Tips for saving on home heating

Although temperatures may be in the mid 80’s right now, each passing day is a reminder that summer is coming to an end and winter will soon be upon us. That means it’s not too soon to start thinking about how best to hold down the cost of staying warm this winter.

Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have conditioned Wisconsinites to weatherproof their homes. However, tips from professionals act as good reminders of what we can do to ensure we get the most from our heating system without breaking the bank.

Change air filter

Changing your heating system’s air filter is one simple way to keep your appliance running at the highest possible efficiency.

“If you do not exchange your filters, then they get clogged up and they have to work that much harder to heat your home,” Wisconsin Public Service spokesman Kerry Spees said. “It’s a very small thing, a small change, but it really helps during those winter months.”

According to the Wisconsin Public Service website, air filters cost between $6 and $35 depending on the model. Regularly changing filters can save up to 15 percent on your monthly heating bill.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports estimates it can cost up to $300 to have a professional fix damage caused by a clogged filter.

Clean filters also improve the quality of the air you breathe, said Doug Meek, energy auditor for Highland Building Consultants in Green Bay.

“Especially with furnaces that run a fan all the time, replacing the filter improves the indoor air quality,” Meek said.

Preseason tune-ups

Although a system tune-up is an additional expense, Spees said they are necessary to prevent more severe, expensive problems in the future when you may need heat the most.

“It’s a little bit of an investment,” Speed said. “People should call some contractors because costs can range, depending. But as far as price goes, if you do wait and they end up finding anything it becomes a matter of pay me now or pay me later.”

If you do not wish to have an annual tune-up, Meek said newer systems can get by with a check-up every other year while systems ten years and older should have a yearly checkup.

Seal and insulate ducts

Insulation is one of the oldest and most recognized methods to maintain uniform indoor temperatures year-round.

Newer homes tend to be well insulated, but if you own an older home chances are you could benefit by buying additional insulation to keep the house warm and avoid heat loss.

APEX Heating & Cooling Sales Representative Dan Delforge recommends looking into a program called Focus on Energy for assistance with the cost of upgrading insulation.

Focus on Energy is a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program that works with Wisconsin utilities.

The organization’s website offers information on a variety of home improvement and energy savings topics and manages the a rebate program that pays up to $1000 for qualified energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment and attic insulation.

Programmable thermostats

There are mixed reviews on whether programmable thermostats are effective.

A programmable thermostat is designed to switch temperatures at specified times during the day. The devices cost between $20 and $40, plus additional fees for installation and programming.

Spees swears by this customizable technology and considers it to be the best investment for people concerned about saving money on utilities.

“I have mine set to 68 degrees and when my wife and I go to work it’ll go down to 60,” Spees said. “Then it’ll go back up to 68 degrees at night when we get home.”

Spees said every degree you keep your thermostat down saves about 3 percent on your bill.

However, others are not quite sold.

Meek said he prefers keeping his home at one constant temperature.

“It’s a personal opinion,” Meek said. “They are alright if they only swing in four to 10 degree frames.”

Going over that 10 degree difference means the furnace will use a great deal of energy to bring the temperature in the house back up, which can mean higher heating costs in the long run.

Install energy-efficient windows

Delforge said old, loose windows are often to blame for a chilly home and increased heating costs.

“Windows like that are going to allow the cold to penetrate faster,” Delforge said. “Slowing that down with new windows will help reduce your heating bill.”

Consumer Reports notes window replacement is a long-term investment that is repaid over time.Window replacement can typically reduce a heating bill between 7 and15 percent.

Even if your windows are up to date, monitoring the use of shades and blinds also plays a big role Spees said.

“Although it may be nice to watch a snowfall from your window that happens to be one of the biggest culprits in heat loss,” Spees said. “Draw the shades on a could cloudy day and open them up when it’s a sunny day.”

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