Around the house: Fireplace trends

The ice storm that struck parts of the U.S. and Ontario in December 2013 caused massive damage and left over a million homes without power (and heat) for days. As many people were forced to find shelter in hotels or with friends and relatives, those who had a gas or wood burning fireplace benefited from the ability to keep their homes warm and were able to comfortably stay put.

Terry Hicks, National Sales Director at Barrie, Ont.-based Fireplace Manufacturer says they’ve seen an increase in fireplace sales since the ice storm.

“Like any natural disaster, the ice storm had a positive impact on the sale of hearth products as hearth units are a primary heat source in a power failure,” says Hicks.

More people are opting to have a fireplace installed not only for the added comfort, but also for the design aspect one can have in the home.

Traditional-looking fireplaces are out and fireplaces that offer more glass and less metal are now the ‘in’ thing.

“Similar to the change that the TV industry experienced, consumers want high definition looks with little or no trim, providing the clearest and largest viewing area possible,” Hicks says.

With the cleaner designs of modern fireplaces, more people are installing them higher on the wall — like high-def televisions — and also in kitchens and bathrooms.

Gas fireplaces have become the standard, especially with young people who don’t want to deal with the mess wood burning fireplaces create.

Hicks says that depending on the look and function to be achieved, gas units can start as low as $2,500 and can reach levels of $15,000 with full installation. Wood units with chimney systems range from a minimum of $3,000 up to around the $15,000 range.

As more homeowners focus on overhauling their backyards, outdoor fireplaces have become a must-have item.

No matter what type of fireplace you currently have or plan to install, Hicks says maintaining it is a must.

“If it is wood fired then you need an annual chimney cleaning and inspection and if it is gas fired, an annual service call and cleaning is highly recommended.”


Efficient furnaces and other heating systems

Buying a furnace or boiler can help you save on energy.

Time to get a new heating system?

If you’re getting fat utility bills, blame your furnace: home heating and water heating account for a whopping 80 per cent of home energy use in Canada. On the bright side, you can save big by replacing an old furnace with an energy efficient furnace. Upgrading to a top-line, 95 per cent energy-efficient furnace from a 60 per cent efficient older model will save you 35 per cent off your heating costs, or around $200 per year depending on current fuel costs. Your provincial utility may also offer a rebate or tax incentive on the purchase of an efficient furnace. 

Check your numbers

Because many factors (cost of energy, weather, occupant behaviour, etc.) will affect your home heating needs, you should have a heating-load or heating-loss calculation performed by a qualified contractor. While there may be a fee of $150 to $300 for this service, the result — to determine the ideal capacity and distribution flows for the new equipment — will be invaluable in choosing the best type and size of heating system for your home. 

What kind of heat?

Gas and oil forced-air furnaces
Most homes in Canada use forced-air furnaces for heating. Newer models are much more energy-efficient than in the past, so replacing your furnace can save you money and energy. Look for an Energy Star–rated furnace with a minimum 95 per cent annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. AFUE is essentially the percentage of fuel turned into heat: higher AFUE means a more efficient furnace (though you’ll always lose some heat to the outside). Since 2010, all new gas furnaces manufactured for Canadian homes must have a minimum 90 per cent fuel efficiency.

Gas and oil boilers

Boilers use a fuel (usually gas, propane, oil or electricity) to heat water that circulates to heating units such as baseboard heaters or radiators. Boilers designed for space heating can also provide domestic hot water for residences. Energy efficiency in a boiler is also measured by its AFUE, as described for forced-air furnaces above. Gas- and oil-fired boilers can qualify for Energy Star, but electric boilers cannot.

Electric furnaces and baseboard systems 

Electric furnaces are not included in the EnerGuide rating system since there is little difference in energy efficiency between various market models. 

Integrated mechanical systems (IMS)

If your furnace has conked out and you need to replace it, consider integrated mechanical systems that heat your house and your water, while also providing ventilation. From an energy efficiency perspective, these "combo" units may be your best choice.

Hidden Dangers in your Ducts:  Call your HVAC Expert


We survived winter, so let us make sure that we have a safe and healthy summer.  How?  By ensuring that the air we breathe in at home every day, all day and night, is free from toxins.

One of the primary locations of toxins in your home is your duct system.  This is why it is essential that you call your local HVAC service provider today.

Save money on your energy bills with these 6 tips

One of the best ways to save money at home is by cutting down how much you spend on your energy bills each month. This means finding ways to use less electricity, gas and water without compromising comfort. Below are six ways you can make your home run cheaper.

Add more insulation to your home

Not running your furnace or air conditioner constantly without feeling cold in the winter or hot in the summer requires your home to be properly insulated. Insulation works by keeping outdoor air from getting inside your home and conditioned indoor air from escaping. Adding the right amount of insulation to your attic and unfinished basement should be top priority, followed by exterior and interior walls, floors and around windows and doors.

“Ensuring that you have an insulation that has a tight fit is key when insulating your home,” says Kim Friedrich, product specialist at insulation manufacturer Roxul.

Insulation is rated based on a measurement of resistance the material has to the movement of heat. This is most commonly referred to as an R-value. The higher the R-value the more effective the insulation is.

“With regards to your attic, we would recommend an R-60. For the basement it would be around an R-20,” Friedrich said.

Caulking around the outside of windows and doors and insulating light switches and receptacles on exterior walls with special foam inserts is also a good idea. Wrapping hot water pipes with pipe foam will help lower the cost of heating water and will also prevent the possibility of pipes freezing in the winter.

There are many other factors when adding insulation to your home and your savings will depend on where you add it and what type of insulation you use.

Use a programmable thermostat

Using a programmable thermostat helps keep your heating and cooling system on a schedule so that your furnace is not struggling to raise the temperature in your home in the winter and that your air conditioner is not running all day when you’re at work. Smart thermostats, like the Nest Learning Thermostat or ecobee3, give you even more capabilities to monitor and control your usage, and offer incentives to use less energy.

Programming your thermostat between 21C and 23C in the winter is the most efficient and, according to Direct Energy, you can save up to four per cent on your heating bill in the winter by adjusting your thermostat to the lower temperature at night and during the day when you’re at work.

Before purchasing a programmable thermostat, check with your local utility company to see if you’re eligible for a free or discounted unit.

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