$200, $300, $500 a month! This is what millions paid last winter to heat their homes. Some paid even more. Experts say that this winter will bring even higher heating bills, with increases of about 15% to 80%, unless you improve the energy efficiency of your home now.

Here are three steps toward lower energy bills:

PLUG THOSE LEAKS

Air leaks are often the greatest energy waster in the home. Air infiltration through small holes, cracks and other openings may contribute to as much as 30% of your home’s heating and cooling costs. Infiltration not only wastes energy and money, it contributes to moisture, noise and dust problems.

The most common places for air leaks are around doors and windows, but leaks can also be found around:

  • Chimneys.
  • Recessed lights and light fixtures.
  • Attic entrances.
  • Electric wires and boxes.
  • Vents and fans.
  • Plumbing utilities.
  • Water and furnace flues.
  • Electrical outlets.

To locate air leaks, conduct an air leakage survey such as the one developed by Urban Options. It involves inspection of potential problem areas for cracks or gaps. Burning a stick of incense near potential problems can help locate invisible leaks. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, there is an air leak that may need to be repaired.

Installing weatherstripping and caulking leaks will stop these expensive drafts and improve comfort. Added bonus: caulking and weatherstripping are cheap and almost anyone can do it.

Find out how to caulk and weatherstrip.

A professional may also be hired to conduct a blower door test, a more technical depressurization test that helps quantify the extent of leaks by measuring the air pressure difference between the homes interior and exterior. Many utilities provide this service free of charge. If your local utility doesn’t, it still would be worth the fee to hire an expert Home Energy Rater (HERS) to perform the test. You’ll probably recoup the cost from increased energy savings within two years and you’ll feel the improvement in comfort immediately.

Find a HERS rater.

KEEP THE HEAT IN

Air sealing should be performed before adding insulation because gaps and cracks in the wall allow air passage, decreasing the effectiveness of the insulation.

Insulation is a cost-effective way to save energy and improve comfort. Insulation provides additional benefits including noise reduction, fire resistance and safety. It’s not just your walls that need insulation – attics need significantly higher amounts of insulation, and floors over unheated areas should also be insulated. And don’t forget your ducts!

There are four basic types of insulation: loose fill, batts and blankets, rigid board and spray foam. Insulation levels will depend on your location. The most appropriate type of insulation to use will vary based on the type of construction, the extent of the project planned and applicable code requirements.

Department of Energy’s map of recommended insulation levels.

OPTIMIZE YOUR HEATING EQUIPMENT

Maintain Your Furnace. Clean or replace filters monthly during operating season. Keep your furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted. These actions can easily save you 5-10 percent on energy used for heating. In heating season, set your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower during the day, health permitting.

Program Your Thermostats. You could save 10% on your heating and cooling costs just by setting your thermostat back when you’re not home and while you’re sleeping. Program your thermostat to 65 degrees F or lower in the winter. Set your clock thermostat at 55 degrees during the night, or when you will be away for more than four hours. If you tell it to return to your preferred temperature before you return home, you won’t ever know the temperature changed, until you look at the reduction in your energy bills. More information on programmable thermostats.

If you don’t have a programmable thermostat and don’t want to pay $80-120 to buy one and have it installed, just remember to turn your thermostat down before you leave and before you go to sleep. You’ll save $$.

Optimize Your Water Heater. If you don’t have one installed already, put an insulative jacket around your hot water heater, and insulate the pipes around the water heater. Insulative jackets cost between $10 and $20.

Also, many people have the temperature on their heaters set too high. Turning it down to 120 degrees will not only save you money, but prevent children from scalding.

Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it’s best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Doing some research before your heater fails will enable you to select one that most appropriately meets your needs.

And. . .

Don’t forget to close the damper when not using the fireplace. Turn your heater(s) down when using your fireplace.

During the heating season, keep the window coverings on south-facing windows open during the day to allow sunlight in. But remember to close them at night.

Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.

Also consider adding interior storm windows, which can reduce window air leakage by improving the overall window assembly’s insulation value.

Reduce your electrical bill by using energy-saving cfls instead of standard incandescent lightbulbs. Change out the five most used bulbs and your bill will dip noticeably.

Further Information

ENERGY STAR’s Home Improvement

Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home

ENERGY STAR’s Home Sealing

Courtesy of PATH
www.pathnet.org/homeowners