I don't know how the weather is in your end of the world, but here in Western Pennsylvania, it's downright frigid. The furnace is cranked up higher than it should be because, despite the layers of clothing, I'm still really cold.
- Switch to a programmable thermostat. If there's no one at home during the day, there's no reason to keep your heat cranked up. But wouldn't it be nice to come home to a warm house or to get up in the morning to a comfortable temperature after having turned the heat down for the night? If you turn your thermostat back by just 10 degrees for eight hours each day and eight hours each night, you can save approximately 20% on your heating costs! You don't even need an electrician to install the new thermostat. It's actually a relatively simple process and the manufacturer's instructions on how to do it will accompany whichever brand you buy. Just don't forget to turn off the power before you start! You can even pick up a programmable thermostat that will alert you when your furnace filter needs to be replaced.
- A question for all of you who have forced-air heat: When's the last time you cleaned the air intake and exhaust on the outside of your house? Your system will operate much more efficiently if you clear the area monthly while your furnace is in use.
- While many of us are conscious of keeping things away from our heating vents, we also need to pay attention to the cold-air returns. Because there has to be a consistent movement of air, cold-air returns are an important part of the package. Clear any furniture or drapes away from them and keep them clean.
- While you're cleaning the cold-air returns, don't forget to clean the heat vents as well. Remove the vent covers and vacuum out the vents at least twice a year and more often than that if you have pets in your home. You might even want to hire a company to come out every few years to clean them professionally.
- Electronic air filters should be cleaned monthly to keep them performing at their peak. Check with the manufacturer, but in most cases you can simply slip it into your dishwasher (don't use the heat dry cycle, however) or just use a soft scrub brush and some water. While the furnace air filters are a good idea, the filters you can slip into your heating vents are not. Sure, they may limit the amount of dust and dander floating around, but they also limit the airflow, thus causing your heating system to work less efficiently and, in the end, cost you more money!
- Tune-up. Tune-up. Tune-up. You want your furnace to operate at its best? Tune it up. Newer furnaces need a tune-up every three years or so, while older ones need attention every year or two. Check with your utility company about this. They may offer the service at a discounted rate for customers. Expect the tune-up to take about two to three hours and run close to $150.
- Grab your caulking gun and attend to your heating ducts. Seams can start to split and leak valuable air if the seal is broken. You can either use caulking or a special tape made for this purpose. Check with your local hardware store associate for his or her recommendations. Also pay attention to the joints between the heat ducts and heat registers. Duct-sealing tape (not duct tape) will work best here.
- If you have radiators, clean them once a month. Make sure your radiator is cool before cleaning it. Clean = efficient. Enough said. Also, if you have multiple layers of paint on your radiators, they're bound to be clogged. Strip them and start over with a single coat of paint. Oddly enough, dark colors will increase the heat output when accompanied by a piece of aluminum or sheet metal placed behind the radiator.
- Baseboard heaters work best when clean as well. Make sure the power is off before removing the front panel of your baseboard heaters and then use the crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner to rid them of the dirt.
- As you can recall from the summer months, humid air simply seems to be warmer air. Either install a humidifier on your furnace or run a humidifier. Filling your home with live plants will help keep the air moister as well. You'll feel most comfortable when the humidity in your home falls between 20-60%.
- Check to see if there is air leakage in the spaces between where your baseboards meet your hard floors. Again, you can grab the caulking gun, or use an expandable foam under the trim.
- Another source of energy leaks is exterior wall outlets and switches. You can easily solve the problem with some insulating gaskets. A simple solution that will save you money in the long run.
- Close the vents and the doors of rooms you don't use. Heating your stuff is just plain wasteful! Magnetic vent covers work well to save energy in unused rooms.
- Limit the heat loss that naturally occurs from an open flue in your fireplace by installing glass doors. The initial cost will be recovered in energy savings in no time!
- It's been said that keeping a fireplace damper open on your fireplace equals having a four-foot gaping hole in your house when it comes to energy loss.
- Consider zone-heating. If you basically spend most of your time in one or two rooms, turn your thermostat back to 55 degrees and use energy-efficient space heaters. Try to keep them set on a low setting and don't forget to unplug them when they're not in use! Radiant heaters are, by far, the most efficient type of space heaters. Regardless of the kind you use, just make sure to keep all combustible materials, fabrics, paper and other potential fire starters at a safe distance. Also, no amount of savings is worth the risk of your child being burned, so if there's no way to keep your toddler away from the heaters, turn them off and crank up the thermostat.
- Don't ignore your ceiling fans. Switch the setting to a clockwise twirl and let them work on keeping the heat away from the ceiling. Portable fans will do the trick here as well, and circulate the warm air to where it's most appreciated. This is especially helpful when the fan is placed on the hearth of the fireplace.
- If you use window air conditioning units, make sure you cover them up. Place the cover over the back of the AC units and then tape plastic over the front. It may not be the most attractive solution, but if you don't want to remove the unit for the winter, it's essential for energy savings.
- If it's practical, switch out one of your standard bathroom lights with a red moisture-resistant heat bulb. Make sure the wattage matches your fixture. Toasty warm bathrooms are my favorite!
- For those of you with heat pumps, make sure the condenser unit is cleaned regularly. Again, it's important to turn the power off before cleaning. Check with your manual for instructions on cleaning.
Keeping it green,