Natural Resources Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Office of Energy Efficiency Links


Office of Energy Efficiency


Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada, 1990 to 2008

PDF Version | Table of Contents | Next Page

Chapter 3: Residential Sector

Overview — Residential energy use and GHG emissions

In Canada, 80 percent of all residential energy use was for space and water heating in 2008.

In 2008, Canadians spent $30.6 billion on household energy needs. Total household energy use was 17 percent of all energy used (Figure 3.1), and total household GHG emissions were 15 percent of all GHGs emitted in Canada (Figure 3.2). Specifically, residential energy use was 1,465.3 PJ, emitting 74.2 Mt of GHGs.

Figure 3.1 — Energy use by sector, 2008 (percent).

Figure 3.2 — GHG emissions by sector, 2008 (percent).

Natural gas, electricity, wood, heating oil and propane were the sources of energy being used. Within a household, these forms of energy were used for a variety of activities, as seen in Figure 3.3. Space and water heating accounted for 80 percent of Canada’s residential energy use in 2008, followed by appliances, lighting and air conditioning.

Figure 3.3 — Distribution of residential energy use by end-use, 2008 (percent).

Trends — Residential energy use and GHG emissions

Population growth and fewer people per household led to a 33 percent rise in the number of households, which contributed to a 14 percent increase in residential energy use from 1990 to 2008.

The 3.3 million households added in Canada since 1990 represents approximately one-third of the total number of households in Canada in 1990 or the number of households in Quebec in 2008.

Between 1990 and 2008, the population grew 20 percent (5.6 million people) and the number of households increased 33 percent (3.3 million). The rise in the number of households, combined with increased average living space, contributed to the increase of 14 percent, or 183.1 PJ, in residential energy use from 1,282.2 PJ to 1,465.3 PJ. As homeowners gradually switched to cleaner energy sources, the associated GHG emissions grew only 8 percent, from 68.8 Mt to 74.2 Mt during the same period.

The mix of energy used in the residential sector changed slightly over the period. Specifically, natural gas and electricity became even more dominant while the use of heating oil declined (Figure 3.4). Natural gas and electricity together accounted for 87 percent of all residential energy use in 2008, compared to 78 percent in 1990. These increases were largely the result of increased availability of natural gas and lower natural gas prices relative to oil.

Figure 3.4 — Residential energy use by fuel type and number of households, 1990 and 2008.

Canadians have bigger homes with fewer people living in them.

The choices Canadians made with respect to their living space also contributed to an increase in energy use. Average living space in 2008 was 10 percent greater than that in 1990. Specifically, average occupied living space in 1990 was 116 square metres (), compared to 128 of living space in 2008 (Figure 3.5). At the same time, the number of individuals per household fell to 2.5 in 2008 from 2.8 in 1990. This trend, coupled with population growth, has meant more dwellings built and therefore more energy consumed.

Since 1990, Canadians use more devices that consume energy. In addition, more Canadians choose to cool their homes during the summer months. These choices increased residential energy use. The impact of these changes and the choices made by Canadians are further discussed in the following section, where each end-use is examined.

Figure 3.5 — Residential energy indicators, 1990 and 2008.

Trends — Residential space heating energy use

Despite a 20 percent decline in space heating energy intensity, total space heating energy use increased 16 percent between 1990 and 2008.

The amount of energy used by the residential sector to heat each square metre of living space decreased significantly between 1990 and 2008. The decrease in space heating intensity from 0.66 gigajoules per square metre (GJ/) to 0.52 GJ/ (Figure 3.6) was mainly driven by energy efficiency gains, despite heating degree-days in 2008 being marginally higher than in 1990.

Figure 3.6 — Space heating energy intensity and heating degree-day index, 1990–2008.

Energy efficiency gains were realized, to a large extent, by the replacement of less efficient systems with regulated medium-and high-efficiency systems. From 1990 to 2008, medium- and high-efficiency gas systems increased their share of the gas market from 10 percent to 83 percent. While few medium-efficiency oil heating systems were in the market in 1990, almost all oil heating systems were medium efficiency in 2008.

While space heating intensity decreased 20 percent, this was not enough to compensate for the fact that the number of households increased 33 percent. Additionally, the average Canadian home was larger in 2008 than it was in 1990. Consequently, the energy required to heat all the dwellings in Canada increased 16 percent, from 794.6 PJ in 1990 to 920.8 PJ in 2008.

Trends — Residential water heating energy use

Less energy is required per household for hot water due to increased penetration of newer and more efficient natural gas water heaters.

Canadians shifted from using oil-fired water heaters to those that use natural gas and that are, on average, more energy efficient (Figure 3.7). In addition, current minimum energy performance standards mean that new water heaters use less energy than older models. As older stock is replaced by new stock, energy efficiency gains are realized. These changes resulted in a 21 percent decrease in the energy used per household for heating water (from 24.5 GJ per household in 1990 to 19.4 GJ per household in 2008).

Figure 3.7 — Water heating energy use by fuel type, 1990 and 2008.

Although there was a decrease in per household energy used to heat water, the total number of households grew more quickly than energy efficiency improvements from new equipment. The result was an overall increase of 5 percent in residential water heating energy use, from 242.9 PJ to 255.9 PJ.

Trends — Residential appliance energy use

The increased number of minor appliances offset the benefits of the energy efficiency gains of major appliances.

The number of major appliances operated in Canada between 1990 and 2008 increased 46 percent (Figure 3.8). However, the total amount of energy that households used to power major appliances decreased 16 percent over the same period. In fact, the average unit energy use of all major household appliances decreased noticeably from 1990 to 2008.

Figure 3.8 — Residential energy use and appliance stock index by appliance type, 1990 and 2008.

The largest percentage decrease was in the unit energy use of dishwashers (Figure 3.9), which in 2008 used 71 percent less energy than in 1990 (from 277 kilowatt hours [kWh] per year to 82 kWh per year).4 A new fridge in 1990 used an average of 956 kWh per year versus 467 kWh per year in 2008, a decrease of 51 percent. These improvements in efficiency were due mainly to the introduction of minimum efficiency standards in the 1990s.

Energy use for powering all household minor appliances more than doubled between 1990 and 2008. This increase of 44.3 PJ was equivalent to the energy required to provide lighting to all the Canadian homes in mid-1980s.

Figure 3.9 — Unit energy consumption of major electric appliance stock, 1990 and 2008.

In contrast to trends for major appliances, energy use for smaller appliances such as televisions, VCRs, DVDs, stereo systems and personal computers more than doubled (+150 percent). This increase more than outweighed the energy use reduction from major appliances. One example of the rapid growth in minor appliances is the increased penetration of personal computers. In 1990, computers were present in less than one out of six households, but by 2008 they were present in more than four out of five households in Canada. Furthermore, the rapid penetration of digital TVs, DVDs and digital cable boxes also contributed to the increase.

Trends — Space cooling energy use

More Canadians lived in bigger and air-conditioned homes.

The amount of occupied floor space with air conditioners rose to 749 million in 2008, from 267 million in 1990. The percentage of cooled occupied floor space rose from 23 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2008. As a result, although also influenced by variations in cooling degree-days, the energy required to cool Canadian homes rose 119 percent (Figure 3.10), from 10.4 PJ to 22.9 PJ over the same period.

Figure 3.10 — Space cooling system stock and energy use, 1990–2008.

The increase in energy used for space cooling would have been more pronounced if not for efficiency improvements associated with room and central air conditioners. Compared to 1990, the stock of room and central air conditioners in 2008 were 36 percent and 24 percent more efficient, respectively.

Trends — Lighting energy use

The market share of energy-efficient lighting alternatives increased significantly between 1990 and 2008.

Despite a drop in lighting energy use per household, the energy required to light all the households in Canada increased 21 percent, from 51.8 PJ to 62.7 PJ (Figure 3.11). This was entirely due to the 33 percent increase in the number of households, as the energy required to light each household in Canada decreased 9 percent, from 5.2 GJ to 4.8 GJ.

Figure 3.11 — Lighting energy use per household and total lighting energy use, 1990–2008.

Some of the decrease in lighting energy use per household can be associated with the increased use of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), also known as compact fluorescent light bulbs (Figure 3.12), which use less energy to produce a certain level of light. The use of CFLs was marginal in the residential lighting market in 2000, but CFLs represented around 21 percent of light bulbs used in 2008.

Figure 3.12 — Number of light bulbs per household by bulb type, 1990 and 2008.

Residential energy intensity and efficiency

Energy intensity

The average household reduced its energy use by 14 percent.

In the residential sector, energy intensity is usually expressed as energy consumed per household. It can also be expressed as energy consumed per square metre of house area. Energy intensity decreased 14 percent, from 129.6 GJ per household in 1990 to 111.3 GJ per household in 2008 (Figure 3.13). This occurred despite the average household operating more appliances, its living space becoming larger, and increasing its use of space cooling. Energy use per square metre decreased 21 percent from 1.06 GJ to 0.83 GJ.

Figure 3.13 — Residential energy intensity per household and floor space, 1990–2008.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency improvements resulted in energy savings of $8.2 billion in the residential sector in 2008.

Energy efficiency improvements in the residential sector have resulted in significant savings between 1990 and 2008. These improvements include changes to the residential thermal envelope (insulation, windows, etc.) and changes to the efficiency of energy-consuming items in the home, such as furnaces, appliances, lighting and air conditioning.

Energy efficiency in the residential sector improved 31 percent from 1990 to 2008, allowing Canadians to save 391.6 PJ of energy (Figure 3.14) and $8.2 billion in energy costs in 2008.

Figure 3.14 — Residential energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvement, 1990–2008.

These energy efficiency savings translate into an average saving of $622 per Canadian household in 2008.

Figure 3.15 illustrates the influence that various factors had on the change in residential energy use between 1990 and 2008. These effects are as follows:

  • activity effect — As measured by combining a mix of households and floor space, energy use increased 36 percent (465.7 PJ). Growth in activity was driven by a 45 percent increase in floor area and by a rise of 33 percent in the number of households.

  • structure effect — The increase in the relative share of single-family houses resulted in the sector using an additional 10.5 PJ of energy.

  • weather effect — In 2008, the winter was colder but the summer was warmer than that of 1990. The net result was an overall increase in energy demand of 25.0 PJ.

  • service level effect — The increased penetration rate of appliances and the increased floor space cooled by space cooling units were responsible for 73.5 PJ of the increase in energy.

  • energy efficiency effect — Improvements to the thermal envelope of houses and to the efficiency of residential appliances and space and water heating equipment led to an overall energy efficiency gain in the residential sector. This saved 391.6 PJ of energy.

Figure 3.15 — Impact of activity, structure, service level, weather and energy efficiency on the change in residential energy use, 1990–2008.

4 Excludes hot water requirements.

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page