In a world of growing global energy demand, we see an increasing strain placed on our earth systems. This strain is caused by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) as a source of energy. The strain on the environment can also be caused by the development of new power plants whether or not they are renewable (hydropower) to meet increasing energy demands and their impact on the local environment and biodiversity. Along with this, we are also seeing an increase in energy poverty and energy insecurity in several countries including Canada. It is crucial more than ever to reevaluate the way we use energy on a daily basis.
Residential energy use represents 25% of global energy consumption and 17% of global CO2 emissions. For most of us, the majority of our energy consumption takes place in the home. Our home energy consumption allows us to engage in relevant activities such as cooking, personal hygiene, heating and cooling, and more modernly, entertainment. It is important for us to become more conscious of our energy consumption patterns in order to actively reduce our energy use. By actively reducing our energy consumption, not only would we save money, but we would also contribute towards mitigating climate change. This article will set out to help better understand the average person’s energy consumption in Canada, and highlight a few tips we can make to ensure that our homes are operating more efficiently.
Canadian Energy Usage Patterns
The average home energy consumption of a Canadian home in 2019 was 90.5 gigajoules which is significantly improved from 144 gigajoules in 1990. This improvement can be attributed to the introduction of more energy-efficient appliances as well as conservation measures implemented in the building of homes such as double-paned windows. However, energy consumption does vary depending on different factors such as the number of residents, climate, size of the home, energy consumption patterns, the house’s energy efficiency levels, and the age of the home. Annual income also evidently plays a role in energy consumption with households of total incomes of $150,000 or greater using 122.3 gigajoules on average compared to households earning $20,000 or less using nearly half the amount at 63.7 gigajoules according to the 2019 Canadian census.
Provincial Energy Usage Patterns
The total Canadian household energy consumption can be divided into natural gas, electricity, and heating oil which accounted for 53.4%, 43.9%, and 2.7% respectively in the country’s 2019 annual energy consumption. Energy use can vary depending on the region which can be seen by how different provinces use energy to heat their homes. Provinces with less expensive electricity (hydroelectricity) such as Quebec, B.C., Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador, typically use electricity for home heating. On the other hand, provinces that lack this abundance of energy available or have high energy costs, typically turn to natural gas, heating oil, and sometimes wood-burning stoves to heat their homes. The provinces that have abundant hydroelectricity to power their heating systems are also the provinces with higher energy consumption. A map included below outlines the patterns of Canadian energy use across the country.
Home Energy Usage Patterns
Home appliances including heating and air conditioning systems are the main driver for energy consumption in residential areas. But, there are other things in our homes that use energy every day whether we engage with them or not. We may consciously use our fridge to better keep our food or watch TV before bed but we also consume energy from leaving the bathroom light on at night or leaving your laptop plugged in too long. Below is a pie chart portraying a breakdown of average energy usage amongst Canadian homes according to the Government of Canada.
There are various appliances that are particularly energy intensive with the most energy-expensive being central air conditioning, making up 50% of Canadians’ hydro bill in the summer, according to Toronto Hydro. These systems have to work long and hard, especially if used in large spaces such as single-dwelling and detached homes. These systems also work extra hard if the space they are working in has poor insulation or any leakage. Older homes should especially be examined for these issues. An inspection can either be conducted independently or professionally but can more or less be determined by any drafts felt in the space. Improved insulation may be a solution as easy as air-sealing homes or replacing single-paneled windows with double-paneled ones but this can also be quite costly. Air sealing can help homeowners save on average 15% on their heating and cooling costs and replacing windows could help reduce energy use by up to 24% in the winter and 18% in the summer. If on a budget, some heavy curtains act as insulation to keep warm air in and cold air out during colder months and vice-versa during the summer. Ensuring your HVAC system is up to par is also crucial to ensure you are saving energy which could be as simple as cleaning filters to avoid the system overworking or deciding when it’s time to get a new one. If you are really looking to reduce your energy consumption you could even reevaluate if you need your HVAC or heating system to be on. Would you be comfortable with a sweater or a blanket? Maybe a fan in the summer? A difference of a few degrees does wonders for your energy consumption and your wallet.
Household appliances could be eating up more energy than you think. Conducting an inspection on your appliances is another good way of understanding how well they work. Are the seals on your refrigerator and freezer still working fine? Does your fridge door open or refuse to stay shut? See if you can get them repaired or maybe it’s time to replace them. Another good practice is to avoid having any sources of heat near your fridge or freezer to avoid overworking the appliance and increasing its energy consumption. So, make sure your stove, toaster oven, vents, and dishwashers are as far away as possible.
Laundry is another considerable consumer of energy. With 90% of the energy used during laundry going to heating, we can evaluate ways to mitigate this. While washing your clothes, ensure you are using cool or cold water as much as possible. When drying clothes avoid using the hottest setting (it’s not good for your clothes either) or even opt to hang dry your clothes when you can. Another good practice is avoiding overwashing your clothes and ensuring you have a full load or are able to adjust the water used to the size of your load.
A lot of energy can also passively be used but there are a few things to consider to ensure energy isn’t getting wasted and you aren’t paying for unused energy. Passive energy use is really anything that consumes energy without interference. This can be leaving lights or appliances on or plugged in, or energy-inefficient light bulbs, and appliances. Make a habit of turning lights off when you aren’t using the space or consider installing motion lights if you tend to be forgetful. It is also beneficial to make the habit of turning off or unplugging electronic devices when not in use. Consider investing in power bars that can be easily turned on and off when necessary. These are great for side tables, coffee makers, computers, and TVs. Another easy swap to make if you haven’t already is switching your incandescent light bulbs or even your CFLs to LEDs as these alternatives are astronomically more energy-conscious using 75% less energy and last 25 times longer. With larger appliances, consider swapping to one with an Energy Star label when it comes time to replace it. These appliances are certified to be more energy efficient and can be found on most energy-intensive appliances such as light bulbs, refrigerators, air-conditioning, and laundry.
Government of Canada, C. E. R. (2021, May 19). Canada energy regulator / Régie de l’énergie du Canada. CER. Retrieved from https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-commodities/electricity/report/canadian-residential-electricity-bill/index.html?=undefined&wbdisable=true
Government of Canada, S. C. (2022, May 2). Households and the Environment Survey: Energy Use, 2019. The Daily - . Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220502/dq220502b-eng.htm
Martinez, A. R. (2022, October 6). 28 energy efficient swaps for your home & Garden. Good Good Good. Retrieved from https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/sustainable-home
Residential Electricity and Natural Gas Plans. EnergyRates.ca. (2020, September 1). Retrieved from https://energyrates.ca/residential-electricity-natural-gas/
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