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The Penny Pincher’s Guide to Saving on Heating Costs

Woman evaluating her finances.

If the reason you’re dreading winter has more to do with rising energy bills than Oregon’s relentless rain, there are measures you can take to reign in costs.

Depending on your tolerance for a slightly less-than-cozy home, some of these suggestions may seem a little extreme, but they’ll go a long way toward curbing energy consumption and saving a significant amount of cash.

For the money-minded, here’s what you can do to get through the winter while keeping your budget in check.

Habit Changes

Acclimate to colder weather: It takes time for our bodies to get used to a different climate. Resist the temptation to bump up your thermostat the moment cooler weather begins to settle in. Instead, put on a couple of layers, warm up with a hot cup of coffee and allow your body to adjust naturally. By developing a tolerance for a chillier atmosphere, you’ll be less inclined to crank up the heat.

Set the thermostat lower than you like. If you’re determined to keep heating costs to a minimum, you’ll have to be a miser with the thermostat. The general rule of thumb is you’ll save 3 percent on your bill for every degree you set your thermostat back.

That means you may have to sacrifice a little of your own comfort. But hey, you’re not going to freeze. In fact, you’ll remain adequately comfortable. Here are the recommended temperature settings for the budget-minded:

  • 60 degrees while you’re away from home
  • 68 degrees when you’re awake

  • 65 degrees when you sleep

If you can stand to go lower, more power to you.

The important thing is to keep your settings within 10 degrees of each other. Drastic temperature adjustments cause your heating system to consume more energy.

While these temperatures might not be ideal, you can take comfort in your shrinking energy bill.

Dress warmly. The temptation for some people is to replicate summertime conditions inside your home by setting the thermostat to 80 degrees and lounging in shorts and a tank top. This obviously will not do your energy bill any favors.

Hats, sweaters, blankets and slippers are your best friends this time of year. By bundling up, you can drop the temperature inside by 15 degrees or more and still feel snug.

Utilize extra heat. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, use it alongside your furnace. With your thermostat set to a less-than-desirable 60 degrees, you can throw some logs into the fireplace to make up the difference. Between the two heating sources, you’ll be cozy enough.

Otherwise, consider using an efficient space heater for supplemental warmth.

Get the Most Out of Your Furnace

Your furnace is a sophisticated appliance. Under the right conditions, it will supply all the comfort you need. But under the wrong conditions, its performance and your comfort will suffer. Follow these tips to keep it running smoothly:

  • Replace the filter every 30 to 90 days. A clean filter can cut heating costs by as much as 15 percent.

  • Keep interior doors open. Open doors help distribute heat evenly throughout the home. Close them and you’ll increase air pressure, forcing costly conditioned air out of gaps and cracks in the home’s envelope, which your heater will have to replace.

  • Make sure all the registers are open and unblocked. Again, unrestricted airflow is key to an efficient heating system.

  • Find and seal any drafts. Examine door frames and windowsills. If you see any gaps or cracks, seal them with weatherstripping or caulking. This will keep warm air in and cool air out.

  • Schedule a tune-up. An HVAC technician will ensure that your system is running at peak performance, helping keep operating costs down.

  • Change the direction of your ceiling fans. Warm air rises. We all know this. What you might not know is that your ceiling fan is just as useful in winter as in summer. By reversing the direction to clockwise, the fan will push warm air downward, helping distribute heat more evenly throughout your home. This can help reduce the burden on your furnace.

Home Improvement Tasks

Add more insulation. Feeling adventurous? Head on up into your attic and check the condition of your insulation. Like anything else, insulation will wear out over time due to moisture damage and rodents. Also, measure the thickness. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends insulation between 10 to 14 inches.

Without adequate insulation, a majority of your heat will be wasted through the attic.

Use Insulated Curtains: Insulated curtains keep heat inside where it belongs. They consist of a core layer of high-density foam, a vapor barrier to prevent absorbing moisture and decorative fabric. Without them, you could be losing as much as 25 percent of the heat your furnace produces. Insulated curtains will help you set your thermostat back several degrees without any noticeable difference to your comfort. Bonus: they’re just as effective in the summer for keeping heat out.

Install efficient doors and windows. With special composite sashes, frames and other features, your home can retain more heat when it is cold outside. Also, there are doors and glass windows that insulate your home better. An exterior door with less glass is usually a better choice. Energy Star, the certification authority for efficient doors and windows, considers a glass door to be a window. If the frames around your doors or windows are warped, cracked or damaged, upgrading doors and windows is a good long-term investment.

If you do not have the time or money to complete this entire list, try to choose the most important tasks. Most of the heat that average homes lose is due to air leaks, poor insulation and clogged filters. Start by sealing cracks and checking your filter. Have a professional inspect your furnace before winter arrives to ensure that it is functioning optimally and not using more energy than necessary. Try to insulate the attic properly. As the cold months arrive, you can work on changing any bad habits that may be causing you to turn up the heat. If you have questions or want to request a checkup for your furnace, please give us a call today.

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