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Heating 101

Heating 101

The Canadian climate includes particularly long and cold winters. Spending the cold season nice and warm is a basic need, and households cannot escape the expenses related to heating costs.

According to Canadian government statistics, the heating of living areas accounts for almost two thirds of our energy consumption.

Energy Efficiency Trends


Source: Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada 1990-2010, Natural Resources Canada

How to choose the right heating system for you

Many energy sources are available in Canada. Before making your choice, consider what is available in your area and compare energy efficiencies of the equipment according to your budget and your needs. Also take the time to learn about the different financial assistance programs offered by governments and local energy distributors. The assistance offered may influence your choice and significantly reduce purchase and installation costs.

Equipment available on the market

Here are a few of the most common heating system:

central systems

Forced air

Heat pump: A heat pump provides year round comfort: air conditioning in the summer and heating in winter. A high efficiency heat pump can offer significant heating cost savings.

Gas furnace: Condensing gas furnaces are the most energy efficient appliances currently on the market. They are an ideal choice as a new or replacement heating unit in almost all homes heated with natural gas or propane. Certain models offer an AFUE rating of up to 98%.

Electric furnace: Less energy efficient than gas models, electric furnaces have some advantages, especially as a replacement for an oil-fired system.

Ductless systems

Heat pump: Affordable and effective, wall mounted heat pumps are perfect for house or condo owners without central systems. These heat pumps are able to deliver optimum performance and certain models can even operate in cold weather conditions.

Multizone system: Increasingly popular, the multizone heat pump system is a ductless heat pump system that consists of a single outdoor condensing unit and multiple indoor units (wall mounted, ceiling cassettes or consoles) installed in various parts of the house to provide comfort tailored to the specific needs of the occupants.

Geothermal system: Geothermal energy is the most environmentally friendly heating and air conditioning option because it draws free renewable energy from the earth. The air treated by a geothermal heat pump is then propelled into the house through ventilation ducts. A geothermal system can also supply hot water for domestic use as well as for radiant floors.

Hydronic systems

Radiant floor: Radiant heating does not consist of warming the air, but rather walls, objects, ceilings, which allows to achieve extremely uniform ambient warmth. This type of heating is gaining in popularity especially for the heating of kitchens and bathrooms because it provides an exceptional level of comfort.

Electric boiler: An electric boiler heats water using electrical resistance. The hot water is then routed towards a distribution network and circulated in pipes to transmit heat to the home by means of baseboard heaters, radiators or radiant floors.

Condensation boiler: More efficient than conventional boilers, condensing boilers condense water vapor formed during combustion and recovers the latent heat of condensation. This is a very efficient gas boiler system that reaches up to 98% AFUE. There is also very little loss during the transmission of heat energy.

Consider operating costs

It is important to consider the operation costs of your new system. Three main factors determine operating costs: annual heating needs, type and price of fuel and equipment efficiency.

When to buy

Buying a heating system when the current one has broken down is not the optimal solution, especially if it occurs during a very cold period. Buying before the cold season or just after is recommended because you will have more time to analyze the various products available on the market. In addition, installing a new system will be easier and less expensive especially if you opt for a heat pump, as snow or ice accumulations can be challenging.


Regular maintenance of your heating system is a must. It will allow you to considerably extend the lifespan of your equipment, benefit from optimal performance winter after winter, and ensure smooth operation especially during cold weather periods.

What is SEER?

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a measure that evaluates the energy consumed by a unit compared to the energy released. The higher the SEER, the better the energy performance. A high efficiency unit consumes less electricity for the same capacity.

What is the AFUE rating?

The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is a thermal efficiency measure of combustion equipment such as natural gas or oil furnaces, boilers, and water heaters. For example, a gas furnace with a 97% AFUE means that 97% of the fuel is converted into heat while the remaining 3% is vented through a chimney or vent. The AFUE rating appears on EnerGuide labels featured on all units and in sales brochures.

Look for ENERGY STAR® products

This symbol identifies products with low energy consumption that are both economical and environmentally friendly. Look for the ENERGY STAR logo on heating units, packaging or in the accompanying documentation. Only very high efficiency equipment can carry the ENERGY STAR symbol, guaranteeing substantial energy savings.

Tips to reduce heating costs

Heating costs keep increasing year after year. It is possible though to reduce energy consumption by making a few small changes:

  • Install programmable thermostats: They allow you to set the temperature according to the time of day. It is recommended to lower the temperature by 3°C during nighttime and when you are away from home.
  • Avoid blocking heat sources with furniture, carpets, etc.
  • Open curtains and blinds during the day, especially on the side where the sun comes in, and close them at night.
  • Close doors to unused rooms after lowering the temperature.
  • Conduct regular maintenance on your heating units. Equipment that is in good condition will heat your home efficiently without any waste.
  • Reduce the cost of heating water (the second biggest contributor to household energy consumption) by shortening your daily shower, using energy-efficient shower heads, not letting the hot water run unnecessarily when you do the dishes, opting for cold water when doing laundry, etc.
  • If your windows and doors are not airtight and it is not possible for you to replace them, caulking them is important because they are responsible for close to 30% of heat loss. Install weather-stripping on doors, plastic film on windows and covers on electrical outlets.