The good news about getting rid of gas bills is that roughly 60% of the energy in an older North American home is used for heating, and roughly 20% is used for hot water. For many people, both of those are on your gas bill. Why is it good news if 80% of your energy use is in gas?
Because that makes your space heating and hot water costs into big huge juicy targets, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall!
1. What is a Passiv Haus?
The sad thing is, none of us need to have a gas bill at all. The only people benefitting from gas bills are gas companies. We’ve just gotten so used to paying them, we can’t imagine life without a paying.
More people quit heroin every year than shake the addiction of their gas bill. Go figure!
In Germany, the government signed legislation in 2010 so the whole nation could go “cold turkey” on their gas bills. The current German Building Code requires new structures to be made to “Passiv Haus” standards. That means the houses are “passive energy users”. They get what heat they need directly from the sun.
In North America, this is often called “Net Zero,” meaning that the house produces as much energy as it uses, so its “Net” energy use is “Zero.”
2. Put a sweater on your house.
We have had the technology to live “net zero” for 50 years or more. It is breathtakingly simple.
Simply insulate your house so well that your own body heat is enough to keep you warm in winter, and the sun’s heat can’t get in to roast you in summer. In West Virginia, that is about R-20 in your walls. In Toronto you’ll need about R36, and in the Yukon go for R-50.
If you insulate your walls, and seal up every single air cracks, you simply won’t need a furnace, and you’ll save roughly 60% of your energy costs right there. That’s about three quarters of your gas bill in one easy swoop.
Did you know that each person gives off 60 watts of heat while they are reading a book? Imagine when you are doing a few exercises!
3. Windows and doors?
Window and door companies will often tell you that replacing your windows and doors is the best way to get rid of your gas bill. Unfortunately, windows and doors take up so little surface area on your walls, this doesn’t really pan out.
When you replace older windows with inexpensive vinyl windows, you get more insulation value just from the foam sprayed into the gap your window sits in than from the window itself! Some window installers find that 50% of their business is replacing cheap replacement windows 10-15 years after they were installed.
Remember that insulation comes first. But once you’ve done that, if you really want to replace your windows, buy top of the line foam-core fibreglass windows, or solid wood windows, with triple glazed panes at least R-5. Because the installation cost is so much of a window’s overall cost, the premium for high end windows isn’t that high, and they are a great investment that will last 50 years or more, and help you chop that gas bill down to nothing.
4. Radiant Heat.
The fun part about insulating your house properly to get rid of your gas bill permanently is that you still need to produce some hot water for baths and showers. What’s so fun about that? Radiant heat. In a properly insulated house, you can run a little plastic PEX pipe, or copper, up and down your floor joists, and use your hot water heater to add a little heat to your house from time to time.
Adding PEX lines is cheap, and the water is only about 90 degrees F. That is all you need to make sure your floors are cosy and comfortable all winter. Radiant heat used to be a perk for the rich. Now it’s a perk for the smart.
But where will you get the heat to warm up the little water you do need to maintain a properly insulated house? From the sun, of course! Read on to understand the connection between hot water and the sun.
5. Hot Water.
Even in the dead of winter in Canada, the sun will heat up glycol on your roof in a solar panel to 140 degrees F. If you put a few storage tanks in your basement, you can store that heat and use it for showers, and even run a bit through your floors.
Radiant heated floors and passive solar designs let you deal with climate change and walk around in your bare feet in January.
6. More efficient appliances.
Appliance manufacturers would have you believe that you simply must buy super efficient furnaces and hot water heaters to get rid of your gas bill. Unfortunately, modern efficient appliances are good things, but they will only lower your gas bill by up to 40%, depending on how badly insulated your house is, and how ancient your furnace was.
If you want to get rid of your gas bill, you need to insulate and install solar hot water tanks.
A woodstove will heat your water and home too, if you have access to wood, and you enjoy playing with matches, and find amusement in watching your cats and dogs take over the living room.
7. Earth Ships.
Earth ships, what are they? Are we all going to get rid of our gas bills by building space ships? Nope. For those who want to get rid of their gas bills, insulation is all we need.
The 1970’s did see a real break through in Net Zero building though. An architect named Michael Reynolds started building houses with no gas bills, and he amassed a lot of practical knowledge, which he put into schematics and drawings. He called them “Earth Ships”, because they used rammed-earth building techniques, and “walked lightly on the earth”, and were designed to help people get close to the earth they lived on.
Because they were designed for the New Mexico desert, they rely more on thick walls and thermal mass than insulation, but there is no harm building a well insulated “Earth Ship” to get rid of your gas bills, and all your bills, forever.
8. Financing your dream.
So why don’t we all get rid of our gas bills? What does it cost? How can I do it?
Think about this. If you pay $2,000 a year for your gas bill, you will pay that money out forever, and gas will only get more expensive as we use it up. Why not borrow enough money to insulate your house and install solar hot water, which will cost you less than $2,000 a year to finance?
Now you aren’t causing global warming by literally burning your money, you are investing your money in your own house, and your own future. Instead of a gas bill payment, you’ll have a slightly smaller loan payment.
Your house will be safer and more comfortable, you will have “future proofed” yourself against energy cost spikes, and best of all, one day that renovation loan payment will be done, and you will be free from the rest of your life from one of the most troubling addictions of all: your gas bill.