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Keeping Warm in the Winter - Without Spending a Bundle

Keeping Warm in the Winter � Without Spending a Bundle

In most parts of the country, utility usage rises in the winter months. This isn't surprising since with less daylight and colder weather we spend more time indoors, so the need for heating, water heating, and lighting is greatest during these months. Of course, this also means that the accompanying utility bills rise as well. You can't do anything to change the temperature outside, but with a little bit of planning and effort, you can take steps to keep you comfortable while you're inside without spending a fortune.

No-cost energy savers

Climate control systems use more energy than any other systems in our homes. Over 40% of an average family's energy bills is spent to keep homes at a comfortable temperature. Some ways to reduce this usage are:

  • Turn down the heat � For each degree you lower your thermostat below 73�F during the heating season, you will save from 2-4% on heating costs. Try 68 degrees while at home and a 5-degree setback while you are away or sleeping.
  • Close off unused rooms � Seal off the vents and close doors to any rooms that aren't being used on a daily basis. You could also use a portable heater in the room you occupy most.
  • Close the fireplace vent and door � Warm air rises and it will escape up the chimney. So keep the fireplace flue closed when it's not in use. If you have fireplace doors keep them closed as well.
  • Use window coverings efficiently � On clear days, open curtains or blinds on the sunny side of the house to help boost indoor temperatures. Close them at night to help keep out the cold.
  • Turn down the temperature of your water heater � Check the setting on your hot water heater. 120 degrees should be sufficient for most homes' needs.
  • Limit hot water use � Hot water heaters use a lot of energy. To use less energy, take shorter showers, and make sure you have a full load before running your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Don't waste electricity - Turn off lights and electronic devices like stereos, TVs, and computers when you leave the room.
  • Unplug appliances - Don't forget that computers, fax machines, TV's, VCR's, and stereos also consume energy because of their standby features. Some continue to consume energy even when turned off if they are plugged in. Consider unplugging when you leave home or go on vacation.

Low-cost energy savers

Heat escapes out of homes through drafty doors and windows, and through ceilings and walls that aren't insulated. One of the least expensive and most effective tools you can invest in is a caulk gun, but there are other inexpensive steps you can take as well:

  • Seal windows and doors � Take time to caulk around windows and doors and add weather-stripping and door sweeps to seal up cracks where you're losing heat. Temporary storm-window kits can provide a short-term solution and can be removed in the spring.
  • Seal ductwork � Check your ducts for any gaps where they connect. Seal any connections with foil tape where heat is escaping, so you're heating your living space and not your garage or crawl space.
  • Insulate outlets and wall switches - Check electrical fixtures for drafts, caulk any gaps, and consider replacing standard covers with insulated ones.
  • Caulk wires, pipes, and vents entering the house � Conduct a visual inspection of the perimeter of your home looking for gaps where wire, pipes, and vents enter the house. Seal small cracks with caulk and use expanding insulating foam for larger gaps.
  • Upgrade the thermostat � New "smart" models are programmable for automatic night setback and to automatically lower the temperature while you are away and raise it to a comfortable level before you return.
  • Check the furnace filter � Install a new filter before the heating season starts. Check it every one to three months and replace as needed.
  • Insulate the water heater � A water heater with no insulation in an unheated basement requires a lot of energy to operate. Purchase an insulated cover and save up to 10% on the energy required to run it.

Long-term energy savers

After you've undertaken most of the low cost projects to make your home as energy efficient as possible, it's time to evaluate whether more extensive steps should be taken. You may want to consider getting an energy audit of your home to help you identify where you are needlessly wasting energy. Call your local utility company to find energy auditors. It may supply this service free of charge or recommend an auditor. Either way, it's probably worth getting professional advice before investing in more expensive projects. Some things you should consider that may provide the biggest and longest terms savings are:

  • Add insulation � An energy audit can determine if you have adequate insulation in your ceiling, walls and floors. If you want to do a visual check yourself, a good rule of thumb is - if you can see the joists in your attic, you can probably benefit from extra insulation.
  • Upgrade windows � Replace old leaky windows with high efficiency double or triple paned gas-filled windows to get long-term savings.
  • Upgrade appliances � Appliances such as water heaters, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers are more energy efficient than they used to be. When shopping for a new appliance, look for the EnergyStar� label. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have identified these appliances as the most energy-efficient products in their classes. They can use 30% less energy than other appliances.
  • Landscape strategically - Shield your home from cold winds by planting trees and shrubs to act as windbreaks or research other energy-efficient landscaping methods.

You can lower your utility bill and save money by conducting a thorough inspection of your home and identifying areas where you can become more energy efficient. Installing insulation, maintaining and upgrading climate systems and appliances, and practicing energy-efficient behaviors can make a home more comfortable and save money. Even if you have to invest some money to make your home more energy efficient, by making sensible choices you should be able to offset these costs in utility savings in just a couple of seasons.

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