As anyone who lives in Canada knows, winter weather is not forgiving. For six months out of the year, some locales regular face temperatures well below 0 degrees. This means that natural gas is a critical resource during the cold winter month. In order to balance your budget and pay the bills, you have to have the lowest possible natural gas rates.
But low natural gas rates don’t matter, if you’re using far more gas than you really need. Here are a few tips on conserving gas and keeping your utility bills under control.
Optimizing Your Furnace and How You Use It
- For starters, your furnace, ducts, and filters need to be clean, clear, and free of obstructions. At least a couple times a year, take the time to check the air intake and vents, and remove any debris buildup. This will improve air circulation, and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your heater. In addition, this will eliminate potential fire hazards.
If you’re willing to spend a little money, check with your gas provider: Some offer annual furnace checkups and maintenance for a small fee. Optimizing the performance of your heater may more than make up for the cost of cleaning in just a month or two.
- Check when your furnace was manufactured. If it’s more than 10 to 12 years old, it might be worthwhile to do some comparison shopping. Pay careful attention to the estimated gas consumption of new models versus your current model’s typical usage. If you can cut your natural gas consumption by at least 20 to 30%, it may be worthwhile to upgrade.
- Turn your thermostat down by a few degrees when your home is empty. A 4 to 5 degree difference in temperature has a major impact on how often your furnace is running. If you don’t already have one, buying a programmable thermostat that allows you to schedule when you want your furnace to run can make a big difference.
- Check the insulation in your attic and walls. Worn or old insulation can significantly raise your heating bills, due to two key issues:
- Poor insulated walls will allow the outside cold to creep through much more readily.
- If ductwork passes through unheated areas of your home, such as your basement, lack of insulation around the ductwork will impede your furnace’s ability to heat your home.
- Check for drafts coming from weather stripping and seals. Look for signs such as wavering cobwebs, shifting curtains, and other such evidence. Getting your hands wet and holding them near suspect areas will confirm whether or not cold air is blowing through.
- Put a sweater on! It doesn’t have to be 25 degrees in your home. Like your mother told you: “If you’re cold, don’t turn on the heat. Put a sweatshirt on!” In the same way that it’s important to insulate your home in order to achieve energy efficiency, insulating yourself will accomplish the same.
More Efficient Water Heater and Clothes Washer Usage
- Turn your water heater down. For the sake of both energy conservation AND safety, make sure that your water heater is set no higher than 50 degrees. This alone can reduce your total monthly water heating costs by 10%.
- Insulate the pipes running from your water heater into your home. The more exposed the pipes are to the outside air, the more heat you lose from your water. Insulate the pipes, rather than compensating by turning up the water temperature.
- When you’re going on vacation, set your water heater to ‘vacation mode.’ Many modern water heaters have these standby settings that use the bare minimum of gas, without having to restart the pilot light.
- Is it time for an upgrade? Check the manufacture date on your water heater. If it’s more than 10 or so years old, it might be time to replace it. If you’re lucky, it may have on a label on it that gives an estimation of monthly running costs, based upon a specified natural gas rate. You can use this information to easily compare your water heater to the performance of new models.
- Install low-flow shower heads. A typical low-flow shower head halves water usage, meaning that as long as you don’t lengthen your shower time, you’ll use half of the hot water your showers used previously. This can make a huge difference in your water heating costs, especially if you have a large family. This is even more important for business owners who run gyms and other facilities that have locker room showers.
- Avoid washing your clothes in hot water, when possible. There are a number of modern detergents formulated to work specifically in cold water. Also, remember to clear out the lint trap in your dryer, while you’re in the laundry one.
Everyday Strategies for Making the Most of Low Natural Gas Rates
Many consumers focus on tracking down the lowest possible natural gas rates, but totally miss opportunities to save money by changing their day-to-day behavior. We hope that the examples listed above demonstrate that you have a wealth of opportunities to lower your gas use and ultimately save yourself a ton of money.
It really doesn’t take that much effort to save a lot, as long as you’re consistent.
Keep an eye out for additional opportunities to save. If you’re a business owner (or a parent of small children), put up signs that remind employees to adopt behaviors and practices that conserve energy use. Turn off water faucets when you’re done using them. Raise the blinds during the day to take advantage of the sun’s heat, and remember to lower them in order to insulate against cool night air. Don’t forget to close doors when you enter or leave a building.
These are basic rules than many people forget about all too easily. If everyone in Canada was more energy conscientious, natural gas rates would be lower for everyone, because consumption would drop. If you want to save money for yourself, and in the long run for everyone, then be sure to adopt good energy-efficient behaviors.