Understanding your home as a system

A whole home approach to energy-efficient upgrades

If you’re looking to renovate or upgrade your home, taking a ‘whole home’ approach is the best way to make it more comfortable and save on your energy bills - especially when it comes to heating costs. This approach looks at your home's many components and how they all work together to form a ‘system’ to help keep it home warm in the winter, and cool in summer.

Understanding how these components work together and making upgrades to them in a methodical way will help you get the most out of your renovation budget and improve your home’s comfort and energy efficiency. 

Get to know your home as a system

There are two main aspects to consider when looking your home as a system: your home’s building envelope and your home’s mechanical systems. When doing a major upgrade or home renovation, the best place to start is with your home’s building envelope, or outer shell. Upgrading your home’s insultation and addressing any air leakage first will ensure that when you move on to your home’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems, they’ll work more efficiently, and you’ll get the most out of those upgrades. 

Building envelope

Think of this as your home’s shell or amour, protecting it from the outdoor elements – cold air in the winter and warm air in the summer – helping to keep you and your family comfortable all year-round. A solid building envelope also helps to prevent your home’s mechanical systems from having to work harder than they need to.

Your home’s building envelope includes:

  • Insulation
  • Windows and doors

Mechanical systems

Once your home is well-insulated and air-leakage is addressed, you’re in a better place to select a system that’s best suited for your home’s size and heating and cooling needs. This will help maximize your family’s comfort, while keeping your energy bills low. 

Your home's mechanical systems include:       

  • Heating system
  • Cooling system
  • Ventilation

Explore how your home's components work together

Explore the diagram below to better understand how these individual parts work together and what to consider when looking to renovate your home. 

This is the most important component of your home's external envelope in keeping you and your family protected from the outdoor temperature. The simplest insulation to improve in most homes is in the attic, followed by the crawlspace.

Air can leak inside as cold air comes down from your attic, through walls, and other spots around your home. The air that leaks through can almost be like leaving a door or window open year-round, causing your heating system to work much harder. 

Addressing cracks and holes in and around outlets and pipes in the walls and ceilings will help to seal up the home, improving comfort and energy efficiency.

Windows will always allow more heat to move in or out of your home than a well-insulated wall, but better windows can greatly improve your home’s energy efficiency. They’ll also provide more year-round comfort by helping to keep hot air from entering your home in the summer, and cold air from entering in the winter. They can also help to minimize noise from the outdoors travelling into your home. 

Bathroom exhaust fans, dryer vents, kitchen range hoods all work to improve your home’s indoor air quality by exchanging stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

Once you’ve taken steps to address how much heat moves in or out of your home by improving your building envelope, you can determine how much heating or cooling your home requires, what type of system best meets your needs and what size of system would be required. 

Home as a system