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How to cut your heating bills this winter

Companies that do energy audits may use infrared

Companies that do energy audits may use infrared sensors to see where heat is being lost. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / Suljo

Did you get sticker-shock opening your first home-heating bill this season? Those initial late fall/early winter utility bills are an unfortunate reminder that the tiny gaps in your house or apartment are really little heat-sucking vampires costing you money.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half of this going to heating and cooling costs. Furthermore, the amount of energy used in the average house is responsible for twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, the EPA says. That means taking steps to reduce heat loss adds up to real money savings and helps the environment.

The good news is you can take a few steps to vanquish those energy vampires, and most of these fixes can be done in an afternoon.

Get a better thermostat

The quickest way to cut down on home-heating bills, with long-term results, is to install a smart thermostat. Although they can be pricey, some utility companies offer rebates on these appliances, reducing your total cost.

Look for a smart thermostat that has sensors homeowners can put in other places in the house to detect cold spots. One example of this type of smart thermostat is Ecobee4 ($249), the newest version in the Ecobee line. It comes with a sensor, and more can be purchased.

Smart thermostats will measure your energy usage and show you the results via apps, which can be opportunities to save more money on energy usage.

Whether you purchase a smart thermostat or still use a manual programmable one, the EPA says, to see cost savings, lower the thermostat’s temperature when you’re away and at night by 8 degrees from normal comfort levels.

To keep from heating rooms that are used less, such as a guest bedroom, shut the heat register to that room and close the door.

Targeted insulation

Caulking and applying weather stripping around leaky windows and door frames will seal out the tiny drafts that suck out warmer air. As unattractive as it may look, plastic sheeting on rattling windows will help cut down on heat loss.

Especially in older homes, but even in newer homes, cold air can seep through wall outlets. One telltale sign is if the wall outlet is particularly cool to the touch or drafty when plugging in a device. Hardware and big-box retailers sell pre-cut foam insulation that fits around switch plates and can be tucked behind the wall plate.

Water heaters can benefit from a blanket. Newer units may have sufficient insulation, which should be at least R-24, the EPA said. If the heater is warm to the touch, give the unit its own winter jacket. Pre-cut hot-water heater blankets cost about $30, and some utilities offer rebates to purchase them, she said.

The EPA said that by insulating the water tank, homeowners can cut standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent and save about 7 to 16 percent in water-heating cost.

Give your furnace some TLC

Change air filters regularly; a clean filter prevents dust and dirt buildup and is less taxing on the system. While you’re at it, make an appointment with a technician to tune up your furnace. Do it now, since this time of year, technicians get busy. Not only does tuning up the furnace keep it running well, a technician can spot any problems and prevent a breakdown on the coldest day of the year.

Does the house still feel drafty even after addressing common overlooked areas? It might be time to get an energy audit done. The companies use infrared sensors to see where heat is being lost, so homeowners know whether they should have windows replaced or insulation added.

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