Heating A Canadian Home

Hiding from the cold indoors

Hiding from the cold indoors


[dropcap]B[/dropcap]eing cosy warm indoors while the weather hurls all the winter it can lay its hands on at you is a wonderful feeling, but it doesn’t come without a downside. The air is so dry it brings problems of its own.


Feeling The Heat In The Big Freeze

Canadian homes have a system of ducts running behind walls and beneath floors to facilitate air-conditioning and heating. We have an exterior A/C unit that cools us in the summer and a huge industrial-looking furnace in the basement to keep us from freezing in winter.

Our home in the UK has central heating powered by a boiler attached to the wall in the utility room. It’s compact and practically soundless. Heat is distributed equally to radiators in all the rooms and drying laundry on them in the winter kept a comfortable level of humidity.

The big disadvantage of the Canadian system is that the heat is strongest closest to the source. By the time it’s been pushed through the vents to the bedrooms there’s not much of it left. Meanwhile the basement is like a sauna and certain foodstuffs can no longer be stored down there (I’ve had to relocate my chocolate stash). It’s a desperately inadequate way to heat a house – in the current freeze we’ve had to top-up the bedrooms with expensive-to-run electric heaters and don’t even think of going to bed without a hot-water bottle.

I mentioned in my previous post how, as fresh-off-the-plane-expats, we initially turned the heating off at night during the winter. Now we know better, but even with it on all night very little of that precious heat makes it’s way up to us.


All Dried Out

Then there’s the dryness. I’ve never known anything like it before. The air is so dry that wooden furniture and floorboards split:


Splitting furniture & floorboards


Side-effects Of Intense Dry Heat

Every morning we wake up to what feels like sandpaper throats and cement-filled noses. All the kids have regular nosebleeds, and everyone’s scratching like crazy – it doesn’t matter how much you drink or moisturize, your skin still feels (and looks) like paper. I can’t remember where I read it but washing with conditioner instead of shampoo is really helping my thick, curly hair feel a little less brittle. I don’t blow-dry but even if I did there’s no need to – hair dries within minutes of taking the towel wrap off your head.

I left two slices of bread out while Suraya made her mind up about lunch and within twenty minutes they’d crisped all over. It feels very ‘first-world’ to gripe about the disadvantages of heat in weather that causes major headaches for those living on the streets but this is simply the reality of life in extreme climates and another example of how different living in another country can be on a day-to-day, fundamental level.

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Gosh its so harsh isn’t it, really makes you think. We’d be rubbish living in Canada with dry skin and wheezing! It is an amazing country though, beautiful and lovely, lovely people. Would love to visit again one day 🙂

    1. Doesn’t even touch it! I’ve even tried leaving the kettle boiling away on the hob (topping up every now and then) but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference…

  2. I am from Mexico, and after 16 years of living in Canada, this weather is killing me (specially this winter) Our lowest temperature could be 2C, but houses are not prepared for cold weather, so a thick PJ and sweater in the houses is a must. I remember as we were growing up, my parents had heaters on each room and it makes the air dry. So my mom placed a container with water, close proximity to the heater with water all night. It made a big difference during the night time. Needless to say, the bedrooms had double window and salt in the middle. Here only my son’s bedroom (located above the garage) has the heater and a container of water on a corner. Both my kids get saline spray on their nose before bed time and I reduce the heat at night too. Yes, I miss my crazy Mexico !!!!

  3. Wow that sounds crazy cold. The floorboards and waking with a scratchy throat would do my head in but I can see why it’s needed. Stay safe and warm x

  4. wow, never realised the heat system was so different! how come you can’t just have normal boilers like here, would they freeze up with the weather?

    1. Some houses do have boilers but they are more expensive to fit and service because they require a plumber, whereas any heating company can fit a forced air system. I think most of the cookie-cutter new builds going up have the forced air system so the contractors make a wider profit margin.

  5. The extreme cold weather is incredible and it clearly has disadvantages I hadn’t considered before. I hope the Arctic Vortex ends soon x

  6. I’m sitting here feeling extremely thankful for my gas central heating! We’ve not really had a winter here yet, it’s been quite mild so I’m also thankful for that after reading your post!

  7. I can thoroughly empathise with you, having moved from sunny Australia to Sweden where the winters are as brutal as the Canadian ones.

    While our heating system is very efficient, we also get that dryness that destroys wood if left unchecked. I also had trouble sleeping, woke with a dry mouth and aching sinuses. When we looked at our hygrometer (yeah, Swedes are obsessed by the weather and everyone has a device that measures temperature inside, outside plus air humidity) we discovered that while we get over 80% humidity in summer, it falls to under 20% in winter.

    What has saved my sinuses and helped me so much is buying a good quality evaporator. The one we got is quiet and very efficient and I wouldn’t be without it. We got the and never looked back! I hope you can find t5his one or something similar in Canada.

  8. We have problems with mold because drying my washing indoors in the Winter and cooking causing condensation.I try to have a window or two open during the day but it means I can’t put the heating on.As you say first world problems but I can’t wait to get a house so I can dry clothes outside on dry days.

    1. Funny you should say that Aly, back home I has a beautiful old restored pre-war washing line that operated a pulley system of hoisting the line. I never owned a tumble dryer. Here, people without tumble dryers are in the minority and for a while there was even a byelaw prohibiting the use of washing lines in backgardens, until they realised that didn’t gel with an environmentally friendly outlook! Those fold-away, upside-down umbrella ones so often seen back home? Conspicuous by their absence here…

  9. That really brought back memories of a winter we had in Denmark. By no means as extreme as the winters you have in Canada, but my hair looked ridiculous for weeks because of the dryness! 😀 Stay warm! 🙂

  10. Maybe I am having selective amnesia (very possible) as I’ve not lived there coming on to 6 years now but I prefer how it is heated in Canada. I have always felt warmer there than here. Houses are properly insulated which makes a big difference. Winter is never as cold or extreme here but it is damp and I find that it chills me to the bone.

    I work in housing here (manage council housing) and get many complaints from my tenants that they don’t think the central heating is enough for the property. Then there are so many times when boilers pack in and there is no heating or hot water.

    I find for my flat I use an electric heater to warm a room faster and the radiator just helps to hold it to that temperature. Another issue is mould. While I’m sure it happens in Canada properties here are also very much more prone to mould in the winter due to keeping windows closed and not letting the humidity out. Drying clothes inside only contributes to this and we advice tenants to avoid it. I’ve never experienced any issues with mould at home because it is much drier inside. If it gets too dry though then we do put water out and it helps. Possibly a humidifier might work better?

    1. Yup, humidifier is featuring BIG in the advice from Canadian friends…

      As for your possible selective amnesia – it may be due to rose tinted specs. I think I elevate the plus points of life back home to a higher level than they realistically are 😉
      I do remember I used to go around the house in the mornings wiping the pooled moisture from the bottom of the window panes, while here that rarely happens. As for your tenants (and you with your chilled bones), we aclimatise to our situation so no doubt a wussy British winter does feel cold to you guys! What d’you reckon?

      1. Yup when it comes to home rose tinted specs for sure. I’m used to winter here now damp wise but still feels more miserable to me. At least with proper snow you can go out and play in it. Rain makes me want to stay in and watch Netflix.

  11. Our house had that warm air style vent heating when we moved in and its awful – we had to have it changed. It just doesn’t heat the house and thats in temperate england – goodness knows how you are coping with this extreme cold.
    Hoping the weather warms up for you soon xx

  12. whoa! that’s some cold! i wonder if a humidifier would help any? we’re trying to get used to the cold here in belgium, but this southerner is not very good at it 😉

  13. I find keeping the thermostat at 20 Celsius (68F) stops the dryness in the house, and it is perfect for sleeping at night, neither too hot nor too cold. Our basement is freezing but we have shut off the heating ducts down there, because it is a waste to heat a basement that is not insulated.

  14. Sounds really tough. At uni I spent a term in a halls room with windows so ineffective that the milk on my desk would be frozen by morning *brrrrr* I used one of those little fan heaters and I remember the scratchy throat and cracked lips well. Yuck. Still nothing like the cold you have right now, I’m sure. Hope the weather eases up a bit soon.

  15. This is a late reply, but it sounds like your furnace isn’t working as well as it should. A good Canadian forced-air furnace will heat a house evenly. There are high efficiency furnaces that do all kinds of wonderful things. If anything, a lot of people find their basements are colder in the winter where I live. Maybe you’d benefit from having someone check out your furnace & ductwork?

    Also, as to why new-build homes don’t have radiators and boiler heating–I’ve been told a rad uses more energy than an HE furnace. And I think most North Americans don’t like the physical intrusion of radiators into the floor plan of a room–it affects where you can put furniture, etc., which is something we’re not used to dealing with.

    But a good HE furnace will give you a lot of control over the temperature in your home. Unfortunately, the only solution to the dryness problem is lots of lotion, and also a humidifier if it’s affecting your sinuses.

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