Extension Line

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wow. Just opened the monthly utility bill and was quickly reminded of the need to review some winter energy tips offered by the U.S. Department of Energy. Some things we can do yet for this winter and other suggestions we can address during the coming year.

1. Add Another Layer of Attic Insulation: The majority of homes built before 1980 are under-insulated, with heat escaping through the ceiling, past the roof, and into the atmosphere. One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to cut heating and cooling costs is to add more insulation in the attic. As a rule, if you have less than 11 to 12 inches of attic insulation, you probably need more.

2. Turn on the Humidifier: It's not just the heat; it's also the humidity. If your furnace doesn't have a built-in humidifier, use a portable unit in areas such as the bedroom and living room. The extra moisture will increase the "heat index", making 68 F feel more like 76 F. The relative humidity in the home should be between 20 and 40 percent. To help avoid condensation on windows, lower the percentage as the outside temperature gets colder.

3. Warm Yourself Before Heating the Entire House: Put on a sweater before turning the thermostat dial. Each degree you raise the thermostat increases your fuel bill by approximately three percent.

4. Install a Programmable Thermostat: Why heat the house when nobody's home? A programmable thermostat can automatically lower and raise your home's air temperature when you're at work or sleeping. By turning your thermostat back from 70 F down to 60 F for eight hours a day, you can save as much as ten percent on your annual heating and cooling costs. If used appropriately, the energy savings will offset the costs for a programmable thermostat (starting at less than $40) in less than one year.

5. Let the Sun Shine In: Open the window shades on the south and west sides of the house during the day to maximize the warmth of the sun, and close them at night. If you, like half of American homeowners, have single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane windows with a special coating on the glass that reflects heat back into the room during the winter months.

6. Cover the Windows: If you can't afford to replace your single-pane windows, remember to use your storm windows or install a clear plastic film across the inside of your window and frame. The plastic becomes nearly invisible when you heat it with a blow dryer and is relatively inexpensive (typically $4 to $6 per window). The trapped pocket of air between the plastic film and window acts as an effective insulator, helping to reduce heat loss through the window by 25 to 50 percent.

7. Change Furnace Filters Frequently: You can improve the energy efficiency of your heating and cooling systems by as much as ten percent by cleaning air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed and changing forced air heating system air filters monthly. An alternative to swapping out replacement filters is to use washable filters (about $20 each). With care, they can last 5 years.

8. Seal the Ducts: The most logical way to stay warm is to only heat living areas. However, in many homes, the warm air generated by the furnace often escapes into the attic or basement before it reaches its intended destination because of cracks or holes in the air ducts. As a result, the furnace works overtime to keep the rest of the house warm. Check your ducts for leaks and use duct tape to repair holes. If buying new ducts, consider a system that is already surrounded by insulation.

9. Plug the Drafts: The exterior of your house is your first line of defense against drafts, so caulk, seal, and weather-strip around all seams and openings. Pay attention around windows and where siding or bricks and wood trim meet. You can also reduce drafts from the inside by caulking, and weatherstripping around windows and doors, and near electrical boxes and plumbing penetrations.

10. Close Vents to Guest Rooms: Today's larger homes often have more rooms than family members to fill them. By closing the vents to one spare bedroom, you can cut your heating bills. You can always open the vents when guests visit.

Stop by our local Extension Office and check out our Home Series publications. There are publications on home heating, insulation, appliances and ventilation. These publications are put out by the Iowa Energy Center. They offer some great ways to make your home more efficient and lower your monthly utility bills. Cherokee County Extension is located at 209 Centennial Drive, Suite A, our phone number is 712-225-6196.