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Energy is essential in almost all facets of Canadian society. Canadian households use energy in their homes to heat, cool and light their homes, heat water, and run appliances such as stoves, refrigerators and other devices such as televisions and computers. The amount of energy used within a home depends on many factors such as climate, fuel prices, the number of people in the household and the age, construction and size of the dwelling.

Air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are by-products of energy production and consumption which have an impact on the environment. Households may choose to lessen their environmental impact by reducing their energy use, which may also result in lower energy bills.

There are a number of ways that households can reduce the amount of energy consumed in the home. The use of programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and drying racks all contribute to reducing the amount of energy used in the home. 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

A furnace was the main type of heating system used by Canadian households in 2011 (57%), followed by electric baseboards (27%) and boilers (5%) (Chart 1).

The main type of heating system used by households varied depending on the province (Table 1). While furnaces were used mainly in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces, electric baseboards were used by the highest percentage of households in Quebec (66%), Newfoundland and Labrador (56%), and New Brunswick (48%). Boilers were used more often to heat homes in Prince Edward Island (42%).

The type of heating fuel used is related to the type of heating equipment used. In 2011, natural gas was used to heat 50% of Canadian homes, followed by electricity (39%) (Table 2). Natural gas was used primarily to heat homes in Ontario, the Prairie Provinces, and British Columbia, while electricity was the predominant energy source for heating in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick. Heating oil was primarily used in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

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.

Energy use

The amount of energy consumed in the home depends on a number of factors that may change over time and between regions. For example differences in climate will impact the amount of energy required for heating and cooling the home. As such, comparisons between years and regions should be made with caution.

In 2011, Canadian households consumed 1,425,185 terajoules (TJ) of energy in their homes 1 , an increase of 56,230 TJ or 4% from 2007 2  (Table 3-1). The largest increases in total energy use occurred in Ontario and Alberta, where energy consumption increased by 26,622 TJ (5% increase) and 18,173 TJ (11% increase) respectively.

Similar to 2007, natural gas (45%) and electricity (38%) were the most commonly used household energy sources for 2011.

While total energy consumed by Canadian households increased from 2007 to 2011, the amount of energy consumed per household remained relatively the same. In 2011, Canadian households used an average of 105 gigajoules (GJ) of energy per household (Table 3-2) compared to 106 GJ in 2007. Over this period, the number of households in Canada increased by 5%.

At the provincial level, households in Prince Edward Island had the largest increase in energy consumption, using an average of 19 GJ more per household in 2011 than in 2007; an increase of 15%. Prince Edward Island (142 GJ) and Alberta (130 GJ) had the highest average household energy consumption for 2011.


Households use electricity for heating, for lighting and to power appliances and electronics. Thirty-eight percent of total energy used by Canadian households was in the form of electricity. A total of 547,096 TJ of electricity was consumed in homes in 2011, up 5% from 2007. However, the average rate remained the same; 40 GJ of electricity were used per household in both 2011 and 2007.

Households in Alberta increased their electricity consumption by 11,226 TJ in 2011 compared to 2007, an increase of 33%. On a per household basis, this equals an increase of 5 GJ per household.

Electricity was the main energy source in Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. Average energy use per household for electricity was highest in Quebec (60 GJ) followed closely by Newfoundland and Labrador (58 GJ).

Natural gas

Natural gas can be used for home and water heating; however, it can also be used to run other large appliances such as stoves, dryers and barbecues. Natural gas was the most widely used source of energy in the home, accounting for 45% of total household energy consumption. Canadian households used a total of 639,203 TJ worth of natural gas in their homes in 2011, up 9% from 2007. Households using natural gas consumed an average of 92 GJ of this fuel per household.

Natural gas was the principal energy source for households in Alberta (72%), Saskatchewan (68%), Ontario (62%), and British Columbia (54%).

Other fuels

Wood is often used for supplementary heating. In 2011, 6% of Canadian households used wood and wood pellets as their main source of home heating (Table 2). Households using this energy source consumed on average 88 GJ per household in 2011, down from 101 GJ per household in 2007.

Heating oil accounted for 62,773 TJ of household energy consumption in 2011, a reduction of 14,000 TJ (18%) from 2007. The reduction in the use of oil as an energy source in the home could be related to cost; average prices of fuel oil in Canada have increased over the last five years by over 30%. 3  While fewer households used heating oil in 2011 compared to 2007, the average consumption rate increased 3 GJ per household.

Propane was used as the primary heating fuel by 1% of households in 2011. Households using propane to heat their homes consumed on average 20 GJ of fuel per household.

Alternative energy sources

Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power were used by 171,505 households (1.3%) in 2011.

Energy use, by household and dwelling characteristics

The quantity of energy used by a household depends on many factors, such as the type and size of the dwelling, the quality and condition of its insulation, windows and doors and number of people living in it. Households with multiple occupants may use more electricity for heating water (more showers and baths), cooking (more food preparation) and home entertainment (more televisions and other electronic devices).

In 2011, a one-person household used an average of 72 GJ of energy in the home compared to 149 GJ for households with 5 or more people (Table 4-1). However, the amount of energy consumed per person was lower in households with multiple occupants than in households with a single occupant. A person living alone used 40 GJ more in 2011 than a person living in a four-person household (Chart 2).

On average, smaller dwellings use less energy than larger dwellings. Dwellings with a heated area 4  of less than 55 m2 (600 sq. feet) used an average of 52 GJ, compared to 161 GJ for dwellings with a heated area of 231 m2 (2501 sq. feet) or more (Table 4-2). However, smaller dwellings consumed more energy per square meter than larger dwellings: 1.09 GJ/ m2 for those under 55 m2 compared to 0.55 GJ/ m2 for those with 231 m2 or more of heated space.

Similar to the 2007 results, apartment dwellers consumed less energy than those living in single detached homes: 40 GJ per household compared to 134 GJ per household (Table 4-3). Households that rented consumed less energy than those who owned - 53 GJ per household compared to 123 GJ per household (Table 4-4). The majority of households that rented lived in apartments (64%).

Households living in newer dwellings used less energy per m2 of heated area than those living in older dwellings (Table 4-5). Modern construction practices and changes to building codes - such as the use of improved insulation and more efficient heating and cooling systems - have contributed to newer homes being more energy efficient.

Home energy use increased with income and education level. Households with an annual income of $150,000 and over consumed an average of 141 GJ of energy in 2011, compared to 68 GJ consumed by households with an annual income under $20,000 (Table 4-6). Total energy use was highest in households where at least one member had a university degree (109 GJ) (Table 4-7). However, energy intensity was less for these households (0.75 GJ per m2) compared to households where the highest education level was only some secondary education but no degree (0.84 GJ per m2) (Table 4-7).

Household Lighting

There are a variety of light bulb types used by Canadian households. Incandescent light bulbs tend to be less expensive but are also the least efficient; almost 90% of the energy used is lost as heat. 5  Fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs are more efficient, using about a quarter of the energy of a standard incandescent, and less energy is lost as heat. Halogen light bulbs, a type of incandescent light bulb, fall between the standard incandescent and fluorescent bulbs in terms of efficiency.

Incandescent light bulbs were the most popular type of light bulb used by Canadian households in 2011 (Chart 3). Incandescent bulbs accounted for 41% 6  of the total number of light bulbs used, followed by compact fluorescent (25%), halogen (22%) and regular fluorescent (12%).

On average, 25 light bulbs were used per household in 2011 (Table 5). Households in Nova Scotia used the fewest light bulbs with an average of 22 bulbs per household, while those in Alberta used the most (28 bulbs per household).

Energy-saving and retrofitting practices

There are a variety of ways for a household to reduce the energy consumption in a home. These practices range from major renovations such as installing new windows or purchasing more efficient heating equipment, to smaller changes such as installing a programmable thermostat or turning off a computer monitor when it is not in use.

Energy-saving practices

The Household and the Environment Survey and the HES Energy Use Supplement collected information on the following energy saving practices:

  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.

In 2011, 82% of households used at least one of these practices to conserve energy (Table 6). The most widely used energy-saving practices were washing laundry in cold water and tuning off computer monitors when not in use; each of these practices were used by 58% of households.

Programmable thermostats were used by 47% of households in 2011 (Table 6), up from 36% in 2007. Rebates for the purchase of programmable thermostats were offered by several provincial governments and energy provider programs.

Using cold water for washing and rinsing laundry is a way to significantly cut back on energy use, as energy is required to heat water for warm or hot water washes. More households used cold water to wash laundry in 2011 than in 2007 (58% compared to 47%).

Households in Quebec had the highest participation rate, with 73% of households using cold water to wash their laundry. Households in the Atlantic Provinces were more likely to wash laundry in cold water than those in the Prairie Provinces; Newfoundland and Labrador (68%), Prince Edward Island (70%), Nova Scotia (68%), and New Brunswick (64%), compared to Manitoba (36%), Saskatchewan (42%) and Alberta (41%).

Energy-saving practices, by household and dwelling characteristics

The use of energy-saving practices varied according to some household and dwelling characteristics. For example, energy-saving practices tended to be used more frequently by single detached dwellings with larger heated areas and higher incomes.

At least one energy-saving practice was used by 93% of households with five or more members compared to 64% of one-person households. Owners were more likely to use an energy-saving practice than renters. However, a higher percentage of renters than owners washed their laundry in cold water (66% compared to 56%) (Table 7-4).

Energy Star appliances

Energy Star is an internationally recognized symbol indicating that the product has been tested and found to meet or exceed higher energy efficient levels without compromising performance. The purchase of energy efficient appliances is another way households can reduce the amount of energy they consume in the home. In 2011, 71% of households in Canada used at least one Energy Star appliance (Table 8). The main refrigerator was the most common Energy Star appliance, found in 50% of households, followed by the washing machine (48% of households).

Retrofitting practices

The HES Energy Use supplement collected information on the type of improvements that were 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 2008 and 2011, 37% of households that owned their dwelling and were not located in apartment buildings made at least one improvement to their dwelling to improve its energy efficiency (Table 9), down from 50% between 2003 and 2007. However, for both periods the most common retrofits were improvements to heating, ventilation or cooling equipment and improvements to doors, windows, exterior siding and caulking.

Provincially, 45% of households in Nova Scotia and Manitoba completed a retrofitting project between 2008 and 2011, followed by 40% of households in Ontario.

Energy efficiency improvements were more common in households built between 1961 and 1977, with 45% of households making improvements to their dwelling, while those built after 1996 were less likely to make such improvements (19%) (Table 10).

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