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A smart thermostat can learn your household's patterns, so it can adjust heating based on occupancy.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Canadians are feeling the chill of record inflation almost everywhere: it’s at the gas pump, in the grocery store and even in their utility bills. And as the temperature drops this fall and winter, the rising cost of heating their homes is top of mind for many people.

“We’re hearing a lot of concern about heating prices, but we’re not hearing it from people on natural gas,” says Ken Hill, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician and eastern Ontario territory manager at Battscan Power Marketing of London, Ont. Many people who rely on propane and heating oil are particularly stressed. “They’re paying as much as 50 per cent more [than last year],” he says.

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Aaron Bond, an HVAC tech with Yes Plumbing and Heating, working on a hydronic heating system in Toronto. 'You need a heat source that's efficient,' says Bond. 'And that's natural gas.'Supplied

The numbers suggest natural gas heats affordably. According to a 2022 Leger Canada survey of 2,500 people on behalf of the Canadian Gas Association, Canadians pay a monthly average of $81 for natural gas and $137 for electricity.

About 48 per cent of Canadians use natural gas, according to the survey. Innovation is one of the reasons they pay less for it, says Hill. “They’re taking advantage of the improvements and technology that have revolved around gas,” he says. “Lots of research and development have gone into your gas furnace.”

According to Hill, natural gas furnaces now run, on average, at more than 96 per cent efficiency – way ahead of oil furnaces that hover around 80 per cent.

That’s why Aaron Bond of Yes Plumbing and Heating in Whitby, Ont., installed a gas furnace in a net-zero home recently. “You need a heat source that’s efficient,” he says. “And that’s natural gas.”

To help save money and get the most efficiency from natural gas in your home, follow these tips to stay warm and on budget when the weather gets cold.

Get the right-sized furnace

Bond says many people have a furnace that’s either too large or small for their home – so it’s costlier to run. “If your furnace is oversized or undersized, that has an impact on operational costs,” he says. “People buy their HVAC based on the guess of a salesperson, who based it on square footage.”

For a real sense of how much energy your home loses and therefore the size your HVAC systems should be, you need to have an energy audit done. The results will give you a more accurate sense of how large your heating system needs to be.

Seal things up

There are other reasons to get an energy audit – the infrared sensors that energy auditors use can zero in on the places in your house that are not well sealed. “Nearly every homeowner is astonished after an audit,” says Bond.

Hill says insulating walls, attics and basements will translate into savings in your heating bills, plus getting new windows and doors or improving the sealing of old ones will help. Don’t worry if you can’t make all these changes at once. “The average person is not going to do all of this over the course of one year,” he says.

Leverage window coverings

You may not be able to replace all your old windows right away. But you can still be window smart. Leave your curtains or blinds open during the day in sunny rooms to help heat them up.

And when the temperature drops at night, close your window coverings. Heavy curtains do the best job at keeping cold air out.

Get a modulating furnace

If you’re purchasing a new natural gas furnace, along with picking one that’s the right size for your home, consider a modulating type. Instead of churning out heat as soon as the temperature drops, a modulating furnace will top things up gradually, which uses less energy. Hill compares old-style furnaces regulated by a thermostat to driving on gas-saving cruise control, but then aggressively passing a slow car. “You’ve just thrown all your fuel savings out the window.” You can save around 30 per cent on your gas bill when you switch over, he says.

Consider a heat pump

Heat pumps are emerging as a new heating opportunity. There are both electric and natural gas heat pumps available for commercial and residential buildings. Heat pumps take air from outside and extract the heat from it – even cold air contains some heat – and use it to warm your house. They also work as air conditioners. “Heat pumps have fewer greenhouse gas emissions,” says Hill, which he says is due to their high efficiency. “That’s why you never see a heat pump with an exterior venting system.” Bond installed an electric heat pump in the net-zero house he worked on, along with the natural gas furnace, in what is called a hybrid heating system. At around -10 C, there’s just not enough heat in winter air to keep your home toasty, so you need a gas furnace as a backup for chilly days and nights.

Smarten up your thermostat

Programmable thermostats have become very popular, as they allow homeowners to regulate the heat in their homes based on occupancy patterns. But Bond says many people just leave them at the factory settings. Programming your thermostat will help it customize heat use around your needs and hence help you save on heating bills.

Better still, get a smart thermostat. “It’s a really low-cost way to save energy,” says Bond. If you let it track your movements, it can further adjust your heat so your home isn’t toasty-warm while you’re in the office a few days a week or away for the weekend. In addition, smart devices can provide you with useful data about your home. Over time, they can learn. “It calibrates itself to adjust the run time of the furnace to maximize heat loss and gain,” Bond says. “It becomes more efficient over time.”

Learn more about the safety features and environmental upsides of heating with natural gas as well as products to increase your home’s efficiency at www.fuellingcanada.ca.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Fuelling Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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