Did you know that the German building code specifies that every new house built in Germany must be designed so that it has no heating bill? I want one of those too! Quite an accomplishment, considering Berlin is at the same latitude as Calgary.
Whether we’re worried about global warming, or just worried about financial security, we don’t need to wait for governments to chop our heating bills.
It doesn’t matter where you insulate, either. As the engineers say, “Heat loss is heat loss”. Insulating your basement is just as good as insulating your bedroom, when it comes to saving money.
All we need to do to get rid of heating bills is to insulate properly. Here is how to do it.
1. Go off the grid
If you are building a new home, consider going completely off-grid for all your energy needs, including heating. You’ll be protected from brownouts and global catastrophes, you won’t be increasing the demand for nuclear or coal plants, and best of all, you won’t have a heating bill!
Check out high solar gain, passive solar designs relying on thermal mass like Michael Reynolds’ Earthships, which typically are built from earth, and have been extensively designed to get all their resources from the land they sit on.
For more modern designs that are easier to retrofit into cities, based on state of the art insulation, Passiv Haus standards offer a complete blueprint for “Net Zero” energy houses. If you wish, you can completely unhook yourself from gas and electricity bills forever.
2. Insulating new homes
Maybe you aren’t ready to go completely off grid, but you are building your own home, or are having a builder make you one. Stop the Presses! Don’t let your builder slap something together to meet current building code, and permanently attach the yoke of a $1,000-a-year heating bill around your neck!
Hire a green “Net Zero” designer, and they will show you how to insulate your house so well you won’t need a furnace, even if you live in Edmonton. The average cost of an upgrade to Net Zero over current building code is dropping rapidly, sitting around 5% more.
3. Insulating pre-1950 homes
Most of us live in older homes. The good news, is older homes are easier to get huge savings from. If you are doing a “gut renovation” for aesthetic reasons, be sure to hire a Net Zero designer to show you how to eliminate your heating bill while you are at it.
If you have those tricky “plaster and lathe” walls, and don’t want to renovate, don’t despair, you can still find an insulation company to drill holes from inside, and use “pour formula” medium density polyurethane foam to seal up and insulate the break between the bricks and the plaster.
Hire a Net Zero designer to supervise the work, because insulation companies tend to quote to the lowest common denominator to increase their chances of “getting the bid”, and they often miss opportunities for efficiency.
4. Retrofitting Insulation of Post-1950 homes
The classic 2”x4” and 2”x6” constructed houses are a little trickier to upgrade. Unfortunately the insulation batts between the studs (such as Fibreglass pink) are not capable of insulating or air sealing properly. But how to replace them?
Houses with siding can have the siding taken off the outside, the batts removed, and polyurethane foam sprayed into the cracks. You can do this to your roof too, when you change your roof shingles.
From the inside, you pretty much need to get the drywall off to remediate for the poor building code standards of the last 50 years. You might be able to drill holes and spray, but this is tricky work. Polyurethane foam will do the trick because it air seals while insulating. It lasts forever and it performs at R5.3 per inch, as opposed to batts. Batts are rated R3.5 per inch in theory, but don’t even actually perform at that level when not properly air sealed, and also degrade over time.
5. Air Sealing
“Sealing the envelope” is the other way to reduce your heating bill by up to 25%. Hiring professionals is a good plan here, but you can do it yourself. You’ll be upgrading weather-stripping, sealing cracks, adding proper flues to open fireplaces, and such.
Even putting plastic over leaky windows on the inside can save you significant money on your heating bill. All of these retrofits, from insulation to air sealing, increase your comfort too.
6. Plan your financing
Eliminating your heating bill is a great investment, but you might ask, how do I pay for all this?
Think of it this way. Right now, your heating bill is a “payment” you must make, say $100 a month, on average. That payment though, is going to last forever, and it is going to go up, and up, and up. It will double in your lifetime.
Alternatively, you can switch that endless, pointless “heating bill payment” for a short term, productive “loan payment”.
Generally, the cost of insulating is too high to pull out of your paycheque, so don’t even try. Arrange a loan, for which the payment will be lower than your current heating bill. Hire a Net Zero designer, who can calculate exactly what you will need to do to either cut your heating bill in half, or get rid of your heating bill completely.
Once you get the work done, your house will be much more comfortable. You will re-coup 75% of your investment on day one, by increasing your property value. You can cash that value in when you sell the house, or even when you renegotiate your mortgage.
In the mean time, you have simply swapped a payment that never ends, for one with a five or ten year term. Once that term is over, and the loan is paid, then you will have no heating bill forever! No payment at all!
Consider it a retirement savings plan that you can feel better about every year. As the heating bills of your neighbours climb and climb, you can sit back with and feel “insulated” from the high cost of energy in the future.