Small changes make a big impact on winter heating costs

BY NORBERT RUG

Buffalo winters could destroy your budget, because as the temperature goes down, it becomes more costly to heat your home. The good news is that you can reduce the monetary effect of cold weather by making a number of comparatively trouble-free changes. Some small suggestions follow that could result in substantial savings.

Turn your thermostat down if you can tolerate a lower temperature. Quite possibly this is the most important thing you can do. By reducing the difference between the inside and the outside temperature you decrease the load you place on your furnace. If you add a layer of clothing, this could help you be comfortable when you turn down your thermostat.

I don’t mean you have to wear your winter coat in the house, but wearing a sweater indoors in the winter is reasonable and a lot less expensive. I wear a fleece lined sweat shirt in the house during the winter. You should also close off unused rooms. There is absolutely no reason to waste money heating an empty room.

Install a smart thermostat. Thermostat technology has improved significantly lately. Many of the newest models are programmable and very easy to install. You can program it to turn the temperature down when you’re at work and turn it up before you return. There’s no point in heating your house when no one’s home, as long as you don’t turn it down so low that your pipes freeze. You could also lower the temperature while you are sleeping. Heating contractors I’ve spoken to recommend that you don’t turn up the temperature in your home more than three degrees at a time to avoid stressing your furnace heat exchanger. I burned out a heat exchanger by turning it up too much all at once each day. There are even thermostat models you can control with a smartphone. They can even “learn” your habits and adjust to them automatically.

Use the sun. Open up your curtains or blinds during the day to allow the sunlight to give you free heat. Cats know all about this and it is why they will chase sunbeams all day when they sleep. Don’t forget to close them when the sun goes down. This will provide a little extra insulation.

Maintain your furnace. If you have forced air heat, making sure your filters are regularly changed reduces the work your furnace blower has to do. Not only is this better for the furnace and your wallet but it will help keep the air cleaner so you won’t have to dust as much. A dirty filter allows the dirt and dust to recirculate throughout your house. Your furnace should be checked every year to ensure it is functioning at peak efficiency and not spewing out unburned fuel and carbon monoxide which is a colorless and odorless killer.

Seal up cracks. The collective heat loss caused by small cracks and misalignments along your windows and doors can add up to a massive heat loss. If you have a number of small leaks, it is like leaving your front door open with just your screen door closed to keep out the weather. If you can feel any type of draft, you should plug the gap. Use weather stripping, or caulk, to plug the leaks, depending on what is appropriate for the location.

If you have a crawl space under your house, make sure the outside vents are closed. They seldom seal completely, so adding a layer of plastic sheeting or more solid material is advised. This will keep your floors warmer.

Vent fans are necessary for bathrooms and kitchen areas, but be sure they are not left on. Timers can be utilized to shut off bathroom vents so they don’t run too long.

Keep furniture and other obstacles away from vents so you don’t block the flow of warm air. If you have a ceiling fan, you can use it in reverse to keep warm air from rising and collecting on the ceiling.

If you have a fireplace, close the damper after the fire is completely out. Most fireplace flues measure 8X8 and leaving it open is like having an 8X8 hole in the wall.

Consider turning your water heater temperature down, and make sure the hot water pipes are insulated.

Check your ductwork. If a single vent is not creating enough air flow in comparison to other vents that could be a sign of a leaky pipe. Also check your ductwork that runs through your crawl space or attic and make sure there are no slightly disconnected pipes. Seal any cracks with foil-backed duct tape. Consider insulating the ducts in these areas as well. Be careful though, in extremely cold temperatures, when you have insulated ductwork, ensure the pipes are insulated also. Frequently heat that you lose into those unheated spaces from the ductwork may be giving just enough heat to keep your pipes from freezing.

Winterize your windows, particularly if they are older windows. Storm windows help but they fail to keep out all the drafts, particularly during a windy day. Installing a layer of clear plastic film can assist in decreasing the heat lost through your windows while allowing sunlight to come through giving you free heat.

Call your utility company or government agencies. They frequently provide energy audits for free and give you conservation advice.

These small changes may seem like they are not worth the effort, but you’ll be amazed at the positive effect they will have on your heating costs. After you see the changes in your fuel bill, feel free to throw another log in the fireplace and bask in the glow of your savings.

Norb is a writer from Lockport. He can be reached at nrug@juno.com

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