Friday, November 7, 2008

Stay Warm This Winter and Save Money

Stay Warm This Winter

As the temperature drops, it's time to prepare for winter heating bills. Heating is a whopping 28 percent of the average home's energy use. Before you turn up the thermostat this fall, take a few simple steps to weatherize your home. A poorly insulated, drafty house can cost you plenty. But a little bit of caulk, insulation and ingenuity can save money by immediately reducing your energy bill.

Tiny cracks and gaps are like leaving a window open all winter long.

Older homes can harbor lots of areas that let cold air in: dropped ceilings, attic access hatches, chimneys and plumbing. If you really want to reduce your energy bill, hire a professional to assess where your home may be letting heat escape. Energy auditors use sophisticated equipment, including infrared cameras, to locate air leaks and areas with inadequate insulation. Your utility company may provide basic energy audits for free. You can also check Home Performance with Energy Star, a national program from the EPA and Department of Energy, or the directory of the Residential Energy Services Network.

An easy do-it-yourself project that should offer an immediate payoff in lower bills is to insulate your water heater. Particularly if your heater is in an unheated part of the house, a fitted water heater blanket can pay for itself quickly. Also insulate at least the first 6-10 feet of hot water supply pipe with pipe insulation, available at any hardware store. And then set your hot water heater at 120 degrees.

Take matters into your own hands by checking for drafts and sealing them with caulk or putty. Expanding foam sealant can be used to fill larger areas that are protected from moisture and sunlight. Add weather stripping around the edge of doors and seal any cracks or gaps around windows, light fixtures and plumbing.

Adding insulation to your attic will only take a morning if you lay fiberglass rolls. Be careful not to cover or close up attic vents, you want the attic itself to remain cool. Proper insulation and air sealing keeps attics cold in winter by blocking the entry of heat and moist air from below. And adequate ventilation in your house is necessary for your family's health and safety.

If you can feel drafts through electrical outlets, your walls are poorly insulated. Adding insulation to walls is a little more trouble but the savings may make it worthwhile. Be sure to insulate heating ducts. If ducts are long or poorly insulated, the air can cool as it travels through the ducts and result in gusts of cool air that can cool the room rather than heating it.

A programmable thermostat costs about $100 - but can save money year round. Program the thermostat to heat your house when you're home and lower the temperature when you're away at work or asleep. Remember to switch the direction of ceiling fans to clockwise to circulate warm air.

Leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.

Single-paned windows allow heat to escape rapidly, replacing older windows with double-paned new windows that exceed EnergyStar specifications can reduce your energy bill significantly. The U-factor, listed on the National Fenestration Council label, reflects the insulation ability of the entire window, not just the glass. The recommended U-factor depends on where you live. In cold Northern areas, look for a U-factor of .24 or lower. If you're renting or can't replace your windows this year, you can apply transparent film over the windows for the winter months to stop heat loss.

If your furnace or boiler is older than 20 years, replacing it with a high-efficiency model may be a smart investment. If you have an old gas furnace with a pilot light or a coal burner that was switched over to oil or gas, consider replacing it. Consider the long-term operating costs of new equipment and not just the sticker price. Better and more efficient equipment can pay for itself. For more information, check the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website.

Before you invest in a new heating system, air conditioner or furnace, make sure that you've fixed any big air leaks in your house and duct system. You may be able to purchase a smaller unit once you've minimized unnecessary heat loss. An experienced contractor or a home energy rater can help make the most of any new equipment, getting the correct size and installing it properly can reduce your bills considerably.

Find more energy saving steps for your kitchen, living room and laundry room. Then learn more about CFLs and dishwashers.

Minute Morning Month

* Leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.

* Insulate your water heater with a fitted water heater blanket. Insulate at least the first 6-10 feet of hot water supply pipe with pipe insulation. Set your hot water heater at 120 degrees.

* Insulate! Add weather stripping around the edge of doors. Seal any cracks or gaps around windows, light fixtures and plumbing with caulk or putty. add insulation where you can.


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