This will be the first winter that I have an entire house to myself (and my partner and my daughter). I’m on an extremely fixed income because my parental leave top-up is now a fond memory. During the summer, I strove to keep my electricity bill low using common sense. Most of my “tactics” required only a small portion of my plentiful time to enact, and none of them cost much money. Now that the leaves are turning, I thought I’d take a moment to look ahead at how I’m going to save energy in the harsh Canadian winter.
Before I get into specifics, I’ll again share a fantastic, ridiculously comprehensive guide to electricity conservation by Michael Bluejay, a man who must be an expert on electricity because he looks like he’s being constantly electrocuted:
1. Implement zone heating.
My house has an oil heater. When the oil is used up, the tank needs to be filled again, which will be done at significant expense. Instead of a regular monthly electricity or natural gas bill, this means the “cost” of heat is incurred in large chunks. It’s critical to find a balance between living comfortably and using as little heat (and therefore oil) as possible.
So I turned the thermostat down. Way down. I set it at about 16 degrees. At that temperature, I’m not concerned about pipes freezing (the basement is excavated and has two vents so the temperature remains quite moderate). I could tough-out 16 degrees no problem (more on that in part two). But I obviously don’t expect my partner or baby to do so.
That’s why I’m zone heating this winter. Zone heating is the use of a supplementary heat source to warm only the area of the house that’s inhabited at any given time. Instead of heating the entire house to 20 degrees Celsius, I’m heating the entire house to 16 and heating one room to 20 (I find room temperature too hot anyway).
And I’m zone heating with a very efficient kind of heater: an infrared heater. I bought a LifeSmart 1500 Watt Infrared Quartz Heater on sale for $120.
To run this heater on “Low” (its 750 Watt setting), 24/7, it’d cost about $110 a month. But it doesn’t even run for a third of the day at this point in the fall– it automatically shuts off when it reaches 20 degrees, and we don’t even leave it plugged in all the time. We live upstairs, while the thermostat is on the middle floor, so it’s generally warmer. Finally, we use the “Eco” setting rather than “Low”, although I have an inkling that this setting just automatically sets the target temperature at 20 degrees and is otherwise the same as “Low”.
I can’t do a simple analysis of the energy savings from this strategy because it involves saving oil. I have no idea how to determine, based on the price of home heating oil (which fluctuates), how much I save by turning down the thermostat from 20 to 15 Celsius. I’m certain, however, that it justifies spending $20 – $50 a month (depending on the month) to implement zone heating. I think one full winter of use will justify the $120 up-front investment.
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But we only have one infrared heater. If I need to sleep in a cold room, such that my partner and our baby can have the heater in the nursery, how do I survive the night?
2. Put on more clothes.
When I’m working on TF, I’m often in pajamas. And if it’s cold, I’m also probably wearing one of my luxurious robes. While writing this I am wearing exactly the same outfit as in this picture, minus the puppies and a ton of hair:
Last week I invested $7.98 in myself and bought some amazing memory foam slippers.
There have been a couple cold snap nights as of late, so on these occasions I’ve worn wool socks and long johns. My slide into the life of a laughably stereotypical plaid-wearing Canadian is almost complete.
I’ve got a nice feather duvet that I bought in 09 for $50 plus HST. (With a duvet cover I got for free from a friend. It reminded her of her ex but she even washed it for me twice — long story.) I’m pretty sure my bedding is sufficient for camping at Algonquin in January.
In all seriousness, if you’re a bit cold, learn to throw on more clothes or grab an extra blanket rather than automatically turning up the thermostat. This isn’t one of those “forgo the joys of North America and live like you’re in North Korea just to save 10 cents” Trent Hamm-ian exercises. Turning up the heat takes a lot of after-tax money when the solution is the absolute tiniest modicum of discipline. I mean, we’re not talking hardcore 6400 Personal Finance Full Metal Jacket discipline. I really mean negligible discipline. It’s the kind of discipline that keeps you from going to Five Guys for a burger snack immediately after attending an Italian wedding reception. (Even better: don’t turn up the heat or put on extra clothes. Being cold burns calories — that’s why it’s so uncomfortable. Evolution has made the conservation of calories an adaptive trait. Unfortunately this trait is now rewarded with diabetes and morbid obesity.)
3. Use blue balls in the dryer.
You may recall that, in my former hubris, I gloated about the fact that I’d yet to hook-up the clothes dryer since moving into this house. That was in July. Last week my partner told me that we needed to start using the dryer because clothes were taking too long to dry in the crisp autumn air. I sighed deeply, and then went about hooking up the dryer. Actually I waited a few days to test her resolve, but she won.
Dryers use a lot of electricity. My hang-drying saved us about $20 a month during the summer. It also got me into the outdoors for a few minutes; a locale that is clearly overrated or else we wouldn’t build artificial caves everywhere. Sure, the graphics are awesome, but the storyline and gameplay suck.
Now that we’re again using a clothes dryer, I’ve pulled out my handy dryer balls.
I bought these blue balls at Dollarama in 2010. They came in packs of 2 for $1.50. That three bucks, plus HST, has saved me a lot of electricity. We use all four balls in every load. They reduce drying time by at least 10%, if not 20%. The laundry also comes out of the dryer feeling softer and fluffier. I don’t understand how they work — something about lifting and separating the laundry — but I swear they do. If you don’t believe me, I’ll let you… no, I just can’t take the joke that far. This isn’t FinancialUproar. Please just trust me on the dryer balls.
So there you have it: some real strategies for saving energy this coming winter. Unless you’re a smart Canadian and bail on our destitute wasteland entirely. My ideas aren’t groundbreaking or original, and it’s near-impossible to nail down the actual ‘savings’, unlike for my summer strategies. Regardless, I’m confident that I’ll yet again save money using painless lifestyle adjustments.