Understanding the Efficient Home

Understanding the Efficient Home

Understanding the Efficient Home

Table of Contents

How Much Money and Energy Is My Home Wasting? 

The average home in Alberta is losing a whopping $931 in heating costs per year.

Some homes are comfortable year-round with incredibly small energy bills. Other homes are leaky, and heat the outdoors while the homeowners have chilly toes. Which home sounds like yours? Or does your home fall somewhere in between?

In Canada, heating our homes accounts for 16 percent of total carbon emissions. Most Canadians want to find solutions for climate change, and improving your home’s energy efficiency is one positive way a homeowner can take action.

Why Is My Home Wasting So Much Energy? 

In the winter, it can take a lot of energy to heat your house.

Your home’s envelope—which consists of insulation, doors, air sealing, and windows—can keep the heat in and the cold out depending on its thickness.

When there are areas that are not sealed, or insulation and doors are thin, heat is allowed to escape. Unfortunately, you may be heating the sky while you pay for it on your monthly energy bills!

The diagram below shows where the average Calgary home loses heat and energy.

Where Do You Think Your Home Is Losing Most of Its Heat?




“You may be heating the sky.”

Click on the toggle in the diagram to view heat loss in dollars or as a percentage.

Source: Lightspark Analysis of EnerGuide audits of 1,500 Calgary Homes.
Source: Lightspark Analysis of EnerGuide audits of 1,500 Calgary Homes.

How Do I Make My Home More Efficient?

Understanding the Efficient Home | Lightspark Inc.

You can do this by retrofitting your home with a tighter envelope and efficient appliances such as a heat pump or electric water heater.

The right upgrades will make your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, with fresh and healthy air year-round.

You don’t have to buy a brand-new home to make your home more energy efficient. You can take advantage of several loan and incentive programs to retrofit your home.

Retrofitting your home saves money and energy, makes your home more comfortable, and ultimately more valuable. The first step to retrofitting your home is to improve your home’s envelope, followed by upgrading your heating and cooling appliances.

Home Envelope Upgrades | Efficient Home Explainer | Lightspark Inc.

How to Improve the Envelope of Your Home

The first step in retrofitting your home is improving its envelope. There are several  areas where heat can escape:

Improving these areas of your home makes it more energy efficient, more comfortable, quieter, and more affordable to operate.

After improving the envelope, you can choose your home’s ideal heating and cooling system. Now your money and energy will be spent heating your home, not leaking out and heating the sky!

Home Envelope Upgrades | Efficient Home Explainer | Lightspark Inc.

An energy efficient home will save you money in the long run.

Efficient appliances (heat pumps and energy recovery ventilators, for example) save you so much on your monthly bills that they can pay for themselves in just a few years. Let’s discuss some of the common appliances that belong in your new energy-efficient home.

Consider a Heat Pump for Home Heat and Cooling

Now that you have improved your envelope, you can invest in more efficient and cost-saving heating and cooling systems.

Heat pumps are reliable technology that in most cases are electrically powered, and produce less energy and carbon than traditional electric heaters and fossil fuel-powered furnaces. There are different types of heat pumps:

Air-Source Heat Pump

An air-source heat pump uses a refrigerant that responds to temperature and can transfer the difference between the outdoor air temperature and the indoor air temperature to cool and heat your home.

In summer, a heat pump will move heat out of your home and release it outdoors. In fall, it brings heat into your home from outside, even when it’s chilly (0°C). Many homes can rely on these products to heat or cool their homes year-round. A heat pump can use the existing ducting in your home, but there are ductless models available as well.

Air Source Heat Pump

Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump

Ductless mini-split-system heat pumps (or mini-splits) make good retrofit add-ons to houses with ‘non-ducted’ heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat) heaters, radiant panels, and space heaters.

They are ideal for homes that do not have ducting, or in homes where ducting isn’t feasible. Like standard air-source heat pumps, mini-splits have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser and indoor air-handling units. 

Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump

Like an air-source heat pump, they take advantage of the difference in temperature between outdoor and indoor air to heat or cool a room. The temperature can be adjusted through a wall-mounted console, remote control or smartphone app. Ductless units require only a very small hole to be drilled into an exterior wall, making them less vulnerable to air leakage.

Mini-splits also avoid the energy losses associated with ductwork, which can account for more than 30 percent of the energy used to heat or cool indoor air (energy.gov).

Ground-Source Heat Pumps

Also known as geothermal heat pumps, these technologies extract heat from the ground and are highly effective space heating and cooling technologies.

Sometimes the source of this heat is the sun (warming the surface and conducting underground), and other times the heat comes from geothermal energy. Ground-source heat pumps are literally pumping heat from the ground into a home. 

Ground-source heat pumps can be installed in a home’s backyard almost anywhere around the world, however different locations are better suited for their use. For example, the higher the temperature available underground during winter months, the less work the heat pump needs to do.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

A main benefit of these systems is that they make use of already available heat stored within the Earth, so the heating or cooling for a home does not need to use natural gas or other fossil fuels. Since ground-source heat pumps obtain the energy for heating from the ground, they have lower fuel costs and lower carbon dioxide emissions than fossil-fuel powered alternatives.

Capture Discarded Heat from Your Air and Water

Air Heat Recovery

A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a ventilation device that helps make your home healthier, cleaner, and more comfortable by continuously replacing stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

Homes built after 1977 are typically more airtight, which helps to prevent heat loss but also prevents air circulation, which is important for your health and comfort. Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs), also known as air exchangers, remove excess moisture and indoor pollutants (mould, household chemicals, and bacteria) and let fresh air inside while minimizing heat loss. 

During the fall and winter, an HRV captures heat from air leaving your house and uses it to heat the fresh air coming into your house. Similarly, an HRV can reverse this process during the spring and summer, removing some heat from the incoming air and transferring it to the outgoing air.

Air Heat Recovery

Drain Water Heat Recovery

Heating water accounts for up to 20 percent of a home’s energy use, making it the second-highest energy consumer after space heating.

Drain water heat recovery systems capture the heat from water going down a drain, typically the shower, and use it to heat cold water entering your water heater. It’s particularly effective when there are simultaneous water flows (e.g. when you’re using hot water in the shower at the same time that water is flowing down the drain).

Drain-Water Heat Recovery

How to Improve Your Hot Water Heating

Water heating accounts for up to 17 percent of the energy used in the average Canadian home. 

This percentage remains relatively consistent (between 15 and 20 percent) for all ages and types of homes in Canada. With more energy-efficient building envelope and mechanical system options, the overall energy consumption of homes in Canada is reducing slowly. As a result, the percentage of energy consumption for different tasks in a home is also changing.

In high-performance homes such as net-zero Energy labelled homes, hot water heating accounts for around 16 percent of energy consumption. A house built 30 years ago (1982) would be approximately 15 percent of the energy consumption responsible for hot water heating. A new home built to today’s building code requirements would account for 20 percent of total energy consumption.

Below are a few ways you can reduce the hot water heating load in your home:

  1. Replace older (low- and mid-efficiency) equipment with ENERGY STAR-certified, high-efficiency condensing equipment
  2. Insulate your hot water pipes
  3. Install low-flow faucets and shower heads

Upgrade to a High-Efficiency Furnace

Home heating accounts for up to 60 percent of the energy used in the average Canadian home.

A furnace uses ductwork and vents to distribute warm air throughout your house. High-efficiency gas furnaces are quiet, reliable, and effective at maintaining a comfortable home, and they can reduce your energy bill by up to 45 percent.

On average, an ENERGY STAR-certified forced-air furnace uses 6 percent and 9 percent less energy than a standard model when fuelled by gas or oil, respectively. Space heating represents more than half of your home’s energy use — it offers the most potential for reducing your energy bill. 

If your furnace was installed before 2000, it’s probably a lower-efficiency model, or it could be  reaching the end of it’s lifecycle. If you upgrade to an ENERGY STAR-certified furnace, you will save money and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases you emit.

High Efficiency Furnace

Solar Power

One way to reduce home carbon emissions, and monthly energy bills, is by installing solar panels—which have been installed on more than 43,000 residential, industrial and industrial buildings in Canada. Solar power generates energy from the sun and, thus, depends on factors like how new the panels are, the angle of the roof, the local climate—which will impact the number of hours of sunshine the panels get—and even the position and orientation of the home.

A solar system is made up of several parts including the panels themselves, a power inverter—which make the power the panels generate into a form usable by buildings—and, in more advanced cases, a battery system that stores the power they generate, meaning excess power used during the day can be used at night. But homes without battery systems can also sell excess power back to utility providers.

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