8 Ways to Save on Heating and Energy Costs this Winter
From the Winter 2018 Issue of Haymarket Homeowner published by Bryan Garcia.
Here are eight ways to save energy costs during the chilly winter months:
1. Get an energy audit
A home energy audit is a good first step to assess how much energy your home is consuming, along with what problems may exist. Energy auditors do a room-by-room examination of your home, looking at potential points of heat escape such as fireplaces, windows, and light fixtures. They also analyze past utility bills to look at trends, and check for general health and safety in air quality and functioning detectors. There are a number of certified auditors in the greater Haymarket area. Check the Residential Energy Savings Network at resnet.us, for a directory recommended by the Department of Energy.
2. Set thermostat to 68 or lower
This one is a given – lower temperatures on the thermostat mean lower costs. Lower the temperature seven to ten degrees during the day while you’re away, and turn it up when you’re home. There is a common myth that messing with the temperature this frequently will cause your thermostat system to work harder and not save energy, but this is not true! According to the Consumer Energy Center, for each degree you lower your heat in the 60-70 degree range, you can save up to 5% on heating costs.
3. Install a new thermostat
Speaking of thermostats, why not switch to one that does all this work for you? Energy efficient thermostats that connect to the wifi in your home, or ‘smart’ thermostats, take the functions of a manual thermostat one step further by giving you the ability to adjust your settings remotely. Smart thermostats record internal/external temperatures and can notify you when your air filter needs to be replaced. And some, like the Nest, even learn when your home is likely to be occupied to allow for automatic pre-heating or pre-cooling. Before buying a smart thermostat though, be sure the model is compatible with your heating and cooling system!
4. Seal the leaks
One of the biggest contributors to energy costs is simply that energy and warmth is escaping from the structure of your home (which also allows cold air to come in). This can occur through window spaces, door cracks, light fixtures, the roof, outlets, and even around pipes that go through the exterior walls. Consider giving a walk around your home and caulking or weatherstripping any noticable cracks. For a thorough analysis with long-term protection, consider hiring an energy-conservation contractor. In the Haymarket area, some higher rated companies are Comfenergy and Eco Windows and Siding.
5. Clean your furnace
Cleaning your furnace is one of those things that you should fit into a routine as a homeowner. Doing so will help you keep those energy costs down, and also maintain the functioning of your furnace for as long as possible. Also, many furnace manufacturers build these check-ups into their warranty programs – and damage may not be covered if there has been improper maintenance. Generally, the recommendation is to clean your furnace bi-yearly for the first ten years, and then once a year. There are step-by-step instructions online to clean your furnace yourself if you are willing to learn, but heating contractors are able to do a check up quickly and thoroughly for around $100. Companies vary greatly in what they include in a ‘tune up,’ so be sure to ask what steps are taken before hiring.
6. Take advantage of the sun
This one is easy, and requires no cost. Open the curtains or blinds of your south-facing windows during the day to help heat the inside of your home naturally, and then close them at night to avoid any chill that may enter the room from the cold glass. The sun is completely free energy, so we should take advantage of it as much as possible!
7. Reduce water temperature
Hot water heating can account for around 12% of a utility bill every month – the biggest chunk after space heating. Consider taking short showers instead of full baths and keep the door closed to keep heat in. Other tricks like using cooler settings on laundry, washing only full loads of dishes, and not letting the water run are small things that make big differences energy-wise. Finally, check your water heater settings – they generally come preset to 140 degrees, but the Department of Energy recommends that they can safely be lowered to 120 degrees to further save.
8. Install a heatilator
If you have a gas fireplace, one thing that you can add to keep heat from escaping is a heatilator. Heatilators dramatically change efficiency, and allow the heat that would otherwise be lost to be redirected and propelled into the room. They are controlled with a simple switch. The initial cost of the installation is an investment, however cost to maintain is slim to nothing, at around .32 cents per hour with a Heatilator brand insert. It also reduces costs significantly in the long run.