11/28/2013 01:33 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 05:59 EST

Consider heat pump, electronic thermostat to save money on home heating

VICTORIA - Turning up the heat during the cold winter months often means increases in energy bills, but simple, cost-efficient fixes like replacing furnace filters may conserve energy and reduce expenditures.

When Peter Bodman, owner of Victoria's Island Furnace and Fireplace, does service calls he finds the No. 1 thing homeowners fail to do is replace their furnace filter.

"You're just spending money if your furnace is plugged up because it has to work harder," said Bodman.

"For people who have heat pumps, they say the heat pump isn't working. When we get there we see it has shut down because the furnace couldn't breathe because the filter was plugged up."

The rising cost of energy has led many homeowners to seek more efficient heating systems. Bodman said the system he finds himself recommending most is the heat pump.

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the air and transferring it to the home. Many homeowners use a furnace or boiler system for backup during cold winter months.

"Although electricity has gone up in price, heat pumps are still a very economical way to heat your home," said Bodman.

"Heat pumps are becoming more and more efficient. You're really tripling your money because you're taking heat out of the air, so for the cost of what it costs to operate the heat pump, you're getting triple back."

While modern technology has drawn some homeowners to heat pumps, others continue to keep warm with wood fireplaces. But Bodman said some users of wood may re-evaluate because of stiffer regulations around the amount of particulates that can go into the air.

Replacing a home heating system can often be the best way to increase the efficiency of how a home is heated, but there are also many other ways homeowners can get the most from their heating system.

Torsten Ely, senior energy adviser with City Green Solutions in Victoria, conducts energy assessments, which includes testing homes for air leakages. These can have a dramatic impact on heating.

"If you want to do it right from a building standpoint you want to address the building envelope and the insulation and air leakages before you look at the mechanics," he said.

"If you improve your building envelope you may be able to purchase a heating system that is smaller just because it doesn't have to work as hard.

"Also if you compare the life span of an improvement to the building envelope that might last as long as 50 years or for the life span of the house, but mechanical systems begin to fail after 15 or 20 years."

Improvements to the building envelope could include adding more insulation to the attic or concrete foundation walls, or replacing windows.

Torsten said one of the easiest fixes homeowners can do for heating, that they can see reflected on their energy bills, is replacing their old thermostats.

"It's quite amazing that you can save up to four or five per cent of your energy needed for heating by replacing a mechanical thermostat with an electronic one," he said.

"If the lifestyle of the family or homeowner is fairly regular an electronic programmable thermostat can be a good option."

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