When it comes to heating and cooling your home, saving money is a key considering for most of us. Here are some tips and ideas on how you can reduce your energy bills without overspending.
Find the leaks
Professionals use a large fan and equipment called a blower door to test how tight a home is. Blower doors are expensive and take a lot of training to be used properly. However, there is a simple test you can do at home to find leaks.
- First, get some incense sticks to produce a little bit of smoke.
- Next, close all of the doors and windows in your home to make it as tight as it normally would be in the winter.
- Turn on all of the exhaust fans in your home that exit to the outside.
- Light the incense stick and use it to probe around the openings in your home. Watch the smoke from the stick. It will move quickly where there is a leak. Note the location and move on. Pay particular attention to areas around doors and windows, and where pipes and wires come into the home.
Most homes can be checked in 25 minutes or so with this method.
Seal the leaks
Leaks around wires and plumbing pipes may be sealed with caulking, either in a tube or purchased in a roll as "cord weather strip." Larger openings need to be sealed with inexpensive sealing foam from an aerosol can.
Leaky, single-pane windows can be sealed with inexpensive storm window kits available at most hardware stores. This will also stop water condensation on the glass during cold weather. Intact double-pane windows do not really benefit from storm kits. Sliding windows that leak at the seam can be sealed with clear packaging tape at the middle of the window.
Doors that leak should be sealed with weather stripping and a door sweep at the base.
One note of caution. It is possible to make a home too tight. If you have a combustion appliance such as a woodstove or fireplace and you have any evidence of back drafting, i.e. smoke coming into the home, then you must get a professional HVAC contractor to look at your home before performing any air sealing.
Turn down the heat
During the heating season, turning down the heat at night and when you are away for six hours or more will make a noticeable reduction in your heating bill. Heat pumps generally should not be turned down more than three degrees because you lose the savings if the auxiliary heat comes on when heat is called for. Also, do not turn the heat below 60°F for long periods because of the potential for moisture condensation and mold growth in cool spots in your home.
Keep it clean
Cleaning and checking your heating system before you use it is critical. Baseboard and wall-mounted electric heaters need to be clean and unobstructed to work best. To clean them, turn off the power at the circuit breaker panel and use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to gently remove dust and lint from the fins and coils.
Forced air systems need to have the air filters checked and replaced if dirty. Check the furnace filter at least once a month during the heating season. Oil furnaces should be checked and serviced annually by a qualified contractor. Natural gas furnaces should have a blue flame when running. Any tinge of yellow in the flame means the furnace is not running efficiently and needs service. Gas furnaces have a sight window that allows you to see the flame when the furnace is on. Be sure to use a qualified contractor for service.