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: the home’s building envelope and its mechanical systems.

When doing a big renovation, the best place to start is with your home’s building envelope – its outer shell. Addressing any air leakage in this shell first will ensure that when you move on to upgrade your home’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems, they’ll work efficiently and be more cost effective. 

Building envelope

Your home’s building envelope includes:

  • Insulation
  • Windows and doors

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 helps to prevent your home’s mechanical systems from having to work harder than they need to.

Mechanical systems

Your home's mechanical systems include:       

  • Heating system
  • Cooling system
  • Ventilation

Once your home is well insulated and air leakage is addressed, you’re in a better place to select mechanical systems that are 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. 

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. 

whole home components

Why it’s important

This is the most important component of your home's external envelope in keeping you and your family protected from the outdoor temperature – think of it like a blanket for your house. Sufficient insulation helps to maintain a more comfortable and consistent temperature in your home all year.

Things to consider

  • Insulation is typically placed inside the walls of finished rooms, in unfinished attic spaces, inside all exterior walls and within the floors above cold spaces.
  • It comes in many forms, including batts, boards, loose-fill, and spray foam.
  • Insulation is rated by R-value (thermal resistance). The higher the R-value, the greater the material’s ability to insulate.
  • It’s important to have proper ventilation in a well insulated home to prevent moisture, which could cause condensation buildup and mold.

In the majority of homes, it’s most effective to upgrade your attic insulation first, followed by your crawlspace insulation.

Interested in rebates for new insulation? Review our insulation rebate information to make sure the insulation type, R-value and installation process meet the eligibility for the rebate.

whole home attic insulation

Why it’s important

Air can leak in and out of your home through your attic, around windows and doors, and other spots in exterior walls. The amount of air that leaks through can almost be like leaving a door or window open year-round, causing your heating system to work much harder. 

Things to consider

Filling cracks and holes where air leaks through will help to seal up the home, improving comfort and energy efficiency.

  • Windows and doors are common leakage spots, but others include your attic hatch, wiring holes, plumbing vents, open soffits, recessed lighting and basement rim joints.
  • Air leaks between your living spaces can also carry significant amounts of moisture.
  • It’s important to have proper ventilation in a well sealed home to prevent moisture, which could cause condensation buildup and mold.

Hiring a professional can be beneficial. Some air sealing can be completed on your own, but hiring a professional can help ensure you don’t miss any areas. If you’re hiring a contractor for your insulation upgrades, ask if they provide air sealing and ventilation services as well.

whole home nook

Why it’s important

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 improved comfort by helping keep hot air out in the summer, and cold air out in the winter, and minimizing noise from the outdoors. 

Things to consider

When replacing your windows, here are some key features to look for:

  • U-factor: the lower the U-factor, the more efficient they are.
  • Special coatings (known as low emissivity coatings, or “low-e glass”) and insulated frames and sashes mean your window will be more comfortable to sit beside and there will be reduced condensation on the glass.
  • Triple glazing: Available for better exterior noise reduction and additional efficiency.
  • Window gas fills: Inert gases between the panes rather than just air, offering better insulation.
whole home living room

Why it’s important

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

Any step to improve your home’s insulation isn’t complete without ensuring you’ve got proper ventilation systems in place, because everyday moisture-generating activities like showering, laundry and cooking could result in condensation buildup without the right flow of air.

Things to consider

  • Ensure that bathroom and cooking fans vent directly outside and not into your attic.
  • Bathroom fans can run for various lengths of time depending on the needs of your home. Some fans also come with built in motion detection and can trigger the fan to kick into higher speed when needed.
  • Maintaining your ventilation fans is important. Clear your bathroom fan from dust and debris annually. Regularly clean your kitchen range filter with hot soapy water, and remove the lint from your dryer to keep the exhaust clear.
whole home bathroom

Why it’s important

Heating and cooling accounts for the majority of energy use in the average home.

Things to consider

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. 

Heat pumps might be a great option for you. They’re two to three times more efficient than baseboard heating, and can also be used to cool your home.

If you’re considering a heat pump, learn more here. And if you’ve already got one, make sure you’re using it efficiently.

Interested in rebates for a new heat pump? Check out our heat pump rebate information to make sure your product and installation meet the eligibility criteria.

whole home kitchen

Take the next step

Not sure where to start in your home renovations? Consider an EnerGuide home evaluation, which provides a customized, in-home assessment to help you make decisions and prioritize upgrades.