Whether it is fuel oil or electricity that feeds the furnace and keeps the pipes and people from freezing, heating the average home in Connecticut can cost about $1,000 over the course of this long winter chill. There are alternative and supplemental forms of heat, but few have wood stoves, and fewer still rely on solar. So what’s an average homeowner (or home renter) to do to shave a few dollars off their heating bills – and still keep their home and its inhabitants safe, healthy and at least reasonably warm? Here are few simple, common sense tips to make the winter heating bill a little less painful.
Turn Down The Thermostat and Dress Up to Stay Warm Inside
The simplest, easiest, least expensive and most intuitive way to cut down heating costs is to turn down the thermostat and then dress up with layers of clothing to keep warm. When he was in the White House, President Jimmy Carter asked people to turn their thermostats down to 68 and wear a sweater. Fuel oil may have seemed expensive back in the late 70s, but those would be bargain prices today. Turning that thermostat down to 65, 60 or even 55 will keep pipes safe and people healthy, and add considerable savings.
Most people like their homes to be warm and cozy, but instead of burning oil or running up the electric bill, they can do so by dressing smarter. That can mean thicker, warmer clothing – wearing sweaters or sweatshirts – especially those with hoods, and thicker socks or snuggly slippers. Even a single extra layer of light clothing can make all the difference in staying warm.
Curtains and Drapes Are Sweaters for the House, So Winterize the Windows
What little sunlight there is in the winter in Connecticut rarely adds any heat. Bare windows, even insulated ones, tend to let heat escape, while windows covered by thick drapes or even opaque curtains and shades can help hold the heat in. In older homes especially, most windows are not tightly sealed, and let heat out and cold in. Storm windows help cut down on that unfavorable heat exchange, but for those who cannot afford or cannot otherwise install another layer of windows, there are other options. One is to put rolled-up towels along window sills or to buy (or make) festive window cozies. A second is to put a layer of plastic over the window, especially those where a clear view is not vital. Staples, thumbtacks or tape can keep the plastic on, and the plastic should cover not just the glass but the entire frame.
Insulating and covering basement and attic windows, as well as windows in storage rooms, can cut heating costs significantly. Weatherstripping doors and windows can also greatly cut down on the amount of cold air coming in and warm air being lost.
Clean the Filters, Check the Vents and Get a Heating System Tune-Up
Furnaces and vents get dirty and a blocked vent or dirty furnace filter means the furnace has to work harder to heat a house – and that means drawing more fuel or electricity to produce the heat called for on the thermostat. Most fuel oil companies have service departments that will schedule a cleaning and maintenance check to ensure that the furnace is running properly and at peak efficiency. They will also check thermostats and valves to make sure they, too are functioning.
Blankets for the Pipes and Hot Water Heater
Insulating pipes and a hot water heater can both protect the former from freezing and keep the latter warmer longer – thus reducing the energy needed to keep the water hot. Insulated hot water heater jackets can be found for $20 or less, and foam insulation for pipes comes in sheaths that can cost as little as a dollar or two per linear foot of pipe. Covering exposed pipes in a chilly basement can protect them and keep the hot water pipes warm – which means the hot water heater doesn’t have to work as long or as hard to keep the hot water flowing.
Fans Are Not Just for Summer Cooling
While kitchen and bathroom fans draw air out of a home and thus lower the temperature, ceiling and room fans that keep cool air circulating in summer can also keep warm air moving in winter. Heat rises, and a ceiling fan can send that warm air around a room. Most ceiling fans have a reverse speed – one that can circulate rising warm air back down.
Insulate Attics and Basements
Just as a hat or hood keeps a person’s head warm, so does insulation keep the top of a house warm. Heat rises –whether out of a person’s head or a home’s roof. Rolls of insulation can be had at reasonable prices, and most can either be installed easily and quickly by a homeowner or can be done by a professional, carpenter or handyman in a few hours. Cracks in windows, sills, walls and foundations should be repaired and filled, or at the very least covered.
Solar and Wood Options: Something to Consider for the Long Term
Going solar is not an option for everyone, but especially with tax incentives and federal and state grants available, installing a solar system to heat the home, or even just the hot water heater, can save money in the long term. The same goes for installing wood-burning stoves, which although are an initial expense and do require buying firewood or pellets, can still save on heating costs, especially in these days of volatile oil markets. These, however, are long-term solutions, with significant up-front costs.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.