Top 4 Ways to Slash Your Heating Bill
Jan 12, 2010 | Energy Efficiency
With fuel costs going up and the stock market uncertain, investing in reducing your home heating efficiency has never had a better return on investment, not to mention an investment in your everyday comfort! Increasing your home's energy efficiency lowers your energy bills, a great way to invest your money-and makes your home more comfortable. It doesn't take much to start reducing your your heating costs, and the options are nearly limitless, depending on what you are willing to spend.
Get savvy with your home's "money dial"
Think of your thermostat as your money dial, regulating the flow between your fuel supplier and your wallet. According to the United State Department of Energy, for every degree you turn down your heat, you use up to 2 percent less heating energy. Turning back the thermostat even by 10 degrees overnight or while you're away reduces your heating bill by up to 10 percent.
There are two easy ways to save:
A programmable thermostat saves energy so you don't have to set it yourself twice daily or more. Simply adjust the settings to turn down the temperature automatically while you're away or sleeping. When programming, remember that it may take as little as 15 minutes to heat your home to a comfortable level.
Winterproof your windows
When you need to replace windows, opt for the most efficient windows you can afford. Although high-performance windows cost more, they yield greater energy and financial savings over time. Analyze the windows you have. If it's not time to replace them, a few inexpensive repairs can improve their performance.
Assess their condition. First, count how many glass panes (also called glazing) separate your home's interior from the outdoors. If you have single-pane windows (a single layer of glass) or rotten sashes and frames, it's time to think about new windows. Address drafts by installing weatherstripping around the window's perimeter. For older, double-hung windows, consider side-mounted sash locks that pull the window tight at the sides of the frame, not just where the sash rails meet. Examine window "fit." Remove the inside trim to see how the window unit was installed into the framing cavity. Any air space between the house shell and the window frame can cause significant air leaks and should be sealed. If the gap is not too wide, seal it with caulk, backer rod or nonexpanding foam. For windows with ropes and pulleys, buy pulley seals and caulk around trim to stop air infiltration. Reduce heat loss by installing storm windows, or covering windows with plastic window film or insulating window inserts. Or make simple window quilts by sandwiching a piece of Bubble Wrap between two pieces of cloth material; you can roll them up and down as needed.
Seal it up
Air leaks are often your biggest source of heat loss-but how do you find them? You can find the most obvious ones by walking around inside with a smoking incense stick on a windy day and watching for changes in the smoke's direction. To find hidden air leaks, hire an energy auditor. A home energy audit can cost between $100 and $500, but the expense can pay for itself in energy savings. Some utilities and state energy programs offer free or low-cost audits. Different leakage areas require different repair approaches. Keep in mind that a professional will have the right tools and materials for a safe, solid repair for air leaks in places such as through-the-attic chimneys and plumbing chases. Here are some basic steps you can use as a guide:
Caulk gaps of a half-inch or less. Fill larger gaps with expanding foam. Add weatherstripping around windows, doors and attic hatches. Put foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates.
Attend to your heating system.
A typical heating system lasts about 20 years, although some have been around much longer. If yours is more than 20 years old, it may be a good candidate for replacement-and you could increase your efficiency by as much as 35 percent. Look for the Energy Star label when shopping for new.
Not in the market for a completely new system? A little low-cost maintenance and some relatively inexpensive upgrades to your furnace, boiler or combination system could yield significant energy savings.
Give your heating system a professional check-up. To operate smoothly and safely, your heating system should be cleaned, tuned and adjusted annually if it's oil; every two years if it's gas. During this service, the technician should: Remove soot. On oil-heating equipment, even an eighth of an inch of soot on the heat exchanger can increase fuel consumption by 8 percent. Test efficiency. Nothing runs at 100 percent efficiency, but if the service technician can't bring the efficiency up to at least 75 percent, ask about the costs and benefits of an equipment upgrade or replacement. Balance the supply-and-return ductwork in forced-air systems. This adjusts the airflow to and from each room for maximum efficiency. Heating system maintenance tips
You can do a lot to keep your system running smoothly.
Keep air registers, grills and radiators clean and clear. Furniture, curtains, dirt or other obstructions block heat. Check for soot, rust and corosion in, on and around the furnace and on the floor surrounding it. These indicate the system requires immediate service. If you have a furnace, clean or replace the air filter whenever you can see dust building up, which may be once a month or more during the heating season. If the blower fan is also used for air conditioning, check the filter throughout the year. A modest investment in duct repairs can cut your annual heating and cooling bill by up to 17 percent (or more). A technician can test for duct leaks, which waste energy and compromise indoor air quality, then seal all seams with foil tape or mastic, or spray in a sealant. After sealing, wrap ducts with at least R-5 insulation. (R-values measure resistance to the flow of heat.) A professional heating contractor can improve your boiler's efficiency by installing a time-delay relay that lets water circulate before the boiler comes on. In warmer weather, the hot water already in the boiler may be enough to heat the house. A pro can install a modulating aquastat on your boiler to adjust water temperature automatically based on the outside temperature. Easy smart heating tips Open the curtains and shades on sunny days. Dress warmly in winter and keep the temperature low. Design landscaping to let sunlight enter south-facing windows in winter and provide summer shade and year-round wind blocks. Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat at night and while you're at work or out of town. If you have a furnace, seal and insulate your ductwork. Insulate all pipes to and from the boiler. Use insulating window curtains or cellular shades at night to reduce heat loss. Install a ceiling fan to circulate warm air trapped at the ceiling, allowing you to turn down the thermostat a few degrees. Use plastic window film, storm windows or insulating window panels if your home has single-pane windows. Seal drafty areas where outside air enters the home: at doors, windows and anywhere air from the attic can penetrate the rest of the house (the chimney, plumbing chases, recessed light fixtures, exhaust fans and attic hatches). Insulate the attic, walls and floor to recommended levels. Keep heat registers, radiators and baseboards clean and clear. Use a tight-closing fireplace chimney damper to prevent conditioned air from flowing up the chimney. If the heating system is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star system. If you're considering major renovations, arrange an energy audit to see if you can make energy-efficiency improvements at the same time. An audit can help you identify and prioritize energy improvements specific to your home.
Keywords: heating bill, money dial, programmable thermostat, winterproof windows, caulking