Depending upon where you live, home heating costs are projected to rise anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent this winter. This is especially devastating news for seniors and those on fixed incomes who are already having a difficult time making ends meet.
The good news is that you don’t have to succumb to either high utility costs or poor living conditions if you are willing to make a few cost-effective energy saving improvements that will pay big dividends.
Install a setback thermostat: Do you heat your home all day when you’re away or all night while you’re sleeping? Are you a slave to your thermostat? Do you make several adjustments throughout the day and night to attempt to manage utility costs? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you need a setback or “programmable” thermostat.
Quite simply, a setback thermostat is a thermostat on a time clock. It’s designed to automatically bring the heat up in the morning and then lower the temperature during the day when your family is off to work or school. Later in the day, this “smart” thermostat will raise the temperature just in time for your return home until bedtime, when it will drop the temperature while you’re snug under the covers.
There are both analog and digital models depending upon the features and programming desired. The simplest models offer a single program, the same routine seven days per week. More complex models offer up to 28 programs — four per day, seven days per week. If you don’t have a setback thermostat, install one. You can save up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling costs.
Look for holes in your house and fill them: An electrician runs conduit for a new appliance through the siding in your home; the cable guy drills a hole in the wall to run cable into a room in your home; the plumber drills a hole in an exterior wall. These are some of the obvious examples of holes in your house that may be allowing precious energy to escape. There are other less obvious examples such as at the base or top of walls where plumbing pipes and electrical wires make their way into attics, crawl spaces and basements.
Thanks to expanding polyurethane spray foam that’s available in a can, you can simply spray a little foam into the gap and it immediately expands to permanently seal the hole. We refer to it as “home maintenance in a can.”
Although polyurethane foam is great stuff for large gaps, caulk is best used for narrow cracks.
Seal windows and doors: Test a window or door for energy leaks by holding a lighted candle near all joints and connections. If the candle flickers, you have an air leak. Narrow gaps and cracks around windows and doors are best filled using caulk.
Add insulation: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adding insulation is one of the most cost-effective means of saving energy and improving comfort. And when it comes to insulation, the attic is the best place to begin.
Many local utility companies will perform a free home energy audit that will offer information on where and how much insulation your home may need. In addition to the attic, exterior walls and floors are prime candidates for insulation upgrades.
Use fluorescent lights: Have you visited the light bulb section of your local hardware store or home center lately? If you haven’t, you are in for a real surprise. The selection of compact fluorescent light bulbs now rivals that of its incandescent counterpart. There are energy saving fluorescent lights for virtually every place an incandescent bulb can be used.
Lower your water heater temperature: According to the Department of Energy, a temperature of 120 degrees at the tap is adequate for most household chores with a minimal danger of scalding and maximum energy efficiency.
However, that is the temperature at the tap, not in the tank. Tank temperature should be not be less than 130 degrees to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to illnesses.
Use your washer and dryer at night: Many utility companies will offer reduced energy rates during off-peak hours.
Change your furnace filter: When a filter becomes clogged it makes the furnace motor work harder, reduces efficiency and wastes energy. Get the best bang for your filter buck by buying better filters and checking them often.
Use low-flow water restrictors: A low-flow water restrictor reduces the flow of water but still gives you a comfortable shower. Many water companies will provide low-flow restrictors for free or a nominal charge.