5 money-saving ways to heat your home

As winter hits its full swing you can still take a few steps to winterize your home. Adding some insulation here, a little plastic window film there can save you real dollars. Here are a few ideas:

Install a programmable thermostat
There are many different brands on the market that range in price from $40 to $100. You can program one to lower the temperature while you're at work or sleeping and save up to 30 percent in a well-insulated home. What's more, outdated thermostats are the weakest link in conserving energy. According to the government's Energy Information Administration, only about 25 percent of U.S. homes are equipped with modern programmable thermostats. They are easy to install; using low-voltage currents, you just attach the color-coded wires from the wall to the corresponding terminals on the back of the unit (W means white, R means red and so on).

Install a high-efficiency furnace or boiler
If your heating system is at least 15 years old, it may be time to consider replacing the unit with a high-efficiency system. These heating systems are at least 94 percent efficient and sip energy as they both heat and cool your home. Another benefit to these units is their ability to be directly vented out of the side of your home, which means you can eliminate your chimney as well when coupled with a high-efficiency water heater.

The pricing of these systems all depends on the size of your home; a qualified contractor will evaluate your home, the number of rooms, number of windows, as well as the type of insulation and protection from the elements your home has and specify a correctly sized unit. The XC95 is a three-stage unit that provides efficiency and comfort and has communication technology to give your service contractor direct information about any problems that might occur. To learn more, visit www.trane.com

Add weather stripping around windows and doors
A project that any homeowner can do, this also has a real impact on drafts and conserving energy. Door thresholds, window caulking and plastic window film (3M makes the best stuff) can go a long way toward staying more comfortable and saving money as well. If you feel a draft around your doors or windows, installing weather stripping and/or window film to the windows can increase the energy efficiency of that opening by up to 70 percent. Door sweeps or draft dodgers can help — like the Twin Draft Guard (www.twindraftguard.com). The investment is small, but the comfort and payback can be huge.

Use portable electric heaters in colder rooms
Even when you do all these improvements, sometimes your home can still feel cold. Many of us use portable heaters to warm up those spaces and while this can be a good solution, care must be taken to select the right heater for your home.

The very first step is to make sure that you have a working smoke detector. If you are unsure when you replaced the batteries, do it now. By using these small units to take the chill out of a room, you avoid the need to turn up the thermostat, which heats up the rest of the home and costs you more money. You can find information about heaters at: www.sunbeam.com; www.holmesproducts.com; www.eco-heater.com

Some other safety issues to consider:

  • Never use a heater that uses fuel inside your home.
  • Never use an electric heater in a bathroom or laundry room or anywhere that water is present.
  • Keep the heater at least three feet away from combustible material like curtains or furniture (unless specifically rated for close clearance).
  • Never use a heater with a frayed cord or cracked housing.
  • Never plug a heater into an extension cord; a heater must be plugged into a receptacle in good working order.
  • Never disable any of the safety features of the unit.
  • Take special care when using a heater in the presence of children.

Use less energy to heat your water
Tanked water heaters store hot water and 20 percent of the energy they use is for standby, just waiting for you to use some water. You can lower that waste by 10 percent just by putting a jacket over the unit. These insulation kits are available at hardware stores for about $20 and can be installed in less than five minutes.

If you really want to see savings, then install a tankless water heater. I have been beating this drum for the last 10 years and each year more and more American homes install these. They create continuous hot water when they are on and the entire neighborhood could take a shower one after another and never run out — and when they are off, they are off, since they do not store any water.

The cost of a traditional water heater installed is around $1,000 to $1,500, while the cost to install a comparable tankless unit is around $3,000 to $5,000. But the payback can be achieved in less than five years (especially if you have teenagers in the home like we do). Another benefit is their life span, which is around 20 years versus seven to 10 years for a tanked unit. To learn more, go to www.boschhotwater.com

Bonus tip: Check the arrangement of your furniture. Make sure that heating vents or radiators are not blocked. If they are, your system will take longer to heat the space, which uses more energy.

If you have questions or need more advice you can reach Lou at www.housesmartstv.com

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