Heating bills are going up. These little fixes and lesser-known government grants can help you save money

Their house needed some work. When John Shmuel moved in with his wife, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, he discovered that the last renovation made to their newly-purchased, centenarian home in Leslieville was done roughly 15 years ago.

Some of the rooms had developed a chill. The attic needed insulation. The air conditioning was clearly on the fritz.

“It wasn’t the most energy-efficient place,” he admits.

Since then, Shmuel has become something of an energy-efficiency guru, regularly finding ways to cut down on heating costs while retrofitting the space to keep its temperature consistent.

In a way, his discoveries came at the perfect time.

Most Ontario residents can expect to see a steep increase in their heating bill this winter as natural gas prices skyrocket across North America.

Supply shortages and pent-up demand have sparked a crisis in the global energy system, the effects of which can be felt from Southeast Asia to the Maritimes. Torontonians — while not facing nearly the level of calamity felt in the U.K. or China, where power outages and fuel shortages have prompted stockpiling and long lines at the gas pumps — will be no stranger to the energy shocks felt around the world, experts say.

Enbridge Gas, which heats more than 75 per cent of the homes in Ontario, already raised its rates on Oct. 1. The company says a typical customer using natural gas will see their annual bill increase between $57 and $81 per year depending on where they live. Energy analysts have told the Star the costs could get even higher.

Shmuel, the director of content strategy at rates.ca, says Torontonians using natural gas to heat their homes have several tools at their disposal to cut down on costs, from tweaking daily routines to taking advantage of lesser-known government rebate programs.

First, there’s the small stuff.

Unplug as many appliances as you can when you’re done using them, Shmuel says; televisions, microwaves and decked-out power-bars can use more energy than expected.

Avoid using hot water where possible. Dishwasher settings can be adjusted to use cold water — you just need to find the right detergent. Running your dishwasher during off-peak hours can also save you about half the electricity charge than running it during peak hours.

Your savings can jump to an average of five per cent just by setting your thermostat temperature one degree lower in the winter, notes Caio Bersot, a spokesperson for energyrates.ca.

Covering the house with rugs and thick curtains will also reduce how cold your home feels, while sealing cracks in windows and doors will keep cold air out.

“By sealing uncontrolled air leaks, you can save 10 to 20 per cent on your heating and cooling bills,” Bersot says.

But little fixes only get you so far.

To transform your home into a thoroughly energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly space, Shmuel recommends homeowners use energy rebate programs offered by various levels of government to make long-term investments and upgrades.

In May, the federal government introduced a rebate program that pays Canadians up to $5,600 for home renovations and upgrades that increase energy efficiency.

The Canada Greener Homes Grant Program requires homeowners to hire an energy inspector to conduct pre- and post- upgrade energy audits — at a cost of $600, paid for by the program — before installing home upgrades that can include heating and cooling systems, insulation, windows and doors, and solar panels.

Applicants will receive up to $5,000 for new HVAC systems, rooftop solar energy systems and more.

The Ontario government, in partnership with Enbridge Gas, also offers the Home Efficiency Rebate, which includes a series of grants for renovations and upgrades. Those grants include between $500 and $3,000 for insulation, $150 for air sealing, $40 per window or door, $250 to upgrade to an energy-efficient furnace, and more.

Most municipalities have rebate programs as well.

In Toronto, homeowners can request low-interest loans up to $75,000 to pay for high-efficiency boilers, air conditioners, furnaces, water heaters, replaced doors and windows, geothermal or solar systems, insulation, and replaced toilets.

The rebate programs require some legwork from the consumer, Shmuel acknowledges. Upgrades take some time to complete, and homeowners must file applications with the government to be admitted to the programs.

But it’s worth it — both for long-term savings and comfort at home.

“These changes can make a big difference, especially in a bigger house,” says Shmuel.

“Exploring these programs, and making even those smaller changes, will help cut your costs.”


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