical cost can end up paying for the new machine.”
Embrace Off-Peak Hours
The impact of energy hog appliances - like washing machines and dishwaters - can be reduced by running them during off-peak times (such as later at night), and by assessing how long they really need to run. " If your water heater is electric, save long hot showers (and reduce them!) to off-peak times. Don’t leave your car block heater plugged in all night if a shorter time in the morning will do the trick (often only an hour or two is needed).”
Degrees For Dollars
Sometimes, it's best to keep things simple - pulling on a sweater rather than cranking the thermostat will be kinder on the wallet - it's harder to keep the house at 25 degrees than it is at 21. Dreessen even advocates taking a homespun approach for further savings: "find local crafters and support local artists who make great wool sweaters or learn to knit.”
It's In The Details
Keeping curtains closed to control drafts and air flowing inside can help control humidity and condensation, according to Dreessen. He suggests also putting a timer on bathroom fans, so they don't run indefinitely. "If a 120 CFM fan runs all night by accident, that’s 120 cubic feet of air, every minute, that is leaving the house which means another 120 cubic feet of air has to come inside somehow and be heated. That “somehow” is often through cracks under doors, around windows and other leaks in the house.”
Get The Bill Breakdown On Your Winter Hydro Rates
If you want to get technical, some provincial energy regulators offer the choice between fixed billing and variable or market regulated billing. For example, in Ontario, you have a choice between buying your hydro from the local hydro utility (i.e. Toronto Hydro) or from an Ontario electricity retailer. While retailers like Bullfrog Power and Direct Energy offer three-to-five-year fixed prices (meaning your rate stays the same but includes a premium), rates from the local hydro utility fluctuate every six months – on May 1 and November 1. Over the past few years, there has been a trend towards using time-of-use meters or “smart metering”. Most utility companies use a different pricing formula for customers with time-of-use meters as they collect data on how much electricity is used and when it’s used. Smart meters are especially useful if you have a predilection towards off-peak electricity use.
Keep The Cold Out
Although each province has its own version of establishing rates for your electricity, the rest of the advice is universal. A few practical tweaks and an adjustment to your routine can help cure your winter hydro bill woes.