Q: My home is freezing at this time of year. Can you recommend any space heaters or heating devices?
A: It's hard to get into winter when you don't have a warm, welcoming pad to come home to. If you're hovering over your oven for heat, petrified of getting naked (brrr) or just a little nippier than you'd like to be, there are a million and one eco-wise ways to get toasty.
If you're renting or simply can't afford major furnace repairs, portable space heaters can seem like the only way to warm your home. Trouble is they'll run up your hydro bills and are pretty inefficient - two-thirds of the heating energy (i.e., electricity) is lost in transit to your room. Maybe that's why we couldn't find any Energy Star-certified models.
Space heaters powered by a combo of electricy and natural gas or kerosene emit carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxides either into your living room (if they're unvented) or into the great outdoors (if they're the vented type). Electric radiant heaters are supposed to be more energy-efficient, but they only warm the person they're pointed at, not the room. Canadian Tire sells a Black & Decker radiant heater for $59.99.
But all that hot air will just keep vanishing unless you address the source of temperature loss. It's extremely important to fill any and all holes and cracks around windows, doors, baseboards and light and plumbing fixtures with caulking or weatherstripping. If you have any radiators or south-facing windows, make sure they're clean, since dirt and dust absorb heat, robbing you of it!
Windows lose about 25 per cent of your home's heat. If you've weatherstripped all you can and they still sap warmth, you have a few options. Get cheapy insulating shrink wrap or invest in better windows. (Canadian Tire offers $19.99 energy conservation kits that come with window film, weatherstripping foam and sealing liquid - not particularly eco-friendly but helpful in this context). You can also buy insulating honeycomb or cellular curtains (double- or triple-celled models are best) at most blind stores. Higher-end honeycombs as well as super-insulating, airtight Window Quilts are available at Brading Specialty Shades (416-488-6600).
Furnace filters should be replaced every three months at the very least, though once a month is ideal. Dirt buildup here will mean your furnace can't do its job as well. If you're a homeowner and your furnace is more than 20 years old, it will actually save you money in the long run to buy a newer, more efficient model. If you can afford $10,000 to $20,000, consider a geothermal heat pump that warms your home by tapping into the earth's crust. Also, the Ontario government is offering consumers a sales tax rebate on the purchase of solar energy systems (call 1-888-668-4636 for details).
And while we're on the topic of pricey but worthwhile home renos, if you're in the market for new insulation, skip the old-school, greenhouse-gas-emitting stuff and go for blown-in cellulose made with recycled paper. If done right, it'll keep cold air at bay better than fibreglass and takes about a tenth of the energy to manufacture.
If you're lucky enough to roast your toes in front of a fireplace, we're envious, but only if you're managing your fire right. Burning wood emits carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other smog-forming pollutants, but you can reduce toxic smoke if split wood has been well "seasoned" or dried in the sun and cut to the correct length (see www. woodheat.org for details). But you'll only really cut back on emissions if you get an advanced combustion woodstove or fireplace that burns 90 per cent cleaner than older models and uses a third less wood. It even reburns smoke to create heat.
You can also fuel your fire with sustainably harvested firewood. Kitchen Table stores and Whole Foods on Avenue Road carry Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood (though as of yet there is no indication of this on the packaging). Or pick up some Java Logs made of recycled coffee grounds, wood and vegetable by-products (from $3.49 at Whole Foods, Loblaws and Home Depot). They emit about 14 per cent less carbon dioxide and 85 per cent less carbon monoxide than firewood.
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