Do High Heating Bills Give You a Chill?

Claudette Reichel  |  3/15/2005 8:12:48 AM

When your home -- or the cost of heating it -- gets uncomfortable, there is a lot you can do to control how much energy you need to use to stay warm. In general, the best wintertime energy-saving investments for affordable comfort in a Southern climate are:

Stop Air Leaks: On a cold day, turn on all your exhaust fans and look (or feel) for air leaks everywhere materials are joined or penetrated. Outlet gaskets, expanding foam sealants, good weatherstripping, door thresholds and caulking interior gaps are inexpensive, do-it-yourself solutions to reduce cold-air infiltration. Note that the biggest leaks are often the hidden bypasses to the attic or crawl space. Check for big holes and gaps that allow air leakage around a chimney, exhaust dampers, ceiling fixtures, plumbing and tubs, floors and even interior walls, soffits or other hidden cavities that were not sealed in construction. If you have recessed can lights in insulated ceilings, consider replacing them with "ICAT"-rated fixtures or getting kits to make them airtight.

Seal the Duct System: If your home is typical, your ductwork may be losing 30 percent of the heating you pay for! That’s because most ducts are leaky sooner or later. The entire duct system should be sealed with mastic and mesh (not duct tape) and leak-tested by a trained professional with specialized equipment.  It's best if the ducts are also well insulated (if in an unconditioned attic) to R-8, if possible.

Maintain Your Heater: Professional servicing and faithful filter changing will make sure your heater is operating as efficiently as it can.

Insulate the Water Heater & Pipes: It’s easy and inexpensive to install foam-tube pipe insulation and water-heater insulation kits. Follow safety instructions carefully for gas water heaters.

Use a Set-back Thermostat: Don’t waste your money heating an empty home! A programmable thermostat makes it more comfortable to save energy when not home and have a cozy home by the time you return.

Increase Attic Insulation: If space permits, increase attic insulation to R-38. Be sure you don’t block the flow of air from soffit vents under the overhangs.

Buy EnergyStar: When replacing your heater, appliances, windows, doors, lighting or electronics, look for the EnergyStar label. That’s an easy way to identify what will really save you money on your utility bills. Also, use EnergyGuide labels to compare the hidden cost of your new appliance (its operating cost).

Insulate Openings: If you have single-pane windows and wood doors, consider temporary or permanent storm windows and doors or replace them with Energy Star insulated units as your next investment, after doing all of the above improvements.

Insulate Voids:   If you have no insulation in the walls, dense-pack blown-in insulation can increase winter savings and comfort. But before adding insulation in empty walls, make sure there is an effective weather barrier between the insulation and the exterior siding or veneer.  If you have a raised-floor home, typical floor insulation methods can increase the risk of subfloor moisture problems and flooring failure in our warm, humid climate.  However, air-tight, moisture resistant subfloor insulation system can increase winter comfort and prevent floor moisture problems. For more information, see Insulating Raised Floors in Hot, Humid Climates.

Online Home Improvement Advisor:
 For both energy product information and energy improvement ideas tailored to your house and climate, visit the www.energystar.gov  website.  

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