The impact of extreme cold on your electricity and natural gas bills
Winter is expensive. First, there’s the Christmas shopping; then there’s all the gas you burn to get your motor warmed up before you drive; then you’ve got to put on your winter tires so you can drive safely. That’s why it’s so tempting to just head inside, crank the heat, grab some snacks and just hibernate for six months (in Canada at least). But cranking up that thermostat, while tempting, is just another way for the cold weather to drain your wallet. There are smarter ways to cut down on your heating bills in winter.
Let’s start with some basic physics: heat is energy. It’s not the only type of energy that exists, even within our day-to-day lives, but in case you were ever wondering why it seems inevitable that your heating costs during winter would rise, that’s why. No matter where you find the heat in your house, it costs energy (as in your utilities) to generate it. Unfortunately, since there is no shortcut to having a warm home if it’s cold outside, energy must be consumed from somewhere to ensure our homes remain hospitable during the notorious Canadian winter.
In Alberta, where cold snaps are common during winter, for example, the average home uses 40% more natural gas and 8% more electricity for every 10°C drop below zero, according to ENMAX. So, you can imagine how costly — in energy bill terms — it can get to heat your home or commercial facility when temperatures are approximately -20°C, -30°C or even -40°C (I see you, Edmonton!).
If you’re curious as to how homes are heated in Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario all predominantly use natural gas to heat their homes according to Canada’s own Energy Regulator. Some remote areas in the Northwest Territories may also ship in petroleum to burn, and much of the Eastern and Maritime provinces use electricity in some capacity to heat their homes. But whether you choose to heat your home with natural gas or electricity, Canadians from coast to coast feel the impact of winter on their utility bills each year. Here are a few reasons to explain how winter conspires against your wallet and what you can do about it.
There’s a greater demand
Energy is like any other commodity: the higher the demand, the higher the price. That’s why it helps to make sure your large appliances aren’t using up all the energy at the same time as everyone else. We’ve written before the best time to use electricity in Ontario. Such resources allow consumers to select the best and cheapest times to plan certain activities so you don’t crowd the grid for power and get charged extra for it. While you can’t control what other households are doing, there are a few things you can do to lessen your demand for energy, and the amount you pay for it.
What you can do about it: Adjust your demand. You can find out the peak hours for your area and do your laundry during times when everyone else on the grid doesn’t have the same idea. In the meantime, you can also dress warm and comfortably inside the home, so that you can tolerate keeping the thermostat at a lower temperature.15 to 20°C is an energy-efficient temperature for winter at nighttime. So you can feel safe turning down the thermostat while you sleep, snuggling up under fuzzy blankets if necessary.
And even though the days are much shorter, take advantage of the light available and open up your curtains to brighten the room. During the weekends, while it’s sunny and only -5°C outside, take a short excursion. Set the thermostat 5 degrees lower and go for a walk, take the kids tobogganing, stroll around the mall, or finish those errands you’ve been putting off. It gives you an excuse to decrease the temperature without feeling like you’re punishing yourself. Plus, once you’ve been outside, you’ll realize that it’s not as cold as we often make it out to be.
Your home is losing heat
On the other hand, if when you’re inside, you notice that your furnace spends a significant amount of time on; if even when you’ve lowered the temperature, the furnace seems to be constantly running; or if certain rooms seem drafty or have an uneven temperature, you might be suffering from heat loss. Heat loss occurs when the heat inside the home escapes to the outside, lowering the temperature of the home and ensuring that your furnace must stay on a little longer to raise the temperature. If you notice you’re losing heat, no amount of cozy sweaters can compensate for the extra money you have to pay your energy retailers to keep your house warm. Sometimes, heat losses even point to impending (and expensive to repair) catastrophes in the home, so treat this matter with urgency.
What you can do about it: First of all, if you notice your house is a little colder than you’d like and you want to boost the temperature, do not set it to an extreme temperature hoping to warm up your house faster. That’s one of the rules of using your thermostat effectively. All that does is increase the time that your furnace is running and consume more energy.
Next, you’ll want to check for some tell-tale signs that your home is improperly insulated. The walls of improperly insulated rooms will be cold or damp to the touch, so perform a touch test if you suspect insulation problems. If the air directly near the window seems chilly, but there is no sign of a draft or breeze, your window might just be cooling down the air in the room. A cheap window insulation kit would do the job. If you notice a slight draft around gaps by the doors or windows, replace your home’s weather stripping. This can also be done with relatively cheap materials from your local hardware store.
Serious signs of insulation problems include icicles dangling from the roof, which can damage the eaves or fall onto passersby below; or condensation collecting on any exposed pipes, which can burst and cause you thousands to repair, or result in grievous injury. In these scenarios, it’s best to contact a professional to perform an energy audit and improve your insulation.
You warm up in the shower
It’s so hard to get out of that steamy shower, especially knowing that I’ll actually feel much colder than when I went in because of all that water. But not only is it bad for your skin, but it’s also bad for your energy bills too. Remember what I said earlier about heat being energy? Turning down the thermostat just to run that hot water means that you’re still consuming energy. And that means that those long warm showers are affecting two utilities each time you use it. In wintertime, our bodies acclimate to the season and decrease our sweat response, as sweating is supposed to keep you cool which is counterproductive. So, you don’t have to forego showers completely to save on your utilities. Just shower more efficiently.
What you can do about it: Take shorter showers. Many of us spend an extra 5-10 minutes in the shower, dreading to head out into the cold. All that does is wastewater and energy. It’s unnecessary to take more than 15 minutes in the shower to get clean, so that’s the most optimal time to head out of the shower. But if that doesn’t convince you, you can also brush your teeth, wash your face, lotion your skin, etc. during your shower. This saves you time and energy spent waiting for your face basin water to heat up and then waiting for your shower to heat up as well, and running two separate faucets. Instead, all your tasks that need water will get to take advantage of the excess water pouring over you. Not only that, but lotioning while still wet, behind the warmth of a closed shower curtain, is the best way to trap moisture in your skin and prevent dry, irritated skin in winter.
If you find this is still insufficient, it may be time to install a low-flow showerhead. These come in a variety of formats, including hose extensions for added comfort, and with pauses to stop the water flow without changing the temperature. Just remember to keep your towel nearby so you can dry off in the shower and prevent the icy sensation of stepping out of the tub.
Compare energy rates and save on your heating costs
If you think you’re spending too much on electricity and natural gas bills, you probably are. So, it’s time to compare energy providers and their rates. The more you shop for energy plans, the higher your chances of securing a good deal.
At EnergyRates.ca, we do the hard work for you. You can compare electricity and natural gas rates in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Québec and Manitoba. The website is 100% free and unbiased and lists the major energy suppliers in each province, as well as their available energy rates.
Whether households or businesses, you can compare energy rates in the form above and find out if you could be paying less on your winter utility bills. Extreme cold can affect businesses greatly, but no worries: Commercial, large commercial and industrial electricity and natural gas consumers can get a free custom quote based on their energy consumption at EnergyRates.ca. All you have to do is go to the form above and start comparing!