January
15 - 2009

Saving on winter heat

It’s wintertime, and the heat bills are soaring – especially for those of you in the frozen upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S., or in Europe.

Heating time is big business: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American home will spend $990 on heating this year.  Here are some tips on saving energy in the wintertime courtesy of Bills.com – with some extra notes on what we do.

1)    Protect your system. Change furnace filters regularly to keep your air clean and to ensure maximum air flow. If your home, apartment or condo unit has an individual furnace or boiler, have it inspected by a professional. A furnace that works properly will be more efficient and less likely to fail. “For maximum savings, ask the service person for tips on ways you can maintain your system yourself,” president Ethan Ewing suggested. WHAT WE’VE DONE: We have not serviced our furnace in a while. We did the first year we were in our home. We do change filters regularly.

2)    Turn down the heat. If your health permits, lower the thermostat to 68 degrees (or even lower). For every one degree the thermostat is lowered, heating costs decrease by up to 5 percent.  At night, or when the home is empty, lower the temperature as far as possible while protecting your health and the safety of pipes. If necessary, stay cozy with an electric blanket. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our thermostat is set to 68 during the morning and evening, 64 during the day and 58 at night (55 just felt too frigid). We do love our electric blankets, and I use a space heater in my office as needed.

3)    Program the temperature. Make furnace settings automatic by installing a programmable thermostat. These devices cost about $40 and are simple to install. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Our current house came with one, but I installed one at our old house. So easy! If you haven’t done it, do it — this is the simplest electrical project I’ve ever done. I think it was my first, and it just took a few minutes.

4)    Save hot water energy. Turn the temperature on the hot water heater to 120 degrees – or, if yours is equipped only with a scale, turn it down a notch. Most people can save up to 10 percent of water heating costs, maintaining plenty of hot water (and the water will be less likely to cause accidental scalding). If the hot water heater is situated in a cool area, consider adding an insulating jacket to help maintain water temperatures and reduce heating time. Insulate the first few feet of pipe that transport hot water from the water heater. If you need to replace a water heater, consider a tankless or “on-demand” unit. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates these appliances are 8 percent to 34 percent more efficient than conventional hot water tanks. WHAT WE’VE DONE: I tried turning the water heater down, but it really affected how warm our water was. Our water heater is just a few years old, so perhaps it already is efficient. I would love a tankless heater if the time comes to replace this one.

5)    Insulate. Carefully inspect your home for drafty spots where cold air can enter. The most common culprits are doors and windows. Install weather stripping and door sweeps to block drafts. Add old-fashioned “draft dodgers” for a quick fix at exterior doors. Other common areas for air leaks are locks, outlets, air conditioning units and recessed light fixtures. Cover outside vents, including air conditioning units. If possible, install insulated electrical outlet boxes and light fixtures. The Energy Star program offers a free guide to home insulation at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=diy.diy_index. WHAT WE’VE DONE: We installed door sweeps on our metal security doors at front and back, and they make a BIG difference. We also bought weather stripping for drafty windows, but it is still sitting in the closet. I do plan to make a draft dodger for our front door — I made one at our old home (a simple fabric “sock” filled with rice) and it was really helpful. We also are working on putting in an energy-efficient dog door for our outdoors-crazed pooches.

6)    Shop around. Those who purchase fuel oil have a choice of energy providers. Do compare prices to obtain the lowest rates. WHAT WE’VE DONE: Doesn’t apply to us here in natural-gas-rich Colorado.

7)    Take a tax credit. In 2009, homeowners who add certain efficiency measures to their homes can take a tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of the materials used, up to $500 per home. Learn more at http://www.energytaxincentives.org/consumers/insulation_etc.php. WHAT WE’VE DONE: This inspired us to look into a new window for our front picture window (the only window on our house that has not been replaced from the original) and perhaps new front and/or back doors, both of which are old, single-layer wood doors.

“These changes can make a real difference in home heating costs this winter and provide a good start on your 2009 budget,” Ewing said. “You can feel good about saving energy — and keeping more of your money in your own bank account.”

About Bills.com (www.bills.com)
Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 50,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

What about you? Do you have more tips to share? Please do!

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