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Canadian households use energy to heat, cool and light their homes, heat water, and run appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners, and other devices such as televisions and computers. While heating and cooling account for much of the energy used by a household, appliances and other devices also contribute to household energy use.

Energy sources include electricity, natural gas, oil, propane and wood. The amount of energy consumed can depend on many factors. Climate, fuel prices, household size, and dwelling size can all influence the quantity of energy used by a household.

Air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are by-products of energy production and consumption and can have an impact on the environment. 1  Households may choose to reduce their environmental impact by curbing their energy use, which can also result in less money being spent by the household on energy. In 2007, households spent on average $1,147 on electricity and $610 on natural gas. 2 

There are a number of ways that households can reduce their energy consumption. The use of programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and clotheslines or drying racks can result in a reduction in the amount of energy used by the household. As well, physical changes to the dwelling, such as switching to more efficient heating and cooling systems, upgrading the dwelling's insulation and caulking leaky windows, are other ways to reduce energy consumption.

Heating equipment and heating fuel

Furnaces 3  were the main type of heating system used by households in 2007 (56%), followed by electric baseboard heating (24%) and boilers (8%) (Chart 1). A small percentage of households used heating stoves, electric radiant heating or other systems as their dwelling's main heating equipment.

However, this pattern was not seen everywhere in the country. Forced-air furnaces were used mainly in the Prairies (85%), Ontario (76%) and British Columbia (56%), though electric heating systems were also fairly common in British Columbia (24%). Sixty-one percent of households in Quebec used electric baseboard heating systems, compared to 47% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 35% in New Brunswick and 22% in Nova Scotia. Half of the households in Prince Edward Island used a boiler as the main heating system (51%).

Natural gas and electricity were the most common types of energy used for home heating in 2007. Almost half (47%) of Canadian households used natural gas as their main heating fuel, while 37% used electricity. A further 9% used oil, 6% used wood or wood pellets and 1% used propane.

The type of heating fuel used is dependent on the type of heating system, as can be seen in Table 2. Natural gas usage was predominant in Ontario and Western Canada, while households in Quebec used primarily electricity. Households in the Atlantic provinces were heated primarily with oil, electricity and wood or wood pellets.

Units of energy

Energy is measured in units known as Joules (J). Because a Joule is a relatively small amount of energy, energy consumption is often discussed in terms of gigajoules (1 x 109 J or 1,000,000,000 J), denoted by GJ, and terajoules (1 x 1012 J or 1,000,000,000,000 J), denoted by TJ. To help put things in perspective:

  1. 4,184 Joules are required to raise the temperature of 1 litre of water by 1 degree Celsius.
  2. The propane cylinder found on most propane BBQs holds approximately 9 kg of propane, which is roughly 0.45 GJ of energy.
  3. 1 GJ is equal to slightly more than 2 propane cylinders like the ones used on most gas BBQs.
  4. The energy content of a 30 litre tank of gasoline is about one gigajoule.
  5. 1 TJ is equal to slightly more than 2,200 propane cylinders.
  6. 1 railway tanker carrying propane contains about 113,000 L of propane, which is about 3 TJ of energy.

Energy use

Energy is used in the home for heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, and many other functions. In 2007, Canadian households consumed 1,368,955 terajoules (TJ) of energy in the home (Table 3-1). This includes energy from sources including electricity, natural gas, oil, wood and wood pellets and propane. 4 

The average Canadian household consumed 106 gigajoules (GJ) of energy in 2007 for use in the home (Table 3-2)

Households in Alberta (129 GJ) and Saskatchewan (126 GJ) had the highest average energy consumptions per household, while households in Quebec (94 GJ) and British Columbia (98 GJ) had some of the lowest consumption levels (Table 3-2).

Natural gas (43%) and electricity (38%) consumption represented the bulk of household energy use. However, wood and wood pellets accounted for 13% of total household energy use, followed by oil (6%).


Electricity is used by households for lighting and powering appliances. Over a third of households also used electricity as their main source of heating, while others used it for supplementary heating. Households consumed 520,250 TJ of electricity in 2007 (Table 3-1), with average electricity consumption of 40 GJ per household (Table 3-2).

Electricity was the principal source of energy used in three provinces (Table 3-1). In Quebec, it accounted for 61% of total energy use, compared to 54% in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 53% in New Brunswick. Electricity accounted for 42% of total household energy use in Manitoba, 37% in British Columbia, 33% in Nova Scotia, 30% in Ontario, 25% in Prince Edward Island, 24% in Saskatchewan and 20% in Alberta.

Average per household use of electricity was highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (62 GJ), New Brunswick (60 GJ) and Quebec (57 GJ). It was lowest in Alberta (26 GJ), Prince Edward Island (30 GJ) and Saskatchewan (30 GJ) (Table 3-2).

Natural gas

Natural gas can be used for home heating, water heating, and also to fuel other large appliances such as stoves, clothes dryers and barbecues. Total household natural gas consumption was 587,183 TJ in 2007 (Table 3-1). Households that used natural gas consumed on average 92 GJ of this fuel (Table 3-2).

Natural gas was the principal energy source for households in Alberta, accounting for 77% of their total energy use (Table 3-1). Natural gas made up 70% of household energy use in Saskatchewan, 58% in Ontario, 52% in British Columbia, and 49% in Manitoba. It is generally unavailable to most households east of Ontario.

Households using natural gas used on average 110 GJ in Alberta per household, 104 GJ in Saskatchewan, 94 GJ in Manitoba, 90 GJ in Ontario, and 81 GJ in British Columbia (Table 3-2).

Other fuels

Heating oil is usually delivered to homes by tank truck and stored in either above-ground or underground storage tanks. Total household use of heating oil in Canada amounted to 76,773 TJ in 2007 (Table 3-1). Households that used oil for home heating used on average 59 GJ of this fuel (Table 3-2), with those in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario having used between 63 and 68 GJ per household on average. Households in Quebec used an average of 51 GJ (Table 3-2).

Wood is often used for supplementary heating, though some households also use it as a main fuel source. The efficiency of wood heating depends greatly on the type of wood fireplace or stove used. Fireplaces tend to use wood inefficiently, though the use of fireplace inserts and airtight wood stoves and heaters can improve efficiency. In total, households used 176,107 TJ of energy from wood or wood pellets in 2007 (Table 3-1). Households that used wood as a fuel source consumed on average the equivalent of 101 GJ of wood (Table 3-2).

Propane is used as a main heating fuel by a small proportion of households (1%). In total, households used 8,642 TJ of propane in 2007 (Table 3-1), 5  an average of 21 GJ for households reporting this type of fuel use (Table 3-2).

Alternative energy sources

Some households use alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and other sources. In 2007, about 111,600 households, or less than 1% of all Canadian households, used these alternative sources of energy.

Energy use, by household and dwelling characteristics

Household energy use varies depending on many different factors. For example, households with more household members may need more electricity for water heating and cooking. Households with larger homes may use more energy for space heating. Household energy use may also depend on the age of the dwelling, as a result of different energy-efficiency and construction standards.

Which part of the country a household is located in also influences how much energy it requires. Households living in areas with a shorter heating season will likely use less energy than those in other areas. For example, households in Victoria, British Columbia likely consume less energy for heating purposes than would those in Saskatoon due to Victoria's shorter heating season.

The following section compares two measures of energy intensity: average household energy consumption and average consumption per square metre of heated area, by various household and dwelling characteristics.

Overall, smaller households use less energy than larger households. Single-person households used on average 69 GJ of energy in 2007 compared to 107 gigajoules for two-person households and 130 GJ for 4-person households (Table 4-1 and Chart 2). Similarly, energy use per square metre was lowest for one-person households (0.68 GJ/m2) compared to 0.90 GJ/m2 for 4-person households. Though energy use increased with household size, on a per person basis, small households consumed more energy.

Households living in smaller dwellings used on average less energy than those living in larger dwellings. Households living in dwellings that had a heated area less than 56 m2 in size 6  used on average 47 GJ, compared to 169 GJ for households that heated 232 m2 or more (Table 4-2). However, energy consumption per square metre was highest for smaller dwellings. Households that heated less than 56 m2 used on average 1.18 GJ/m2 compared to 0.58 GJ/m2 for those in the largest dwellings. Energy consumption per square metre was lowest in British Columbia and highest in Saskatchewan. Variations in climate likely contributed to these differences in energy consumption.

Households living in apartments used less energy on average (44 GJ) than households living in single-detached dwellings (137 GJ) (Table 4-3). Apartments also used less energy per square metre of heated area. These dwellings are often smaller, may have fewer large appliances, and may have lower heating needs because of shared walls. Apartments used on average 0.51 GJ/m2 compared to 0.92 GJ/ m2 for single-detached dwellings.

Energy use was lower for households that rented (56 GJ) compared to households that owned their dwelling (126 GJ) (Table 4-4). Energy consumption per square metre of heated area was 0.60 GJ/m2 for households that rented compared to 0.89 GJ/m2 for households that owned. Two-thirds of households that rented lived in an apartment rather than in other types of dwellings.

Households living in dwellings built in the early 20th century used on average more energy than households in dwellings built after 1946 (Table 4-5). Modern construction practices and building codes have incorporated energy-efficient designs and features, such as improved insulation. The per square metre energy consumption varies according to the age of the dwelling. However, the size of dwellings also varies according to age—dwellings built after 1996 were larger on average than all other dwellings, while those built during the immediate post-WW II era were the smallest.

Household energy use increased with income. Households earning less than $20,000 used on average 67 GJ of energy in 2007. This figure increased to 93 GJ for those earning between $20,000 and $40,000. Households earning $150,000 or more used on average 148 GJ of energy (Table 4-6). Households with a total income less than $20,000 had the lowest energy consumption per square metre(0.71 GJ/m2), followed by households with income above $150,000 (0.78 GJ/m2). The heated area of the dwelling also varied according to income, with the highest income earners heating double the area of low income earners. 7 

Energy use was also higher for households where at least one member had a post-secondary education compared to those where the highest level of education attained was no higher than high school graduation (Table 4-7). Households with higher education tend to have higher incomes. 8  This can influence other factors such as the type and size of dwelling. Households with a university education heated larger areas than households with high school and less than high school education. However, looking at energy use per square metre of heated area, households with at least one member who had a university degree had the lowest energy intensity (0.77 GJ/m2).

Energy-saving and retrofitting practices

Households can take various measures to reduce their energy consumption. Major efforts might involve retrofitting projects such as adding insulation, installing new windows, or purchasing more efficient heating equipment. However, many households use simple methods to try to reduce their overall energy use. For example, they may use programmable thermostats, close drapes or blinds during the hottest part of the day, or use energy-efficient light bulbs.

Energy-saving practices

The Households and the Environment Survey and the HES Energy Use Supplement collected information on a number of different energy-saving practices including:

  1. using programmable thermostats;
  2. using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs);
  3. washing laundry in cold water;
  4. turning off computer monitors when they are not in use;
  5. turning off gas fireplace pilot lights in summer;
  6. air drying dishes in the dishwasher;
  7. using dimmers on lights;
  8. unplugging electronics when away for extended periods;
  9. reducing heating or cooling in certain areas of the dwelling;
  10. using a clothesline or drying rack;
  11. using fans for cooling in summer;
  12. closing blinds or drapes during the hottest part of the day.

The most commonly used practice was closing the drapes or blinds during the day, with fully 85% of households stating they engaged in this practice (Table 5). Two-thirds of households used fans for cooling, 63% used clotheslines or drying racks, 61% reduced heating or cooling in certain areas of the dwelling and 56% unplugged electronics when away for extended periods. Half of households used dimmers on lights and 33% used five or more CFLs.

Some energy-saving practices for which information was collected were only applicable to households with specific equipment or appliances. For example, 44% of households with a gas fireplace turned off the pilot light in summer, 57% of households with desktop computers turned off the monitor when it was not in use and 47% of households with a washer washed and rinsed laundry in cold water. Thirty-six percent of households with one or more thermostat used one that was programmable, while 13% of households that had a dishwasher air dried their dishes with the dishwasher door open.

Participation in some of the different energy-saving practices varied by province and region (Table 5). For example clothesline and drying rack use was more common in Newfoundland and Labrador (79%), Nova Scotia (77%) and New Brunswick (74%) than in Saskatchewan (48%), Alberta (53%) or British Columbia (54%). Households in the Prairie provinces were most likely to close the blinds during the hottest part of the day (93%). Households in Ontario (46%) and Alberta (40%) were most likely to use programmable thermostats 9  while households in Quebec were the least likely to use 5 or more CFLs (26%).

Energy-saving practices, by household and dwelling characteristics

Use of energy-saving practices also varied according to some household and dwelling characteristics. For example, single-person households were most likely to turn off their computer monitor when it was not in use. Close to two-thirds of single-person households turned off their monitor compared to half of four-person households (Table 6-1).

Programmable thermostats and CFLs were more common for households that lived in single detached dwellings they owned with larger heated areas and that had higher incomes. Forty-three percent of households that lived in single-detached dwellings used programmable thermostats, compared to 18% of those in apartments (Table 6-3). Similarly, 41% of households in single-detached dwellings used five or more CFLs compared to 17% of those in apartments.

Households that lived in older dwellings were the most likely to use a clothesline or drying rack and to use fans for cooling. More than three-quarters of households in homes built before 1946 used clotheslines or drying racks compared to 56% of those in homes built since 1996 (Table 6-5). As well, 74% of these households used fans for cooling compared to 59% of those in recently built homes.

Certain households were more likely to engage in a range of energy-saving practices than others. Households that used a greater number of selected energy-saving practices were also likely to live in single-detached homes, have larger household sizes, heat larger areas, and have higher incomes and more education. These households were also more likely to use more energy overall. Households that use more energy-saving practices may also be more likely to have homes with more household features requiring energy use, such as computers, dishwashers, or gas fireplaces. Faced with higher energy bills, households with higher energy usage may also have a greater incentive to try to reduce their consumption than households that use less energy. Although, these households may be using more energy, use of energy-saving practices reduces their energy consumption from what it otherwise would have been.

Retrofitting practices

The HES Energy Use Supplement collected information on the type of retrofitting improvements that have been made to dwellings including:

  1. insulation;
  2. heating, venting and cooling equipment;
  3. doors, windows, exterior siding and caulking;
  4. foundations;
  5. roof structures and surfaces.

Between 2003 and 2007, 50% of households 10  made at least one improvement to their dwelling intended to reduce energy consumption (Table 7). Improvements were made most frequently to doors and windows, siding and caulking (31%), followed by heating, ventilation and cooling equipment (27%). Fourteen percent made improvements to their roof, while 14% improved the insulation.

Households in Prince Edward Island (60%), Ontario (58%) and Manitoba (55%) were the most likely to have made at least one retrofitting improvement (Table 7). Households in British Columbia (40%) and Alberta (40%) were least likely to have retrofitted their dwelling between 2003 and 2007.

Households that lived in older dwellings were more likely to have reported improvements made to reduce energy consumption. Between 2003 and 2007, 57% of households living in dwellings built before 1946 reported that at least one retrofit had been made to their home compared to 51% of households in dwellings built between 1978 and 1995 and 27% that were in dwellings built since 1996 (Table 8).


The types and amounts of energy used by Canadian households varied across the country. While socio-demographic factors such as household composition, income, education and dwelling type all help to explain these differences, no single factor fully accounts for them. As well, climate and geography almost certainly play roles in the energy consumption behaviours of Canadian households.

Energy-saving practices also varied across demographic groups. Households exercising more conservation practices were also more likely to have lived in single-detached dwellings, have had more people in the household, have had heated larger areas, and have had higher incomes and higher levels of education.