December 27, 2012

How to Save on Heating Costs This Winter

Whether we like it or not, winter is coming. Even if you love all that crisp air and fluffy snow, nobody enjoys increased heating bills. But despite the Farmers' Almanac's prediction that “temperatures will be much colder this winter from the East Coast westward to a line from the Dakotas to Texas” this winter season, there are several simple and inexpensive things you can do to save on heating costs this winter.

Lower the thermostat. Each degree you lower the thermostat saves you 3% on heating costs. If you have a coil-type thermostat, make sure to keep it clean for the most accurate readings.

Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day, so you can leave temperatures lower when you're out or sleeping and warmer when you're home (reverse during the summer). A programmable thermostat is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50), easy to install, easy to use, and can save you 10% to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

Dress your home warmly. Warming up your d├ęcor can help you remain comfortable while lowering the thermostat even further. Use flannel sheets on your bed, cover cold floors with rugs, and keep warm blankets and throws handy.

Use window treatments wisely. Pull back the window coverings on your south-facing windows during the day for the solar heat. Then close them before the sun sets to keep the heat in. Insulating curtains are also a good option. Each square foot of insulated window saves about 1 gallon of oil or 1.5 cubic feet of gas a year.

Keep the air flowing. Make sure there is nothing, like draperies or furniture, blocking air vents. If you do find that air is blowing up behind curtains, there are inexpensive air directors you can pick up at the hardware store to direct the flow of air out into the room.

Stop the “stack effect.” As warmer air rises up in a house, cold air rushes in from outside to takes its place. This is called the "stack effect." To reduce the stack effect, cut down on spaces cold air can enter your home. Use a door snake (a long, thin bean bag-type device placed at the base of a door) to stop drafts under doors, keep doors leading to hallways or near stairways shut, and close off seldom-used rooms. If you find using a door snake inconvenient, install a nylon door sweep instead.

Use kitchen and bathroom ventilating fans only for the amount of time truly necessary – typically no more than 20 minutes. According to the Department of Energy, a bathroom or kitchen fan can expel a houseful of warm air in just an hour.

Find and seal air leaks. Air leaks can waste 5% to 30% of your home's energy. Check doors, windows, electrical conduits, plumbing fixtures, ceiling fixtures, the attic, and anywhere else air may escape for leaks. Use weather-stripping or caulk to repair any leaks.

Make sure your home is properly insulated. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.

Insulate windows. Insulating your windows with an kit available from most hardware stores is an easy, inexpensive way to buffer against drafts and boost to your home's ability to hold heat.

Keep your heating system properly maintained. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Oil-fired boilers should be cleaned and tuned annually, and gas systems, every two years. Following these measures can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.

Increase your hot water heater's efficiency. Put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe.

Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding.

Reverse ceiling fans. Many ceiling fans have a switch that reverses the direction of the blades. Counterclockwise rotation produces cools air, while a clockwise rotation makes it warmer by bringing heated air down to into rooms with cathedral or high-sloped ceilings. Only use this tactic if you have high ceilings and can set the fan to rotate clockwise at a low speed.

Close your fireplace flue. An open fireplace damper lets out as much heated air as a wide-open 48-inch window. Make sure your flue is always closed when not in use. It's even a good idea to cut back on how much you use your fireplace since a fire draws heat from a room and exhausts it to the outside through the chimney.

Replace windows and appliances with energy-efficient models as they wear out. They may cost more upfront, but you'll recoup the cost with heating and cooling cost savings.

If your furnace is over 20 years old, it is not efficiently heating your home. Although replacing a furnace is a costly expense, the increased efficiency will save you money in the long run. Energy Star-certified furnaces are 15% to 20% more efficient than even new standard models.

Now get ready to bundle up, stay warm, and save money this winter!


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