Hot tips to beat the chill
With fall just around the corner and winter not too far behind, it’s almost time to start prepping your home and your budget for the havoc the season can bring.
Everything from a broken furnace to an extended cold streak that has you cranking up your thermostat for longer than usual can derail smart money habits that you maintained all year. To keep you on track, the Star rounded up some hot tips to keep your home and your bank account from feeling winter’s chill.
Make a plan
Furnaces seem to go on the fritz just when you need them most, but if you sign up for a heating and air conditioning maintenance plan in advance, your ongoing business often gets you bumped to the top of the repair crew’s list, says financial blogger Jessica Moorhouse. Such plans “can cost $30 a month, but it’s saved me hundreds of dollars.”
However, Stephen Wayman, the founder of howtosavemoney.ca, warns against these plans. “HVAC repair companies specialize in short response times to get people up and running as fast as possible in the cold months,” he says. “It is possible that your $120 annual maintenance plan might catch a potential issue early enough to prevent a bigger problem, but many technicians will say that this is unlikely if you ask them directly.”
Instead, he suggests scheduling service calls every few years for a checkup and cleaning. For forced air systems, he recommends ordering new filters in bulk online and changing them every two or three months yourself to save cash.
Expect the unexpected
Long before the first snowfall, the savviest savers know to put aside a bit of money every month for unexpected winter crises – a broken water heater, a leaky roof that turns into a floodgate and damage to yards from trees downed by ice storms like the one that hit in 2013.
How much you contribute to an emergency fund depends on the size and type of home you own, Moorhouse says.
“Apartments and condos will usually need less because you often pay for maintenance and you don’t have to take care of the (home’s) exterior,” she says.
Before selecting the amount they’ll put into their fund, she recommends owners do an audit of their house and investigate what their insurance covers. For example, sewer backups can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but are rarely covered by home insurance.
“I wouldn’t recommend saving that amount of money and putting it into your emergency fund, since it’s way cheaper to add on that insurance to your current homeowner policy,” says Moorhouse, estimating supplementing your plan with the coverage could run you $40 to hundreds of dollars a year.
Keep your eye on the dial
Heating can increase your winter spending, but dialing back the heat by a few degrees can save you up to 15 per cent, say Ministry of Environment and Climate Change officials.
Many new thermostats ramp up savings by allowing you to adjust the temperature of your home from your smartphone, meaning you can keep things cooler when the house is empty for the day or secretly roll back the temperature from the office, if your kids come home and crank up the heat.
Those with older thermostats wanting a smart one might be able to nab one for free from the province. For no cost, it recently vowed to install Nest, Honeywell and Ecobee thermostats valued between $200 and $350 in 100,000 homes that apply at greenon.ca.
Get credit where credit is due
Applying for the government’s Ontario Electricity Support Program could give you a savings between $35 and $75 a month depending on your household income and how many people live with you.
A residence with four people and an income of $37,000 a year, for example, could land a $51 break each month.
Those who use medical devices with high energy consumption, have electrical heating or identify as low-income and Indigenous can get even higher levels of assistance.
Seniors and those with low-to-moderate incomes can also get a credit of around $1,000 from the Ontario Energy and Property Tax program.
Master free (or cheap) savings tricks
When it comes to keeping a budget while prepping your home for the winter, prevention is key, Moorhouse says.
There are a handful of quick, easy and free (or cheap) things you can to do to minimize energy bills and mitigate disasters.
For example, Moorhouse recommends reversing the direction of your ceiling fans, which will push warm air down and slash heating expenses.
To “save hundreds,” she suggests caulking air leaks by windows and doors in your home.
Using weatherstripping, putting plastic film on windows and keeping curtains closed on dark and chilly days can also help retain heat and keep you within budget.
Edited on 8 November 2017