You don’t have to spend a fortune to stay warm this winter. There are a number of simple projects that can help you achieve lower heating bills. Here’s where to begin.
Clock set-back thermostat. Want to conserve heat at night but avoid waking up to a cold house in the morning? Clock thermostats with a set-back feature can lower your heat automatically at night while you’re asleep, and then raise it in the morning. These smart thermostats conserve heat, save you money, and still give you warmth and comfort when you need it.
You can get a clock thermostat at any home improvement center and they can be installed easily in less than an hour. There are even models available that have several on/off cycles. For example, you can set the thermostat to have the heat come up at one time during the week, and another on weekends when you sleep in.
If you do have a setback thermostat, move it two degrees lower than you normally would in the winter and raise it two degrees in the summer. Doing this can lower heating bills AND cooling bills by more than 10% a year!
Insulate water heaters. Insulating your water heater is a very quick project that costs only a few dollars. Water heaters lose heat through their outside shells. For about ten dollars, you can buy a water heater jacket or blanket that keeps heat from escaping. They’re easy to install, and can save hundreds of dollars on your energy bills over the life of the heater.
Another good tip is to turn down your water heater’s temperature setting to a safe but efficient 120 degrees instead of the potentially scalding 140 degrees most water heaters are set at. If you have an electric water heater, you can also cut the cost of running it in half by installing a timer. Electric water heaters are the most expensive way to produce hot water and a timer will allow the water to be heated only when necessary, like for your morning shower. The rest of the day the timer turns the heater off — which will save you lots of energy dollars, and lower heating bills.
Attic insulation inspection. You can increase the comfort of your home while you lower heating bills and cooling needs by up to 30 percent by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and weatherization products. To tell if your home measures up to today’s insulation standards, take a ruler to your attic. In most cool climates, you need at least 12 inches of batt or blown insulation between your attic rafters to keep your home’s heat indoors. Homes even a few years old are very likely to have inadequate insulation.
Although insulation can be made from a variety of materials, it usually comes in four types of batts, rolls, loose-fill, and rigid foam boards. Each type is made to fit in a different part of your house. Fiberglass batts and rolls are excellent for new-construction walls and ceilings, and for attics and crawlspaces in existing homes. Blown-in insulation, available in fiberglass or cellulose (a paper product coated with fire retardant) can be used in attics or existing walls.
While you are in your attic, check for drafts — it’s the one place you want them! Good attic ventilation is the key to keeping insulation from getting damp from winter condensation. Since even slightly damp insulation loses as much as one-third of its ability to insulate, a well-ventilated attic is important. By reducing moisture, insulation will be more effective and leave you with a warmer house, helping to lower heating bills.
Heating system maintenance. Did you know that performance enhancers can make your home more efficient leading to lower heating bills? No, we’re not talking about steroids or nutritional supplements — we’re talking maintenance!
- Service – Have your heating system serviced annually. Every time a gas, electric or propane furnace runs, it leaves combustion deposits behind on the burner and in the heat exchanger. These deposits must be cleaned or the system won’t run efficiently and can even become dangerous. Remember, the longer your furnace needs to run to heat your house, the more you’ll spend on fuel. Get it serviced and save money.
- Filters – Replace your furnace’s air filter before the heating season begins and monthly thereafter. A dirty filter will reduce air flow which makes your system work harder to deliver air to the registers. Also, if the filter is inserted via slot in the return duct, cover the filter slot with a piece of wide tape to keep air from getting in around filter edges without passing through the filter.
- Duct Sealing – Get all your ducts in a row by fixing leaking ducts that rob you of heated air. To check your ducts for air leaks, look for sections that should be joined but have separated or areas where so-called duct tape has dried out and fallen away. Never use duct tape to repair and seal your ducts! Instead, look for UL 181 tape. This type of tape is looks like silver foil and doesn’t degrade, crack, or lose its bond with heat and age.
- Upgrade – There’s never been a better time or a better reason to replace your old fuel-wasting furnace or boiler with an Energy Star rated furnace model. If your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, ENERGY STAR qualified equipment will save on energy bills, reducing home heating costs. New equipment has advanced technology to deliver higher efficiency and deliver the greatest savings.
Seal out drafts. The exterior walls of your home are like Swiss cheese. Each “hole” for a window, door, outlet or light switch, is a source of air leakage. Sealing these openings from the inside can prevent serious drafts and energy loss, and lower heating bills.
Caulk window moldings where they meet the exterior wall. Use acrylic-latex caulk because it spreads easily and can be cleaned up with water. A good technique is to squirt a thin bead of caulk at the intersection of the wall and molding, and then use your finger to spread the caulk into the seam. Next, use a sponge and warm water to remove excess caulk and finish spreading the caulk. Don’t forget to caulk under the sill as well. This area is particularly leaky and a good sealing job is important.
When you are done outside, caulk around the insides of door and window moldings. This helps trap any excess cold air that has gotten into the exterior wall cavities. Next, check the weather stripping on the exterior side of the door. If the weather stripping is worn or cracked, replace it. Also check the door sill at the base of the door. When closed, you should not be able to see light coming through the door.
Wall openings around outlets and switches can also let a blast of cold air into your house. Home centers and electrical supply houses sell special gaskets which keep drafts to a minimum. To install them, remove the outlet or light switch covers. The gaskets, which have openings to fit over the outlet or switches, are then placed between the device and the metal cover plate. Be sure you turn the electricity off before installing gaskets to avoid electric shocks.
More tricks and tips to lower heating bills
- Fans – Are you using your ceiling fan in the winter months? You should set your ceiling fan to turn clockwise to move the warm air that rises, down into your room during colder months. When the weather heats up, set the fan to turn counter-clockwise for a cooling breeze. There is also a new product on the market that works well for both heating and cooling seasons. It’s called a Reiker Room Conditioner and is a ceiling fan with a built-in heater that costs only about 5 cents an hour to operate.
- Drapes – Keep draperies and shades on south-facing windows open during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
- Lights – Your home’s lighting may be dimming your finances, as energy for lighting accounts for about 10 percent of your electrical bill. Overhead lights with traditional incandescent bulbs are a major power drain, so check your fixtures to see what bulbs are in each. You may have 100 watt bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would be sufficient. And, consider Energy Star rated compact fluorescent or halogen lights that reduce energy use but deliver lots of bright light. Also, make sure you completely turn off stereo systems and computers when not in use, which continue to use energy even while idle.
- Online – For more information, the Department of Energy’s Energy Saver Guide outlines easy ways to improve home energy efficiency.
Bottom line: energy efficiency in your home is easy to achieve with a few simple steps. Reducing home heating costs will save you a bundle, and everything you need to complete your projects is available at your neighborhood home center.