calgary alberta riverside skyline in winter

Petroleum in Real Life: Home heating

Natural gas is abundant and widely available in Canada; it burns cleanly in furnaces and boilers that operate at efficiencies greater than 95 per cent.

Baby… it’s cold outside. When temperatures drop, having a reliable source of heat for your home becomes an absolute necessity.

suburban house living room fireplace

As Canadians, we’re fortunate to have several sources of home heating available to keep us nice and toasty when the weather outside is frightful. Overall, natural gas is the most common form of energy used in Canadian homes (50%) with electricity as the runner up (39%). Electricity itself, however, can be generated from a mix of sources including hydro, coal and natural gas, depending on the region. Overall, it is estimated that nearly 70% of the energy used in the residential sector comes from petroleum sources such as natural gas, oil, and propane.

Read more: Rural Ontario gets improved access to natural gas

Different Sources of Heat Generation: A Regional Approach

In Canada, home heating is regional, meaning that each province has its preferred way of heating residents’ homes based on resource availability and existing infrastructure.

Heat delivery is primarily via furnaces, electric baseboards and boilers, with furnaces making up over 57% of heat delivery across Canada.

The heating equipment we use in our homes is directly correlated to a corresponding heating fuel. For instance, natural gas is used primarily to heat homes in Ontario, the Prairie Provinces, and British Columbia (via furnaces), while electricity is the predominant energy source for heating in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador where ample hydroelectricity resources are available. Heating oil is primarily used in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia (via boilers).

snow covered thermostat
Natural gas is an affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible fuel of choice for home heating in many parts of Canada.

Winter Heating – Reliable and Affordable Solutions

Even though the predominant heating infrastructure in your region (and the heating equipment in your home) will largely determine the nature of home heating you choose, there are two front runners in terms of both costs and efficiency.

Read more: Global demand for natural gas and oil on the rise

Natural gas is abundant and widely available in Canada; it burns cleanly in furnaces and boilers that operate at efficiencies greater than 95 per cent. While natural gas prices do fluctuate, over the long term, according to the Canadian Home Building Association natural gas averages out to be the cheapest and most secure source of energy available for heating your home.

Electric heat pumps are also popular. They are both economical (second only to natural gas) and estimated at two-to-four times more efficient than electric baseboards, and according to some studies, gas furnaces.

Remote Region Heating

Many areas in Canada, in particular remote communities in the Canadian territories and rural areas across the provinces, do not have direct access to infrastructure that would enable home heating, such as an electrical grid or pipeline network. This means, they can only use heating sources that can be delivered without any “hard” tie ins to their home – making petroleum fuels like heating oil, diesel and propane absolutely essential. Natural Resources Canada estimates that nearly three quarters of our 250 remote communities use heating oil or propane for home heating.

Remote regions like Canada’s arctic rely on petroleum fuels for home heating.

Environmental Impact

And while energy to heat our homes is currently abundant and available, it’s always advisable to lessen our environmental impact where we can by reducing energy use (and saving a dollar or two while we’re at it!).  

Read more: How natural gas can fuel cleaner electricity

As responsible energy users, there are several ways we can help control home heating, including using programmable thermostats; properly insulating our homes; checking our windows and doors for leaks; building or retrofitting homes with energy-smart foundations, roofs and siding; and investing in the most energy-efficient furnaces or heat pumps available.

Many homes are also switching to hydronic heating, using hot-water radiators and in-floor heating (fueled by natural gas) to provide even, toasty heat to homes. Introducing hydronic heat into a home is an excellent option for those converting to natural gas from electric baseboards.

home heating fast facts