Saving on Your Heating Bill
How to Stop Heat Loss
Although you have some good information about how to save money on heating bills, you should offer more information. For example, what is the best way to cut the drafts around doors and windows? Does putting plastic on your windows really help? And what is the best way to install it? Also should I put plastic on the inside or outside or both? What would be the best temperature to set a thermostat at during the night and during the daytime when no one is at home (keeping in mind that some people have pets that require slightly warmer temperatures)? I live in the Cleveland area and would love to keep my home gas bill around $100 to $150! I have a home that has had insulation blown into the walls, but would it hurt to have that redone? I do not know if it compacts over time. Can you put too much insulation in your attic?
Maureen, Cold in Cleveland!
We wanted to reduce our heating bill and the answers were found with our utility company. We all know they don't complain about making big money on our high heating bills, but they are mandated (at least in my state) to offer their customers money-saving tips. Ours come in the form of newsletters that accompany the bills. They can also be found on their websites as well. If your utility company doesn't offer any of that, contact your local hardware or home improvement stores. Home Depot and Lowes both offer classes this time of year to help consumers prepare their homes for the cold weather.
Shawnee in Yukon, OK
After waiting several years to have enough money to put in dual pane new windows, I decided to do a "temporary fix" by putting up a product called "Warm Window" insulated shade system. The Warm Window fabric is made of layers of cotton, batting and a reflective material inside, and can be purchased at most commercial fabric stores (or even online).
The fabric can be made into roman shades and covered to match your decor. The shades are weighted at the bottom, and magnets stitched into the sides attach to magnets attached to the sides of the window opening (I have mine painted to match the walls and you don't even see them) to make a perfect seal. Instructional videos are also available to purchase, making it fairly easy to make your own shades. Or you can order them finished, online, to your specifications (there are even shades for sliding glass doors).
Not only does the Warm Window insulated shade system keep the cold out in the winter and the heat out in the summer, but during the severe forest fires in California in 2003, most homes were plagued with soot coming in through even the most modern efficient windows. My home, however, escaped without soot coming inside because of the incredible seal afforded by the shades. When the fires were over and the air was once again clear, I lifted my shades to find over 1/2" of soot on the inside of my window sill, but no soot was able to escape into the living spaces through the shades!
Another huge benefit is the blackout effect in our family room. My husband loves his big screen TV, and when the shades are closed, it's like a theatre inside. It's pitch black and there is no glare!
With these shades on, I am no longer considering new windows. I'm completely satisfied with the results (and the low cost) of the shades.
I can't tell Maureen how exactly to install weather stripping to reduce heating bills, but I can tell her that you can install too much insulation in the attic. Attics are generally required to have ventilation as well as insulation. Why? Moisture. All houses trap moisture. You shower, do laundry, cook, breathe and it all adds moisture to the air in the house. It usually rises up with the heat in the house, and ends up in your attic. If you do not have sufficient attic ventilation or have blocked your ventilation holes with insulation, the moisture doesn't escape. If moisture can't escape, it condenses on cold surfaces like the colder side of your insulation. The insulation then gets wet and won't do its job keeping your house warm.
Blown in insulation can compact in the walls over time. Depending on how long ago it was done, you might be able to add more. Your best bet there is to call around to at least three reputable installers in your area and ask questions.
Ceiling fans also can help keep a room comfortable. They all come with seasonal reverse switches. You make the hot air rise in the summer but send the warm air trapped at the ceiling downward in the winter, keeping the occupied area warmer for less money. If you don't think your ceilings are warmer than the rest of the room, try installing a thermometer up at the very top of the wall for a few days. A 70-degree room can have an 80-degree ceiling.
Michelle, Architect in CA
Some things that have worked for me:
Since it's winter, dress like it! I see people wearing short sleeves and going barefoot indoors in December. If I did that, I'd freeze! Wear turtlenecks, sweaters, and wool socks. You'll be able to keep your thermostat at a reasonable setting.
Putting plastic on your windows does help cut fuel costs, but you must make sure there are no drafts around the window frames. We have run into this before, and we had to caulk around the outsides of the window frames on the inside of the house.
Also, some people don't consider the tops of their doors when they put weather stripping around their doors, so make sure you have no drafts there or on the hinge side of the doors. Insulated curtains help a lot; my kitchen stays much warmer when I trade in the regular, thin kitchen curtains for the heavier insulated ones.
One way I tried to improve the heating efficiency of my furnace was to install new ductwork. I had a few ducts on the old system that were of little use, going to places in the house that didn't make sense (one in a stairway, the other to a remote corner of the house, etc.). After installing the new duct work with the obsolete ducts removed, I noticed a significant increase in the output of the remaining ducts (some of the old registers are still there, but blocked off, and I'm planning to remove them next year).
The new ductwork also seems much more airtight than the old metal based tubes bolted together. It is the new flexible, insulated type with a plastic covered spiral wire core. To install a branch, just cut the insulation and plastic, but leave the wire core. Slip the slotted collar in and around the wires, crimp it over, and tape up generously. It was not extremely difficult to install, but was a bit challenging in some of the tight spaces (although my ductwork is easy to get at, and all the branches were already flexible duct).
As a side benefit, it also solved a big dust problem I was having, so that was good. I also installed a new digital, programmable thermostat, which was very easy, and seems to keep the temperature in the house more even. It automatically adjusts down at night and during the day when nobody is home, and has a manual override for setting the temperature if desired.
I am hoping these two changes will make a big difference on my heating bills this winter, along with closing off unused rooms and using drapes over the windows. If we all get a little more efficient in our use of energy, we might even drive down the cost of natural gas and heating oil, which surely can't hurt either.
Even though initially it is a large investment, we found that an insulated garage door made a big difference in keeping our garage warmer, which in turn kept that side of the house warmer too. Of course, this will only be effective on attached garages.
Another good investment is a storm door, which can double as a security measure. You can get a good basic one for around $400 that will last for several decades. If you don't live in your house long enough to recoup the costs, at least it can be a good selling feature.
Also, just as wearing layered clothes keeps you warmer, layering your window coverings will too. Simply add a set of shears to the inside of your drapes or blinds and you'll notice quite a difference in the drafts. What's good about these is that you can easily take them down during better weather or just open your normal window coverings and leave the shears closed in summer. This will allow the light in but reduce the heat as well.
You may want to add or replace the weather stripping around doors too. They get old and don't seal as well. Drafts can also come in through outlets, so be sure to insulate them too. You can get those in packages at home improvement stores.
If you have a fireplace, be sure to keep it covered when not in use. We had a fireplace we never used. I made a quilt cover for it that kept the drafts out and looked attractive too. It was far less expensive than a regular cover.
You may want to have your furnace checked for efficiency. It may need to be cleaned or adjusted. Also be sure to change your filters regularly. Clogged filters won't allow as much circulation in the furnace, making it work harder.
A handyman once told us to check the caulking around the outside of our windows. Caulking is cheap and it can double as a noise barrier. You may want to check the interior caulking as well.
A in Denver, CO
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