2005-09-29 / News

Keeping warm: 20 ways to reduce your heating bill

By Roger Marshall

Man-o-man, it’s goin’ t’ get cold this winter, that’s for sure, and with the price of home heating oil going up, how are you going to stay warm? According to USA Today, the average price of home heating will go up by around 20 percent, that is, if we do not get more oil shocks, such as another hurricane like Katrina and Rita in the Gulf of Mexico. What can you do about it? There are a number things you can do starting right now to keep home heating prices down. They are:

1. Negotiate fuel prices at a contracted price throughout the season. Most authorities say that this will keep your costs down, but with the latest round of fuel shocks, you could be locking yourself into higher prices should energy costs drop later in the season.

2. Check with gas and fuel companies to see if they have a “consumer choice option” that allows you to buy fuel from other companies at a lower price.

3. Use a programmable thermostat that cuts back on indoor temperatures at night. If you are at home during the day, set your thermostat to 68 degrees instead of 70. At night put an extra blanket on your bed and set the thermostat back to 50 or 55 degrees.

4. Add extra insulation to your attic. How can you tell if you have enough? Check your neighbor’s homes after the first snowfall, the snow should melt on their roof before it melts on yours. As a rule, 9 inch thick batts of insulation are used in the attic. Doubling it or adding more insulation can cut energy use.

5. Have your furnace checked for efficiency. If it is more than 10 years old, a new burner can save a lot of fuel. Depending on the furnace, a new, more efficient burner may cost around $500 to $900, but you’ll save the cost in fuel over two to three years. Get your furnace and its burner checked yearly. Get all vents and thermostats checked for efficiency, too. A simple upgrade can save you lots of money.

6. Get all your chimney flues cleaned and checked to make sure they are not blocked. When you have a fire, close the damper when the ashes are cold to stop heat going up the chimney. Don’t close the damper while the fire is still smoldering it can trap smoke and CO2 in your home.

7. Get your logs now before prices go up any more. Stack your log pile near the front door, but not against the house to make it easier to reach during winter snows.

8. If you have a large house with rooms that are not being used regularly, turn off the heat to unused room. Turn it on again when the room is used.

9. Install double pane windows and on the north side of your home and put storm windows outside them. This will, in effect, give you triple pane glass on the north side. It cuts light transmission about 6 percent, but who cares, the sun doesn’t come in from the north anyway.

10. Install weather stripping around older leaky doors and windows. You might also put rugs or insulation against the bottom of doors to prevent cold air from coming in.

11. Insulate around plugs and switches in exterior walls. Insulation kits cost only a few bucks and the heat savings can be tremendous.

12. If you have a closed-in porch, use that entrance rather than a door that opens directly to the outdoors. Having a porch serving as an airlock can help save energy by not allowing cold air to enter your home.

13. If you’ve been reading the gardening column and want a greenhouse, here’s another reason to get one. A lean-to greenhouse on the south side of your home can increase the insulation value of that wall by 10 to 15 percent. Plus you’ll be able to let solar heat into your home during the day. At night you should use insulated blinds to stop cold air from radiating into the atmosphere.

14. If you need a new appliance buy only energy-star rated products. The savings in electricity will add up over the years and save you a lot of money.

15. Insulate all the ducting in your home to make sure that heat leaving the furnace arrives at the room at the same temperature. Without insulation around ducting you may be heating an unused crawl space.

16. Use energy efficient fluorescent light fixtures wherever possible. They cost a little more but the payback is worth it over the long run.

17. You might want to install a wood-burning stove to warm your house. If you do, figure out how air is going to circulate around the home. Old style homes had vents through the floor to allow heat to travel upwards through the house. Check too that the flue is clean, and that you can bring wood into the house without dragging it across your nice floors.

18. If you have trees on the north side of your home, don’t cut them down, they can cut your winter energy costs by up to 25 percent just by stopping the cold winds from reaching your home. Plant deciduous trees on the south side of your property and conifers on the north side. A fast growing conifer such as arbor vitae can provide winter relief in as little as 10 years. According to the government energy Web site, www.eere.energy.gov, trees can cut year-round heating and cooling energy costs by up to 6 percent.

19. To cut water-heating costs turn your water heater thermostat down by 10 degrees or so. You won’t notice the difference, you’ll just mix less cold water when you shower, but you’ll save a lot of energy. You can also add an additional energy blanket to your water heater to help retain heat and lower your costs.

20. While it has little to do with energy saving, it has a lot to do with your well-being and if I don’t say this, Fire Marshal Art Christman will give me hell when I see him. Check that your smoke detectors work and replace all the batteries.

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