Saving Energy and Saving Neighbors – Part 2 Home Heating

In the first posting in this series, we suggested you could help folks in need in Jefferson County by donating to the Jefferson County PUD’s Power Boost Program. Funds donated through that program will supplement federal LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) funds when more are allocated. In this posting we will offer you some tips on how to save energy and dollars so you can afford to contribute a bit to the Power Boost Program.

Heating and cooling are the largest energy expenditure for most U.S. households and are over 50% of the total energy use in a typical U.S. home. The things you can do as a householder to reduce your energy costs fall in two broad categories – putting heat in more effectively or efficiently and preventing heat from getting out. We will look at options and opportunities in both these areas.

On the more effective heating end, start with the simple and inexpensive. Perform a preseason check and maintenance on your heating system. A professional service may be helpful in understanding the condition of your heating system and reveal some potential enhancements and for sure if you have steam heat or a boiler you will want to have it professionally checked. If your system involves forced hot air, replace filters and consider cleaning your air ducts to make sure you are getting good air flow. If you have a hot water or steam system, clean the heat exchanger and check for visible leaks. There is a good reference at www.ENERGY.GOV for steps to take to maintain your equipment. Wood burning heaters and pellet stoves should be cleaned thoroughly. Clean out ash regularly, clean the flue vent and brush out the inside with a wire brush. Fireplace chimneys should be checked for creosote buildup and cleaned regularly – for safety and efficiency. You can take advantage of solar power even if you don’t have solar panels. Make sure the curtains are open on all south-facing windows during the day. That will allow sunlight to heat your home naturally; close curtains at night or in bad weather to help reduce heat loss.

Consider the state of your heating system. An upgrade may make sense for many people who have older, less efficient systems. There are new high efficiency systems in all heating areas. Here in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula our winter temperatures are well suited to heat pump systems and there are systems that can be installed in older homes without the necessity of installing ductwork.

Supplementary heating in the form of fireplace inserts, wood burning stoves and pellet stoves can pay dividends. Modern wood burning stoves, fireplace inserts and pellet stoves are very heat efficient and relatively inexpensive to install. If you use a fireplace as a supplemental heating system, consider installing tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room. At a minimum, you can buy grates made of metal tubing that help draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.

Even with an efficient heating system, make sure it is tied to a programmable thermostat to give you heat when you need it and savings when you don’t. Good programmable thermostats can be had for less than $100 and can be attached to any thermostatically controlled heating system, even pellet stoves. Turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours while you are asleep or out of the house can save as much as 10% a year on your heating bill.

Once you have the heat in your house as efficiently as you can, the next consideration is trying to keep it there as long as possible.

First, plug all the air leaks you can find. Typically these will be around doors and windows, utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Caulk or weatherstrip leaky doors and windows and use caulk or insulation around other leaks as appropriate. .

Draperies can be a significant help in insulating. Even conventional draperies can reduce heat loss from a warm room up to 10% when drawn and if they are sealed at both sides and overlapped in the center the reduction in heat loss can be as high as 25%. Insulating draperies will improve the reduction in heat loss even more.

If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed unless a fire is burning and if you don’t use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue. An open damper is a turbocharged leak – warm air from the room goes right up the chimney. When you use the fireplace a lot of heat goes right up the chimney and that may affect other rooms in the house. Open a window in the room with the fireplace by an inch or so to provide for air circulation, then close doors leading into the room to preserve heat in the remainder of the house.

Storm windows or insulating panels added to a single-pane window can reduce heat loss by as much as 50%. In addition to storm windows, there are many widow insulation kits available at your local hardware store that use clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape system. These are generally very low cost ways to insulate windows and can provide substantial reduction in heat loss.

If you have specific questions about savings resulting from particular heating system upgrades or insulating strategies, there are a number of energy calculators HERE.

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