Why Is My Heating Bill So Much Higher This Winter?

Many of the factors behind home energy costs in Ontario are beyond our control. Natural gas and electricity are commodities, after all, and the rates change quarterly with supply and demand. That said, if you’ve found your heating bills unexpectedly high this winter, the problem could be closer to home.

A sharp increase in the cost of heating your home is often a sign that part of your heating system isn’t working as intended. Your heating bill could also be higher because your house isn’t keeping the warmth in as well as it used to (which means you’ll have the opposite problem come summer!)

If you can’t trace the increase to rising energy prices, and your heating demand hasn’t changed since last year, it’s time to look at other potential causes.

Your Heating System Isn’t Operating at Peak Performance

When you notice your heating bill’s higher than usual this year, the first question to ask is this:

How long as it been since your last furnace tune-up?

If you’re like most homeowners, you don’t think much about the inner workings of your home’s heating system. It either works, or it doesn’t. But there’s a lot going on beneath the surface: pipes, safety switches, venting, flame sensors and other components that work in tandem to produce a safe, steady supply of heat.

In that way, it’s not so different from your vehicle.

Even a top-performance sports car can only go so far before it needs a tune-up. If you find that a tank of gas isn’t taking your vehicle as far as it used to – that your car is suddenly less fuel-efficient – you know that it’s time to look under the hood.

The same goes for your forced air heating system. If part of the system isn’t functioning correctly, or an aging system hasn’t been properly maintained, it will lose its efficiency over time. And a sudden rise in your heating bills could be a warning sign for furnace issues.


Warm Air is Escaping from Your Home

You might picture your house as a well-wrapped, tightly-sealed box. Truth is, there are numerous points throughout the home’s envelope that could allow air to leak through, and these gaps can contribute to rising energy bills.

Windows and doors are common culprits for heat loss. A single pane of glass can lose almost ten times as much heat as the same area of insulated wall – and it will lose even more if the frame isn’t properly sealed.

Other common leak sites include fireplace dampers, attic hatches, dryer vents, electrical outlets, and mail slots. According to ENERGY STAR, if you added up all the small gaps throughout a typical home’s envelope, it would equal the impact of leaving a window a wide-open all winter.

That’s a lot of wasted heat.

If your heating bill seems unusually high this year, and your home’s envelope has changed since last winter (you constructed a new wall or installed a new set of windows, for instance), you could be dealing with a substantial air leak.

Time for a Furnace Tune-Up

If your heating bill is higher than usual this year, it’s probably time for a tune-up.

Here in Ontario, heating accounts for two-thirds of the average’s family’s energy costs. Don’t let your equipment drive those costs even higher.

Investing in preventative furnace maintenance is the single best way to keep your system running efficiently. Learn more about what a professional furnace tune-up and safety check should include, or book your tune-up in the Greater Toronto Area today.

Tankless Water Heaters: What are They and Why are They Better?

Your water heater is likely tucked away in a closet or deep in the depths of your basement. Out of sight, out of mind. But what if we told you that a tankless water heater is a space-saving, energy-reducing, water-conserving alternative that can provide endless amounts of hot water throughout your home?

These facts might just make you give your water heater a second look.

Traditional Water Heaters

Traditional water heaters are ‘storage’ or tank-style units that fill with cold water, heat it, then keep it warm until it’s used. Here in Ontario, most homes use this type of water heater. However, these units come with three notable downsides:

  1. Once the tank is about 2/3 empty, the hot water runs out. If you need more, you’ll have to wait for the tank to refill and reheat. This process doesn’t take too long, but it can be frustrating, especially if many people are living in the home. If you’ve ever lived in a house where you couldn’t take a hot shower while the dishwasher was on, it’s because the tank ran empty.
  2. Traditional water heaters are not very energy-inefficient. They must constantly heat the water inside the tank, thus consuming energy 24/7 and resulting in standby energy losses. The tanks have good insulation nowadays, and it’s possible to add additional insulation through exterior jackets, but it remains costly. Water heating accounts for 19% of the average home’s energy use, more than all household appliances (excluding furnaces) combined.
  3. Water heaters take up a lot of room. Some units are wall-mounted, which saves some space, but the bottom line is that a smaller tank means less hot water available.

It’s not to say that storage tank water heaters are bad news – they remain the model of choice for most homes, and there are high-efficiency models available from manufacturers like Rheem, A.O. Smith and Weil McLain.

Still, if you’re planning to replace your water heater soon, the tankless alternative is well worth your consideration.

How Tankless Heaters Work

So, how does a tankless water heater get the job done?

Simple. When you turn on the hot water tap, cold water is drawn through a pipe into the unit and heated either by an electric heating element or a gas burner. It heats the water on-demand, which is why tankless water heaters are often called ‘demand water heaters.’ Tankless water heaters typically deliver hot water at a rate of 2-5 gallons per minute, and gas-fired models will usually have higher flow rates compared to electric.

Types of Tankless Water Heaters

There are two main types of tankless water heaters: small, point-of-use units and whole-home units.

Typically, small units are designed to service a single room and often installed near the point-of-use. These smaller models can reduce heat losses through piping, but multiple units are usually needed to serve a whole home. They can be useful for supplementing a regular water heater for a bathroom or in a location far from the main water heater.

Larger tankless water heaters can provide hot water for multiple points-of-use throughout the home. While these units eliminate the heat losses from a storage tank, there will still be some minor losses through the hot water piping unless it’s fully insulated.

Pros of Using a Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters solve the issues that traditional water heaters present. Here’s how:

  1. Tankless water heaters essentially provide endless hot water, with the caveat that is its flow rate. To size a demand water heater, you must determine the flow rate you’ll need for its application. For example, your tankless water heater might not provide for two hot showers and a dishwasher at once, but if five people took turns showering one after the other, they would all get hot water.
  1. Since tankless water heaters heat water on demand instead of keeping a tank warm 24/7, tankless units use a lot less energy. An ENERGY STAR certified tankless water heater uses 30% less energy on average than a storage tank type.
  1. Tankless water heaters are wall-mounted and much smaller since they dispense with the need for a big storage tank.

Cons of Using a Tankless Water Heater

There are a few downsides to tankless water heaters, namely:

  • They come with higher upfront costs. They often require new venting and gas lines as part of the installation and these costs can add up. However, these costs are recovered upon installation, with the energy savings of not constantly re-heating water in the tank.
  • Due to the reduced flow rate, tankless water heaters may not be compatible with low-flow faucets/showerheads.

Interested in learning more about tankless water heaters to make sure they’re the perfect match for you? Check out our selection of tankless water heaters or fill out our contact form to receive a free quote for water heater installation and services in Toronto.

4 Troubling Things People Discover in Their Air Ducts

What’s in your ducts? Well, there’s bound to be dust – that’s a given. A light amount of ordinary household dust in the air is no cause for concern. However, that isn’t the only thing people have discovered hiding in air ducts.

Ductwork can play host to numerous airborne contaminants. Not all are harmful, but some can trigger allergic reactions and other adverse symptoms.

It’s safe to assume almost anything that can fit into an air duct has been found there at one time or another. Rather than venturing into the absurd, we’ll focus on the troubling things that are commonly found in air ducts – and explain why they’re problematic.

1. Animals

It’s a rule of Canadian living: if there’s a way into your house, you can be certain that critters will find it.

Improperly-sealed air ducts can become a convenient passageway for rodents and insects (and occasionally snakes). Ductwork is especially appealing to mice and other rodents who make nests out of soft insulation materials.

Once inside, these pests can cause numerous problems:

  • Furry creatures will also shed hair and dander, a potential allergen.
  • Rodents can chew and create gaps in the seals between ducts and air vents.
  • If an animal expires inside the ducts, the smell and contaminated air can spread throughout the home.

When there’s evidence of rodents inside your air ducts, it’s best to call a professional exterminator to evict them before having the ducts cleaned. After that, have your ducts properly sealed to ensure critters cannot re-enter.

2. Mold

Where there’s moisture, there is often mold.

Spots of grey or brown mold on or around your air registers, return ducts, or other parts of the HVAC system are a red flag for mold growth inside your air ducts. The same goes for a musty smell.

If there is mold inside your ducts, the spores could be circulating throughout your home. Not everyone responds to mold exposure the same way, and some people, including children and seniors, are more vulnerable to mold than others.

Any sign of mold inside the air ducts is a sign they’re due for a cleaning. However, that alone won’t prevent regrowth. It is necessary to eliminate the source of moisture that lead to mold growth in the first place, which could be a plumbing leak, water damage, or a malfunctioning air conditioner or humidifier.

3. Bacteria

Bacteria is everywhere, and your air ducts are no exception. In fact, if you placed a speck of household duct under a microscope, you’d find thousands of species of bacteria residing within it.

Most of the bacteria living in air ducts are harmless. However, it is possible for ducts to harbour bacteria and viruses you’d rather not breathe in, especially during cold and flu season.

Cleaning your ducts of excessive dust and debris helps to keep your air healthy and germ-free. A whole-home air purification system equipped with UV-C filtration can also assist in eliminating bacteria.

4. Debris

Dust in the air ducts is normal. Excessive debris is not.

One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to their ducts is using them while the house is being renovated. Drywall dust, sawdust, or any construction-related debris can quickly accumulate and reduce air flow inside the ducts. We recommend switching off the furnace or air conditioner or at least closing the vents to the room in question during such projects.

For minor projects that produce a small (but greater than usual) amount of dust, be sure to replace your air filters afterwards. Filters are an essential part of your heating and cooling system, and are designed to keep dust and other contaminants out of the air away from your equipment.

What’s in Your Ducts?

Plenty of other things can find their way into air ducts, especially in older homes with floor registers. There, you’ll see everything from coins to magazines to toy soldiers.

But aside from objects that fall in by mistake (or are dropped in by a curious child), most of the things you’ll find in air ducts suggest one or more underlying issues that should be investigated.

AtlasCare has provided professional duct cleaning services to thousands of homes in the Greater Toronto Area. Whatever is waiting inside your ducts, our Home Comfort Specialists can locate the source of the problem and leave your ducts cleaner than they’ve ever been. Get in touch to talk about air duct cleaning for your home.

6 Ways to Make Your House Warmer Without Touching the Thermostat

We all know about the thermostat war – dad refuses to let anyone touch the thermostat. Children want the heat higher, so they can wear shorts inside during winter. No one wins. Although there may have to be compromise – probably on the shorts, we can help with a few ways to make your house feel warmer without touching that thermostat dial.

1. Warm, Fluffy Rugs

This seems like a well-known tip, but it makes a big difference when it comes to personal warmth.

If you have hardwood or laminate flooring, the one downfall is it isn’t exactly cozy. As we lose heat from our feet and our heads, it makes sense to have a warm foundation. To avoid losing body heat, throw a large, furry area run in your living spaces and reap the warmth.

2. Reverse Ceiling Fan Direction

A great tool to help heat up your home in the winter is right above your head – the ceiling fan.

Most people only use ceiling fans for the summer but if you change the direction of the blades, it’s now useful for the winter.

During the summer, your blades rotate counter-clockwise, pushing the air downward and cool air into the room. According to Lumens, if you change the fan direction to clockwise, the updraft will push any warm air lingering around the ceiling down into the room. The trick is to set the fan at a low speed to make this work effectively.

This is a simple change that will make your space feel warmer and, quite possibly, be worthy of turning your thermostat down a degree.

3. Furnace Maintenance

If you’re a home owner, this question has probably crossed your mind: do I need to service my furnace every year? If you would like your furnace to run more efficiently, the answer is yes.

Annual furnace maintenance can identify any issues before it’s too late. That way your furnace can be prepared for winter with the comfort of knowing you won’t lose heat this winter. On top of that, a regularly maintained furnace can help with lower utility bills by 5-40%.

4. Heavy Curtains

To avoid cold temperatures transferring through the glass, cover up your blinds with some thick drapes. Doing so will help insulate the room and minimize the exchange of cold air to keep your room feeling cozy.

Another bonus with heavy drapes is you won’t have to move your furniture away from the windows. This way the cold window issue is solved without moving around your established living space.

5. Roof Insulation

Did you know that your heating bill goes through the roof – literally.

You can lose up to 25% of heat through your roof. The time invested into installing insulation in your attic/loft may shave a lot of money off your heating bill without even touching the thermostat.

Loft insulation can be effective for up to 40 years, so the investment is worth it. If you are doing this, have a look at what your space below the loft is and find the best suited insulating option to determine whether you can do it yourself. If you are tackling this, make sure you insulate any gable walls, party walls, or chimneys or your effort will be wasted.

6. Weather Proofing Windows and Doors

This is an easy fix you can do yourself that can squash those drafts you may be feeling.

For less cool air from your windows, plastic film insulation is an excellent, nearly invisible option – especially if you’d rather not change your curtains. Feeling some cool air through your door? Replacing the door sweep at the bottom can be a quick, effective fix. Want a solution for both windows and doors? Weatherstrip foam tape is an easy option – all you need is scissors.

Enjoy That Utility Bill

Now that you have a few tips to help you keep the thermostat nice and low, you can reap the rewards. After stocking up on rugs, looking into types of fluff insulation, or furnace maintenance companies, your home should be all set!

If you’re due for furnace maintenance, contact AtlasCare to get you prepped sooner and give you peace of mind for the cold months ahead.

5 Reasons Why Your House Feels Stuffy in the Fall

What does it mean when the shifting seasons make your house feel stuffy and stale? It could be down to a single cause or a combination of things. Allergies often play a role, and low humidity doesn’t help; stuffiness could also demonstrate a need for furnace maintenance or duct cleaning.

Here are the potential reasons why your house feels stuffy in the fall, and what you can do to fix it.

Why Does My House Always Feel Stuffy?

Think about all changes in your home when the seasons transitions from summer to fall.

  • You switch on your furnace for the first time in months.
  • You close the windows and may keep them shut until spring.
  • Outside, fall plants release pollen and leaves flutter to the ground.

The drop in outdoor temperature and increase in indoor temperature contributes to low humidity. Problems with the furnace and ventilation system, combined with closed windows, can result in staler air.

These issues can further exacerbate allergy symptoms, especially for people sensitive to ragweed.

We’ll discuss each of these factors below.

1. Low Humidity

Throughout the fall and winter months, the ideal indoor humidity level is between 40 and 60%. Constant fluctuations in humidity (or consistently low humidity) can damage wood furniture and fixtures, wallpaper, drywall, and other parts of your home.

The other unfortunate side effect of low humidity is its impact on the home’s inhabitants – us! When the air is dry, it dries out the membranes in our nasal passages, leaving us more vulnerable to the cold virus and other respiratory issues. That could be one of the reasons why your house feels stuffy in the fall.

Low humidity is a frequent complaint when a home has central heating, but no humidifier. Stuffiness is definitely a sign your home could use a humidifier.

2. Contaminated Air Ducts

When you turn on your furnace for the first time in months, it can stir up dust mites and other particles that were sitting in your air ducts. These contaminants can make the air feel staler, as well as trigger sneezing and other allergy symptoms.

If years have gone by without a proper duct cleaning, it could be affecting the air quality inside your home. Having the air ducts cleaned out can help alleviate the problem.

Be sure to hire a reliable HVAC company that uses proper duct cleaning equipment and takes appropriate steps to protect the inside of your home from dust. Ordinary vacuums can’t cut it.

3. Air Leaks

Another potential air duct problem. Ducts are the passageways that allow your furnace to pull stale air out of your living space and replace it with fresh, outdoor air. If there’s a leak, it prevents the furnace from delivering that air effectively, adding to that stuffy feeling.

4. Fall Allergies

Most people assume spring is “allergy season”, but many suffer from fall allergies as well.

The biggest culprit for fall allergy symptoms is ragweed, which begins releasing pollen when the nights cool in late August. According to WebMD, about 75% of people with spring allergies also react to ragweed pollen.

Mould is another fall allergy trigger. Mould loves to grow in piles of wet, fallen leaves, and mould spores can be carried indoors on your shoes.

To combat mould and pollen allergies, consider adding a high-MERV air filter to your HVAC system. We recommend consulting the manufacturer’s guidelines or speaking to an HVAC professional to make sure your system can handle the change in air flow.

5. Need for Furnace Maintenance

Your home might feel stuffy due to problems with the heating, cooling and ventilation system. If you haven’t had a furnace check-up this year, now is the perfect time to do it.

It’s always hard to find time to book a furnace maintenance appointment when the holiday season ramps up.  Getting it done in the fall ensures your heating system is ready to go when the temperature really drops later this year.

We welcome you contact us for furnace maintenance in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Feel free to call us or fill out the contact form any time for a free quote on our services.

We also offer 24-hour emergency furnace service for urgent situations.

10 Clever Ways To Keep Warm When Your Furnace Breaks Down

As the months get colder, the need for warmth rises. But what happens if your furnace breaks down? Before you can get it fixed, are you just expected to deal with the cold?

No, you are not! Thankfully, there are many ways to keep warm even without a furnace. Run down this list of ten clever ways to stay cozy if your furnace breaks down – and if your HVAC company doesn’t promise a 4-hour emergency service like us, keep these tips handy!

Leave the Oven Open

Cooking dinner or baking a delicious dessert? When you have finished, turn off the oven, but leave the door open. The heat you used to cook your food will stick around for a little while longer, so why not let it filter out of the oven and into the rest of your kitchen?

Close Unused Rooms

Do you have a storage room or unused guest space in your home? Close the vents in those rooms and keep the doors closed as much as possible. The more space you have, the harder it will be to heat your home (and maintain this heat) when the months get cold, especially without a working furnace. Making the space small even in simple ways like shutting doors of unused rooms can go a long way. Remember to also close the vents in those rooms, forcing the hot air into areas you want heated.

Layer on Layers

Of course, the old standby is to bundle up and add layers to your wardrobe to keep warm. Pull on a sweatshirt or sweater, wear a long sleeve shirt as well as an undershirt, thicker socks, et cetera. The more layers you wear, the more insulated you become.

Lay Down Area Rugs

If your home is full of tiles or hardwood floors, you are going to need some plush area rugs to help warm your space if the furnace breaks down. Area rugs work to help keep the heat from escaping your floorboards. In addition, they are much warmer to walk on than bare floors.

Start Moving

Staying still forces your body heat to leave you faster. Keep your core temperature up by exercising or just moving around a little. Your body will heat as a result and you will definitely thank yourself for that cozy feeling. Make this even more effective by raising your body temperature through movement, and then layering up so the heat cannot escape as easily.

Do Laundry

Yes, doing a chore like laundry can help you keep warm. Specifically, you should try doing your bedsheets just before you go to sleep one night, since the residual heat will help heat your body in turn. You can also try putting a sweatshirt in the laundry before pulling it on over your head.

Fill a Hot Water Bottle

Need warmth when you sleep? Fill up a hot water bottle or two and keep it under the covers wherever you need the warmth the most. The heat will eventually cover the whole area, but the highest concentration will be wherever you put the hot water bottle.

Drink a Hot Beverage

Drinking a hot beverage like hot chocolate, tea, or coffee can really help warm you up inside. Just pour your favourite coffee or teaand bask in the comfort and warmth. Keep the hot chocolate coming if you want to keep warm for an extended period.

Cover the Cracks

The cracks under doors, around the windows, and anywhere else in or around your home can make the heat drop dramatically. Thus, try putting a towel down to cover the cracks under the doors for various rooms in your home. Caulk your windows to help keep the heat sealed inside.

Snuggle in Sheets

Want to be warmer at night? Invest in higher quality bedsheets! Instead of a light cotton you might put on in the summer, try flannel or fleece when it’s cold outside. Snuggle up underneath the sheets and stay toasty warm as you sleep.

5 Stress-free Ways to be a Better Holiday Host

As the holidays approach, your calendar may be filling up fast. All the Christmas-shopping and gift-wrapping can leave you with little time to prepare for holiday hosting. There are many ways to be a great host, but we’ve created a list of things you may have overlooked in planning a safe, comfortable, and above-all memorable party.

Here’s what every host needs to know to throw a stress-free soiree this holiday season.

Prep Now, Stress Never

Begin planning before life gets busy. The holidays can be hectic, with school concerts, recitals, staff Christmas parties, volunteering, and family gatherings leaving little to no time to organize.

  • Send out your invites now! Sending out invitations early also allows your guests to plan ahead and mark the date in their calendars before they fill up.
  • Two weeks before the gathering, you should follow up with guests who have yet to confirm. You should also ensure your home is ready for visitors. Do you have enough coat hangers and place settings?
  • On the days leading up to your event, be sure to plan a menu, clean your home, and do the grocery haul. That way, once the special day comes around, you won’t be joining crowds of holiday shoppers as they swarm the grocery stores.

Make Sure Your Home is Welcoming

Make sure your home is welcoming to everyone, including those with allergies and environmental sensitives. Be prepared by asking your guests in advance if they have any allergies that you should be aware of and can accommodate to.

Ventilators, humidifiers, and purifiers all help to ensure the air you’re breathing at home is the best quality possible. When preparing for a big holiday get-together, make sure you have some type of air purification installed.

A proper air filtration system is one of the most important aspects of indoor air quality. Air purifiers remove unwanted particles from the air, which is especially important during cold and flu season. An air filtration system will also protect your furnace and HVAC system by keeping them working at high efficiency and saving you money in energy costs.

Create a Comfortable Atmosphere for Guests

Air quality is important, but so is a cozy and inviting home. It’s part of hosting the perfect holiday party that surely does not go unnoticed by guests.

One of the best ways to ensure a comfortable and relaxing space is a cozy fireplace: equal parts heat source and fond gathering place. While wood stoves offer an authentic feel, gas fireplaces offer the same benefits at the click of a button.

To ensure your fireplace is safe:

  • Have your fireplace serviced and the chimney cleaned frequently.
  • Schedule an annual fireplace inspection with a professional.
  • Keep stockings, blankets and other holiday décor away from the fireplace.

Set the Scene

Now for the fun part! Don’t underestimate the power of ambiance.

  • Set up a hot cocoa bar and drape doors and entryways with lights. There’s nothing more enchanting than the glow of Christmas lights.
  • Go with a well-mixed playlist with a variety of musical genres that suits the space.
  • Win over your guests with a festive scent. Create a seasonal essential oil blend using cinnamon, peppermint, clove and orange, or opt for a festive spicy scented candle to tap into your guest’s olfactory systems. Just make sure the scent isn’t too strong and that it is as natural as possible.

Prepare for Overnight Guests

You may have planned for overnight guests, or your guests may be forced to spend the night due to weather. Either way, you’ll want to make sure your fridge is stocked just in case.

If you plan on having overnight guests for the holidays, consider upgrading to a tankless water heater – this guarantees you’ll never run out of hot water again. You won’t have to worry about the poor person last in line for the bathroom ending up with a cold shower.

Another tip for a cozy space? Pile on the bedding.

Ready for the Holidays?

In the last few moments before the guests arrive, light some candles, pour yourself a cocktail and take a few moments to yourself. Planning a holiday party shouldn’t feel overwhelming and stressful – it should be fun and exciting! By preparing early, and following your holiday party checklist, you’ll be sure to enjoy the party as much as your guests.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for a last-minute duct cleaning, fireplace fix or furnace tune-up. Our technicians are on call 24/7 throughout the year, even on Christmas Day!