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How to stay warm while reducing your heating costs

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Much of the energy used for heating our homes is wasted, and yet the prevention is, in many cases, simple and inexpensive.

By Greg Seaman Posted Jan 30, 2009

For people living in the colder climes, the cost of heating our homes through the winter months is a significant household expense. And there is an environmental cost as well. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling systems in the U.S. emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Much of the energy used for heating our homes is wasted, and yet the prevention is, in many cases, simple and inexpensive.

Here are six easy ways you can stay warm while reducing your home heating costs:

1. Adjust temperatures.

You can save as much as 20% a year on your heating bills by turning your thermostat down 7 – 10 degrees for 8 hours each day. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing a programmable thermostat.

A programmable thermostat lets you preset the times your home is heated, so heat can be lowered while you are asleep or out of the house. The cost, between $30 – $50, is offset by the long-term energy savings. Installation is easy for the average home handyman – you don’t need to hire a serviceman.

2. Replace or clean furnace filters.

It’s recommended that furnace filters be replaced at least every three months of furnace use. If your home is heated by a central furnace, check the filters every month during winter. Clogged filters reduce air flow and cause the furnace to work harder, using more energy. Severely clogged filters can even lead to premature compressor damage.

To check the filter, hold it up to a light and see if the light shines through. New filters cost about 50 cents each, and are simple to replace. Measure your old air filter before shopping – they range in size from 12″ x 12″ to 30″ x 30″. Turn off electric power to furnace while inspecting filter.

3. Pay attention to your windows.

Most heat loss in the average home is through and around the windows. Two simple strategies are the most effective means of minimizing heat loss:

Work the drapes

By leaving blinds and curtains on your west- and south-facing windows open during the day and closing them in the evening, you can retain that warmed air overnight. Drawing the drapes at night is an effective block, making it harder for your warm air to escape. Lined drapes are best. Drapes will also help reduce window condensation because the space between the drapes and the window is cooler than the room air. Drapes can be lined with less expensive material or re-used bed sheets. The cost of the material is recouped by the savings in energy.

Seal drafty windows

For single-pane or drafty windows, adding inexpensive window insulating kits made of plastic or vinyl sheeting is an effective way to seal in heat. These kits contain sheets of plastic film, which looks like cling-film, but slightly thicker. Double-sided tape is applied to the window frame, then the plastic is cut to size and fixed to the tape. Finally, a hair dryer is used to shrink the plastic sheeting tight. The fitted plastic creates an air-tight gap which prevents drafts and condensation.

They cannot be used on most aluminum-framed windows and doors, as there is not enough of a gap between the window frame and the glass to work effectively.

4. Add insulation to your attic.

Adding insulation to your attic is one of the simplest and most effective ways of conserving heat in your home, and can help save up to $30/month in heating costs. Insulation should also be applied to ductwork, pipes and the hot water storage tank. Start with the top of the home and work your way down. You may need professional help when selecting and installing insulation.

5. Get rid of drafts.

A simple way to locate outside air coming into your home is with a stick of incense. Light the incense and inspect your home, from the inside, for air leaks. Choose a breezy day, and go around windows, areas where plumbing and wiring go through walls, attic doors, entry doors and fireplace dampers. How much the smoke drifts horizontally from the incense will reveal how serious the leak is.

Most leaks can be quickly plugged with exterior silicone caulk – be sure to caulk the leaks from the outside of the house, or moisture will build up inside the walls. Weather-stripping and door sweeps will fix the door leaks quickly and easily. For larger voids use easy to apply insulating foam.

6. Close off unused rooms.

Spare bedrooms and unused space in your home will drain some of your home’s heat. This can be remedied by lowering the heat settings in the rooms (if the rooms have individual thermostats) and closing the doors. For added draft prevention, you can slip a draft guard beneath the doors leading to these rooms.

These simple measures are often overlooked in homes today. Before taking on expensive renovations such as replacing windows or installing a new heater, it’s wise to thoroughly review the simplest and least expensive options for saving heat and energy in your home. And as you conserve energy, you’ll also be helping the environment.

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