What’s a space heater? Canadian house features you should know about

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If you are like me and come from a tropical country, you may not be familiar with the features of a Canadian home. For example, we did not have thermostats or central heating systems back home. These systems and devices are necessary for you and your family to live comfortably and safely. Some features, like smoke detectors or alarms, are required safety features for every home.

Understanding the following appliances and how they work will help you maintain your home and help you run an efficient household:

Air conditioners – An AC is necessary during the hot summers in Manitoba. Regulating AC use in your house is important since it can use up a lot of electricity and can be costly. Make sure that when you turn the AC on, windows are closed so that the cool air will not escape. Also, ensure that it is well-maintained. Filters will need to be changed to keep it running efficiently.

Bathroom fans – Exhaust fans remove the moisture caused by steam from hot showers and humidity during summer months. They maintain the air circulation in your bathroom, keeping it fresh and clean. The button or switch for turning on your bathroom fan is usually next to your light switch.

Washers and dryers
– These two large appliances are a must for every home for keeping clothes clean and dry. Depending on the model, these have various settings depending on your need and the size of the load (e.g. hot, warm, or cold water settings/light, medium, or heavy loads/settings for coloured and white clothes, etc.). Check the manual or ask your landlord how to operate these if you are not clear about the settings. You will need laundry detergent and fabric softener (optional). There are also coin-operated washers and dryers in apartment buildings or laundromats that you can use.

Dehumidifiers and humidifiers – You may need a dehumidifier during the summer months especially in closed-off spaces in your home like the basement. Humidity and moisture can cause the formation of molds which can cause allergies and respiratory problems. On the other hand, the air can be dry in winter and cause respiratory problems for some. A humidifier puts moisture back in the air.

Fireplaces – Indoor fireplaces can be the traditional brick or the modern electric versions. Nowadays, this feature is more decorative than functional because most homes are centrally heated. But if you want to try burning logs or turning on an electric fireplace, make sure that you know how to use it. Always check if there’s a fire extinguisher nearby.

Furnaces – A furnace is part of a central home heating system. Together with the boiler, ducts and registers, pipes and radiators, the furnace distributes heat to various parts of your home. It is usually found in the basement, although some homes may have it in a closet or crawl space in another part of the house.

Garbage carts/disposal chutes – Homes usually have a garbage cart (black) and a recycling cart (blue). Your recyclables, such as paper and cardboard materials, plastic containers (not plastic bags), metal and glass, etc., go into the blue cart, and non-recyclable garbage into the black cart. Apartment buildings or condominiums have a central area where you will find large metal and recycling bins. Read the article Garbage, plumbing and other household concerns to learn about garbage pick-up schedules and disposal of yard wastes.

Insulation – This is a material (it can be foam-like) that is wedged in walls to keep heat inside in winter and keep cool air inside during summer. Older buildings and houses using plaster interior walls may have little or no insulation. If you are a home owner, investing in insulation will help you to save on heating bills in the long run.

Intercom – Some apartment buildings have this device as a security measure. It is usually a small box with a button that visitors can click on to call your apartment so you can let them in. Ask your landlord how to operate the intercom if your building is equipped with one.

Mailboxes – Most houses have mailboxes near their door, attached to the wall or on a post. Some areas have a row of mailboxes a few steps away from homes. These are numbered and are locked with a key. In buildings, you may find mailboxes at the lobby. Your landlord will provide you with a mailbox key when you move in.

Smoke detectors – These are usually circular devices that are attached to the ceiling near the kitchen or stairwells. They make a loud beeping sound when they detect smoke to warn you of impending fire. These are battery-operated. You will need to change the batteries every so often, or when you hear a warning beep.

Space heaters – These are appliances that supply heat if you don’t have a central heating system or when the heat is not enough. These are usually plugged in and use electricity. Many do not advise using space heaters because use can increase your hydro bill and they are less safe than furnaces (remember to keep your kids and pets away from them if you have one!). However, some prefer them because they are handy to use in small spaces.

Stove exhaust fan – This helps eliminate food odors and fumes around the house when you are cooking. The exhaust fan switch can be found on the stove hood.

Stoves – Homes are usually equipped with gas or electric stoves (usually with an oven underneath). A four-burner stove is standard in Canada and may be equipped with cooking timers and other features. If you see too many switches and settings on your stove (or oven), read the manual or ask someone to teach you how to operate it. Using the wrong settings can be costly as well as dangerous.

Thermostat – This controls the air temperature inside your house. It keeps heat and air conditioning at a constant temperature. This is what you adjust if your house or apartment is too cold (you turn it up) or too hot (you turn it down). Some apartments have centrally controlled thermostats. If this is the case, you have to call your building superintendent if you need to adjust the temperature.

Water faucets – Most sinks and showers have two water taps: hot and cold. If they are not labelled or color-coded (red for hot, blue for cold) usually, cold is on the right and hot is on the left. You can turn both on and adjust the right temperature of the water by shifting them until you get the right balance.

Windows – Window panes in Canada are usually made of thick material and have rubber insulation to keep them sealed tight during winter. You can open your windows in the summer (make sure your AC is not on) usually by unlocking a knob on the side and rotating a lever.
Sources: The Newcomer’s guide to Canadian housing, CMHC; Heating and cooling systems, Manitoba Hydro.

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