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Home Heating Efficiency – How to Save a Bundle This Winter

You here it all the time … "turn down your thermostat and put on an extra sweater". Really? Those who grew up during the Great Depression may be accustomed to doing just that. But for the rest of us, aren’t there other practical ways to reduce heating costs? Regardless of the type of heating system you’re using, there are several things you can do now to save a ton of money, yet still enjoy a cozy indoor environment all winter long.

Most homes throughout the U.S. use a natural gas central furnace system. Others operate on propane, heating oil or electrical power. For most home owners the option of installing an energy saving solar heating system, heat pump or some other "green" mechanical system to heat their homes is not logistically possible or is just too cost prohibitive. So the question is - how is it possible to save a bundle on your home energy consumption this winter while still using your existing heating system?

Here are some relatively inexpensive and practical ways to do just that.

  1. Insulate. For a small investment, get extra insulation blown into your attic space. Amazingly, millions of American homes have as little as 4 to 6 inches of the fluffy stuff in their attics. You should have at least 12 inches. Many municipalities and utility companies offer up to 100% rebates to have your insulation upgraded to help you save energy year round. See what’s being offered in your area.
  2. Seal cracks around doors, windows, foundations, crawl spaces and wall outlets. Restricting cold air infiltration can shave a bundle off your total heating bill. Caulking, expanding spray foam and weather stripping are readily available at your nearest home center and the cost is very small.
  3. Clean your air ducts. If you have a central forced air heating system, the ducts should be professionally inspected and/or cleaned periodically to maintain good air flow and ensure that a high percentage of heat energy is actually transferred to rooms, rather than impeded by blocked dirty air ducts.
  4. Change your furnace filter once a month. A furnace needs to have unrestricted airflow to maintain peak efficiency and effectiveness.
  5. Upgrade your thermostat. A night set-back programmable thermostat can help your heating system run more efficiently. Program the thermostat to turn the furnace on only when heat is needed most (evenings, weekends, etc.). Set the thermostat to a low setting (around 50 degrees) just before leaving for work/school, then ½ hour before returning home, have the thermostat programmed to warm the space to 72 again. If leaving town for long stretches, program the furnace to come on just often enough to keep pipes from freezing. A 50 degree setting is recommended.
  6. Zone heat. Perhaps the best way to save money during peak heating hours (ie.,nights and weekends) is to zone heat. What is zone heating? Heat only the room or rooms you’re in. Most families spend most of their time in one area of the home during cold winter evenings. No need to heat unused bedrooms, storage rooms, etc. that are unoccupied. If you have a direct vent fireplace in your primary living room, turn the furnace off and allow the fireplace to heat the room.

It is important to note that a direct vent fireplace draws combustion air from the outside and emits its heat through a solid glass front, an excellent heat exchanger. On the other hand, an open screen fireplace can actually cool down adjacent room spaces. That’s because the draw of flue gases through the open chimney also sucks already heated air and expels it to the outside. We call this a B Vent fireplace. Most newer homes use direct vent fireplaces.

If you don’t have a direct vent fireplace, you may want to invest in a 99.9% efficient vent free gas room heater. While not designed as a primary heat source, a vent free heater can throw a lot of heat into connected spaces as well. It’s even possible to heat an entire main floor with a single vent free heater. In fact, many homeowners use their vent free heater as their primary heating system all winter long.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the biggest economic impact. That’s certainly the case here. Taking practical steps now to decrease your home heating costs this winter can put a lot of money back in your pocket.

Scott Workman owns and operates Infra-Red Products Supply, Inc. of Draper, Utah. In business since 1986, Infra-Red Products has become recognized as one of the foremost leaders in energy saving heating system design and sales for residential, commercial and industrial consumers.

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