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I'm a writer and personal finance expert from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I write about saving, budgeting, and debt.

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An Easy DIY to Save Money on Your Heating & Cooling Bills

A commonly made mistake by would-be homebuyers is to assume that they can afford the same mortgage payment as the rent they are currently paying. For example, if they’re currently paying $1,500 in rent, they assume they can afford a $1,500 monthly mortgage payment. This assumption is a mistake because it leaves out all of the other expenses that come with owning a home including property taxes, insurance, and utilities. It can be easy to forget about these expenses as a first-time homebuyer because you don’t see those expenses as a renter, but it’s so important to factor them into your budget.

Another expense that is easy to underestimate are your energy bills. While you might have paid heating and cooling bills in your apartment, if you are purchasing a house (especially if it’s an older one), be prepared for those to double.

My home didn’t have an air conditioning system, so I when I moved in I wasn’t worried about high electric bills, but I was definitely concerned about how high my heating bills would be when the furnace turned on in September or October.

My home had a very old oil-fired furnace and water heater, and when winter hit, it wasn’t uncommon to see a $350 oil bill in a month. These bills, compared to my $100 heating bills before, were a pretty big shock.

Since that first $350 bill, I’ve been scheming ways to decrease my heating bills. Last year I was very diligent at turning the temperature down every night before going to bed and before heading out on a trip. I’ve also got plans to add insulation to the attic (which is uninsulated!) and upgrade my heating system to an energy efficient air source heat pump.

Unfortunately, those projects are not cheap, and I’ll need to spend some time saving for them.

An Easy DIY Way to Save Money on Heating Bills Now

In the meantime, there are tons of other, less expensive DIY projects I can do to help decrease my heating bills, including upgrading my thermostat to the ecobee3 lite smart thermostat with room sensors

Before I made this upgrade, my furnace was controlled by a super old Hunter thermostat. It came with some minor programmability but was mostly just an on/off thermostat. The upgrade process for most furnaces would be pretty straight forward, and ecobee offers a handy guide on their website to help you determine if you can make the upgrade yourself. It essentially shows you the wires that should come into your current thermostat, and if they match, you know you’re good to go.

My decades-old original thermostat.

My wires didn’t match (of course!), so I called in a favour with my handy HVAC engineer brother-in-law, and he ran a whole new thermostat wire from the original thermostat location down to the furnace in the basement.

Check behind your thermostat to see all of the colours your walls used to be.

It was a bit of a project that involved removing the baseboard, ripping down some drywall and ordering some extra parts, but this is the exception, not the norm. Most conversions will be much more straightforward than mine was.

Once we got the ecobee3 lite up and running, I was able to connect it to the Wi-Fi using my phone. It comes with an app that allows me to control it remotely, and two room sensors that also connect via Wi-Fi and allow me to monitor the temperature and occupancy in my office and bedroom.

Room Sensors are Just What I Need

My heating system’s thermostat is in the front dining/living room of my house, which also happens to be the hottest room. My home is old and poorly insulated, so there are wide temperature differences from the front to the back of the house. That means in the winter it can be 21°C in the front room, and 18°C or 17°C in the office at the back of the house. With room sensors, ecobee can sense the temperatures in other rooms and whether or not those rooms are occupied, allowing it to satisfy the temperature requirements of rooms only when someone is actually in them. For example, if I’m in my office working, and the rest of the house is empty, ecobee will make sure the heating system brings that room up to temperature, regardless of the temperatures in the other rooms. If multiple rooms are occupied, it takes the average.

With the old Hunter thermostat, it would shut the furnace off when the front room was at the right temperature, and I’d be freezing my buns off in the chilly office. This feature would also work well in the summer with air conditioning.

Smart Home/Away

But the real money saving feature is the Smart Home/Away feature, which senses when the house is empty and automatically lowers the temperature to save energy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left the house for a few hours or even a few days and smacked myself on the forehead when I remember I forgot to turn the heat down and then fuming about how much oil I was wasting by forgetting this simple task.

Even if the Smart Home/Away feature doesn’t work for some reason, I can always adjust the temperature from my iPhone manually. Alternatively, I can just check in on the temperature remotely to make sure there isn’t an issue with the heating system while I’m gone or that it doesn’t get too hot for the kitties in the summer.

How Much Will I Save?

It’s all fun and good to go on about the features of a smart thermostat, but let’s not forget the ultimate goal of these features: to save money on my heating bills. According to ecobee, it’s possible to save up to 23% on your heating and cooling bills. In the past year, I spent $1,720 on heating oil. So I could save up to $400.

Finally, I’m excited to use the ecobee3 lite because it’s an energy efficient technology that I can take advantage of now, but it will integrate with future energy efficient upgrades I have for my home. In the coming years, I plan to switch over to an energy efficient air source heat pump which will provide me with air conditioning, upgrade my home’s insulation, and maybe even install solar panels and an electric car charger. All of that technology is expensive, and I can’t afford it right now, but it will mesh well with the ecobee3 lite when the time does come.

What green upgrades have you performed on your home? I want to know!

This post is in partnership with ecobee, but all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.


  1. I like the idea of additional sensors… are those wireless or do they have to be wired? Also, do you know if this brand works in a multizone system like the Nest does (you just need a Nest for each system)? Our house has natural-gas fueled hydronic baseboard heating and each floor (basement, 1st and 2nd) has their own separate zones.

    I am jealous of your connections! You are lucky to have someone with those type of skills such as rewiring a thermostat for free or for trade of services. We’ll have to hire-out as I imagine our ancient thermostats are not wired in the same fashion and we don’t have any close friends/family in the industry.

    Speaking of old homes–your house isn’t knob and tube, is it? I just hear you gotta be careful with attic insulation and knob and tube wiring.

    Good luck on conquering that high heating bill! Ours don’t get that high, but we’re in PA so not as cold. We have been using our window unit ACs a ton though, so we’ll be looking at a $225 electric bill probably the next two months. 🙁 Adding central a/c is on our list!

    • Jordann says:

      The sensors are wireless. You just pull the tab while standing near the wall-mounted thermostat and their pair automatically. You then name them (office, bedroom, etc) and place them in the appropriate spot. The ecobee does work with zoned systems but you might need multiple thermostats.

      Having a brother-in-law with extensive build/reno experience is a huge, huge plus. My husband has been providing muscle for his projects free of charge for years and we’re finally in a position to call in those favours! Even just having an experienced renovator to bounce ideas off has been great.

      Our house isn’t knob and tube (every we could reach anyway), that was a deal breaker for us when doing the home inspection since rewiring is extremely expensive. Knob and tube is definitely dangerous and needs to be ripped out wherever it is discovered, so we’re happy we don’t have to deal with that.

      We have one AC unit in our front room and I hate running it because it’s such an energy hog. Yet another benefit of eventually switching over to a central heat pump!

  2. Giulia Lombardo says:

    Well I love this kind of post…honestly I don’t have air conditioning at home but while I spend a big amount of money during winter (my apartment is on north side so few sun) during summer hous has perfet temperature:D….yep these voices must to be considered always before to became homeowner…thanks for your tips and ideas:D

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