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Video: Heat your home for less

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    This morning on TODAY'S HOME, a timely topic: staying warm, saving money. The country in a big chill right now. Lou Manfredini is a contributor to the TODAY show . He's going to show you five easy steps to help you save up to 20 percent on your home heating bills. He's also the host of "House Smarts." Nice to see you, Lou .

    Mr. LOU MANFREDINI: Nice to see you as well.

    LAUER: First one, we talked about this before, but more important now than ever, install a programmable thermostat .

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Right.

    LAUER: How much is it going to cost me?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Well, the unit itself is only going to cost you anywhere from $50 to $100, but the real difference is these circular ones, the mercury ones that most people have are not very accurate. Their swinging temperature can be up to six degrees. The swinging temperature of the programmable is one degree. So you have more of a constant temperature. And by manipulating the temperature, by programming it, so when you go to bed, you lower it no more than 10 degrees and it wakes up, you know, a half-hour before you to heat up, and then when you go to work, you can save up to 30 percent on the energy that you use to heat and cool your home.

    LAUER: Can I install this myself or do I have to ask for one of my lifelines?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: No, no, no, you can, and you don't need a 50/50. You follow the wires. The colors go with the terminals. W means white, R means red. It's low voltage, so you don't have to worry about getting hurt. Very simple to install. It takes a little bit to program...

    LAUER: All right.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: ...but it's simple to install.

    LAUER: Get yourself an energy-efficient furnace. How do you know -- how old would a furnace have to be where it would not be energy-efficient?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: About 15 years.

    LAUER: OK.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: The technology has changed drastically. This one's by Trane . It's what they call an XC-95 . It's a three-stage unit. What's happened with manufacturers is they have gotten smarter. Three stage means it uses half the speed on the blower, half the gas to just take the chill out, and high efficiency, you typically see these plastic pipes, which means it vents out the side of the home, it brings in outside air. So the comfort level is really what's key with this. And, Matt , they've got technology with the thermostat, smart technology, that if there's ever a problem, it's hooked up to the Web and the technician knows what's wrong.

    LAUER: It's expensive, though?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Well, it's about maybe 20 percent more than a standard one, but you'll get 20 years and save money almost within five years.

    LAUER: All right, just like in a person, you lose your energy and your heat through your head, you lose it through doors and windows in your house.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Your areas of greatest loss, windows and doors. By weather stripping and putting things like these draft dodgers -- you've seen these one -- these twin draft guards on T.V.

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: These are the draft guards you can put, or you can put thresholds, or I put weather stripping around the door. Sealing out those drafts. And the same holds true, Matt , on the windows.

    LAUER: That's that plastic you use a hair dryer on.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: When you do the plastic -- yeah, and it's very simple to do. There's all kinds of weather stripping that's available. And even if you've got an old window that maybe you don't want to use for the winter, this over here is a removable caulking. You can actually caulk a window shut and then peel it away in the spring.

    LAUER: And this is -- these are truly do it yourself projects. You can do all this yourself.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Do it yourself, we're talking about a few dollars.

    LAUER: All right. Electric heaters for cold rooms. What's the formula? How big a heater do you need for how big a room?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Well, they come rated for different spaces. These typical electric ones -- this one here by Sunbream is a zero clearance, meaning you can put it right up against the wall. This quartz unit actually heats the space, maybe a three -- 400 square foot space to take the chill out. This is an eco heater, which this panel gets hot. It mounts on the wall and creates like a -- you want to stay right here, don't you?

    LAUER: I'm not moving. These are on.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: It's really nice. It's on .

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: But these units, what's efficient about this is almost all the energy that comes through it, electricitywise, turns into heat.

    LAUER: OK.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: So it's cheaper to use this in a cold space rather than turn the thermostat up, which means you spend more money on your total energy bill.

    LAUER: OK. That's a good idea. All right.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Fifty dollars, $60, $100.

    LAUER: Real quickly, I'm going to stay right here, tell me about that one.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: This -- 20 percent of the energy on your tank water heater goes from standby.

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: So by wrapping it in an insulation blanket that's $20, you can save 10 percent on that. And if you really want to step up, tankless water heaters , Matt , when you and I started working together nine years ago, almost 200,000 units a year in the US were being sold. Now it's 700,000 annually.

updated 1/14/2009 9:37:49 AM ET 2009-01-14T14:37:49

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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