Warm for the Winter: How to Heat Your Home While Saving Energy and Money

Do you get chills just thinking about your utility bills during wintertime? If your answer to a drafty home is to simply crank up the furnace, you’ll not only pay for it, but you could also be wasting energy and depleting more natural resources in the process. Instead of making your heater work overtime, here are ways you can reduce your energy consumption and still keep your home warm and toasty this winter.

  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), heating accounts for 45% of energy use in homes and pumps out 292 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year. The more CO2 we release into the atmosphere, the more we hinder the earth’s ability to maintain balance, which has a variety of negative implications. That’s why, the less energy you use to heat your home, the better it is for Mother Nature (and your wallet!).

 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

 

Seal Drafty Areas

Air leaks are the primary culprit for excess energy consumption. If air is able to escape out or in, your furnace will just keep pumping out heat relentlessly. Get to the root of the problem by sealing these areas.

  • Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows, including your attic, basement, and garage access doors.

  • Caulk openings around plumbing, ductwork, and electrical wiring.

  • Apply foam sealant on larger gaps around windows and baseboards, and place foam gaskets behind outlet covers.

  • Add baffles around recessed lights if yours are not airtight.

  • Install double-pane windows or cover single-pane windows with storm windows. For a cheaper option, purchase a plastic film insulation kit.

  • Seal gaps around the fireplace with sheet metal/sheetrock and a high-temperature silicone caulk. Also, ensure your flue is closed when  not in use.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends getting a professional blower door test to detect the source of air leaks, but in the interest of saving money, they also provide tips on how to identify air leaks yourself.

  

 

Check Your Insulation

 

According to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), 90% of U.S. homes are under-insulated. This is especially true for older homes, but it can even apply to newer ones. The EPA estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs by sealing air leaks and adding insulation in attics, crawl spaces, and basement rim joists. VisitEnergyStar.gov to learn how to perform a DIY insulation check for your walls and attic and to find out which insulation levels are recommended for your region and climate. If you’re not comfortable with the DIY route, hire a professional to assess your insulation needs.

  

 

Let the Light In

 

Using the sun’s natural light is an easy, environmentally conscious (and completely free!) way to heat up your house. As the sun beams down on your windows, it produces a greenhouse effect that traps heat inside. This works in your favor during the winter months, so be sure to open your curtains each morning to let the sun work its magic. On the flip side, remember to close your curtains at night (consider thermal drapes) to keep the warmth in.

 

 

Turn Down the Thermostat

 

As you begin implementing the energy-saving tips provided above, your home should start to warm up and retain heat more efficiently. That means you shouldn’t need to keep your thermostat set super high. During the cooler months, the U.S. Department of Energy suggests setting your thermostat to 68°F while you’re at home and awake, and setting it lower when you’re asleep or away. By turning your thermostat back by 7°-10°F from its normal setting for eight hours a day, you can save around 10% per year on heating and cooling costs.

 

 

Program Your Thermostat

 

In addition to choosing the right temperature, a smart or programmable thermostat can make a big impact on your home’s energy efficiency. You can program your thermostat for time-of-day usage, so you don’t have to remember to turn the temperature down when you’re gone or up when you get home from work. More advanced heating systems may even be configured to only heat rooms that you use, or to kick on or off when you enter or leave a room.

 

 

 

Decreasing your energy consumption is an important first step in minimizing the impact that heating has on the environment, and in reducing your energy costs. But we shouldn’t stop there. Rather than relying on fossil fuels (like natural gas) to heat our homes, adopting renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, and biomass technologies can even further reduce your home’s environmental footprint. While they may not entirely replace your current heating methods, these technologies can easily integrate with your existing system and supplement its heat production.

 

 Learn more about renewable heating options and their costs at EPA.gov.

By taking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use this winter and adopting renewable heating alternatives, you’ll save money, improve the comfort of your home, and make a positive impact on the planet. Those benefits alone are enough to make you feel warm on the inside, as well as the outside!

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Fall Maintenance

Exterior Fixes
• Regularly clean gutters and downspouts. Make sure all drainage areas are unblocked by leaves and debris. Consider installing gutter guards to make the job a lot easier.

• Use a screwdriver to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Use caulk to fill the holes or completely replace the wood.

• Inspect your roof, or hire a licensed professional to examine your roof for wear and tear. If the shingles are curling, buckling or crackling, replace them. If you have a lot of damage, it’s time to replace the entire roof. Also, check the flashing around skylights, pipes and chimneys. If you have any leaks or gaps, heavy snow and ice will find its way in.

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The change in temperature and humidity and normal wear and tear can cause window seals to crack and shrink. Check your windows and doors inside and out for leaks and drafts. Caulk cracks or install weather stripping around windows and doors, including the garage door. Replace screens with storm windows and clean them if needed

• To prevent exterior water pipes from bursting when the weather gets below freezing, turn off the valves to the exterior hose bibs. Run the water until the pipes are empty. Make sure all the water is drained from the pipes, if not; the water can freeze up and damage the pipes.

• Wrap water pipes that run along exterior walls with heating tape. It will save energy and prevent them from freezing.

 

 

System Maintenance
• Clean and replace filters in your furnace or heating system. Contact a licensed heating contractor to inspect and service your gas heater or furnace to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Check the attic to make sure the insulation is installed properly. The vapor barrier on insulation should face down toward the living space. If it is installed incorrectly (with the vapor barrier facing up) then the insulation will trap moisture causing possible water problems. Cut slits in the vapor barrier to allow moisture to escape.

Fall Garden Maintenance
• Fall is the perfect time to divide or move perennials. Remove dead annuals and mulch hardy perennials. Annuals typically die when temperatures drop below freezing. But perennials often appear as though they too have bitten the bullet. That’s because their top growth dies back, although in most cases the root ball is hardy enough to survive even extreme temperatures, especially if it’s covered with a layer of mulch.

• Trim dead branches out the trees to prevent them from coming down and causing damage in a winter storm.

• Rake up the thick layers of leaves that settle on lawn surfaces. Large leaves in particular, especially when they get wet, can compact to the point where they suffocate the grass below and lead to all kinds of insect and disease problems. So it’s a good idea to routinely rake or blow them off the lawn or, better yet, use a mulching mower to shred them into fine pieces.

• Fall is a good time to aerate your lawn; it will allow moisture and nutrients to get into the roots. When you’re done, spread fertilizer then grass seed.

• This will be the ideal time to sow cool-season grasses such as fescue and rye – it will give them the opportunity to germinate and develop a good root system before freezing temperatures arrive. It’s also the right time to fertilize turf grasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turf grasses have the ability to store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring.

 

Check For Pests
• Pests love attics because they are full of nice warm insulation for nesting, and they offer easy access to the rest of the house. With gable vents that lead into the attic it is a good idea to install a screen behind them to keep those critters out.

• Even after closing off those entryways, pests can still find a way in. The first place to check for any unwanted guests is under the kitchen cupboards and appliances.

 

Safety Checks
• Each fall, check carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and put in fresh batteries. These are very important detectors to have in a home. A smoke alarm can save lives in a house fire. A carbon monoxide detector can also save lives if a home has oil or gas-burning appliances, like a furnace or water heater. 

• Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless byproduct of burning oil or natural gas, and it can be deadly. For just a few dollars, a carbon monoxide detector will sound an alarm if the levels get too high.

• Always install carbon monoxide detectors according to manufacturer’s instructions. Generally they should be installed near each potential source of carbon monoxide, and within ear shot of the living and sleeping areas.

• Have your wood-burning fireplace inspected, cleaned and repaired to prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Your Guide to October

 

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

   

 

 World Teachers’ Day

 

Celebrates teachers all over the world and recognizes the unique issues they face each day.

  

 

 

Columbus Day

 

Commemorates the voyage and landing of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492.

 

 

 

 

 Leif Erikson Day

 

Honors Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson, believed to be the first European to come to North America.

 

 

  

National Dessert Day

 

The sweetest day of the year!

 

 

 

 

World Food Day

 

Events in over 150 countries honor the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. #ZeroHunger

 

 

 

National Fossil Day

 

Held during Earth Science Week (Oct 14-20), this day underscores the importance of fossils in relation to our understanding of our world.

 

 

 

National Get Smart About Credit Day

 

Every October, volunteer bankers visit local classrooms to teach students about credit and finances.

 

 

Halloween

 

“Darkness falls across the land/ The midnight hour is close at hand/ Creatures crawl in search of blood/ To terrorize y’all’s neighborhood”

 

— Rob Temperton, “Thriller”

 

  

 

 

 

More U.S. presidents have been born in October than any other month.

Oktoberfest (officially held in Munich, Germany) isn’t just about beer and pretzels. It originated as a wedding reception for Bavarian royalty in 1810 and has since evolved into one of the largest annual festivals in the world.

Though it’s the 10th month of the year, the name October comes from the Latin word octo, which means “eight.” It was originally the eighth month on the Roman calendar. 

The World Series, which kicked off in 1903, is usually played in October.

Halloween has its roots in an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, and many of today’s Halloween traditions, like dressing in costumes, can be traced back to the Celts.

 

 

Have a wonderful October!

Gutter Cleaning

What
Gutters need to be cleared of leaves and debris that may have accumulated in order to function properly.
Why
Clogged gutters can wreak havoc on your roof, siding, and foundation. These repairs can be extremely expensive.
How
Many homeowners opt into a service contract with a gutter cleaning company that schedules twice a year. We recommend these plans because they are typically affordable and there is potential danger involved with accessing the gutters on many homes. Generally these specialists will get up on a ladder and check & clear the gutters & downspouts of debris. Clearing them can often be challenging due to baked on foliage (spring) or frozen leaves (winter) attached to the insides of the channels, so if you are doing this yourself, make sure you have a good ladder and a spotter helping you out. Water is generally run through the system after the channels are cleared. Make sure that all of your downspouts are extended away from the foundation at the ground level. Often, it may be necessary to regrade your soil in some spots so that all water is directed away from your home.

Your Guide to September

Looking for things to do this September? Mark your calendars, because this month’s theme is all about giving back, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to get involved.

September 7 — National Food Bank Day

Did you know 41 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger? Chances are, you know someone — a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate — who faces hunger every day. Food banks across the country play a pivotal role in providing meals to families in need, and they rely on people like you and me to help. On National Food Bank Day, do your part to help close the food gap in your community by donating food, time, or money to your local food bank. Visit FeedingAmerica.org to find a food bank near you.

 

 

 

September 11 — Patriot Day 

 

One of the best ways we can honor the victims, survivors, and responders of the 9/11 attacks is by sharing kindness and spreading hope to those around us. On this National Day of Service and Remembrance, join with your fellow Americans to pay it forward by taking part in a volunteer activity. Head to NationalService.gov to discover how you can get involved.

 

 

 

September 16 — National Working Parents Day

 

Along with meetings, deadlines, and navigating career growth, working parents are also tasked with being home chef, chauffeur, housekeeper, boo-boo fixer, and much more. Every day, these unsung heroes go above and beyond to provide for their families, and it goes without saying that they deserve a little recognition. Think of ways you can lighten the load for the working parents in your life, and if you’re one of them, give yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work you do!

 

 

 

September 17 — Constitution Day and Citizenship Day 

 

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day commemorates the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and recognizes all people who were born as or have become American citizens. Think you could pass the test to become a naturalized citizen today? Take the civics practice test to check your knowledge of U.S. government and history.

 

 

 

September 22 — National Public Lands Day/First Day of Fall

 

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or not, we all benefit when our natural resources and public lands remain safe, resilient, and cared for. National Public Lands Day is the perfect opportunity to connect with your community through environmental stewardship, and it just so happens to fall on the first day of autumn! With activities such as trail refurbishing, tree planting, and trash removal, you can help keep our recreational areas, wildlife refuges, and national parks thriving for years to come. Find a volunteer opportunity  at neefusa.org.

Furnace Maintenance

What
Annual furnace maintenance is mandatory for ensuring its optimal working condition.

 

Why
A poorly maintained and/or inefficient furnace could be costing you huge amounts of money and could prove to be a safety risk.

 
How
We highly recommend that annual service be completed by a certified HVAC or other heating specialist. Some of the main things they should do in this annual service include but are not limited to the following: 1- Replacing the furnace’s air filter 2- Cleaning its burners 3- Clearing vent lines 4- Checking for any small leaks 5- Cleaning its exterior 6- Monitoring its efficiency and performance

 
Now is the time to do it before cold weather is upon us!

Home Maintenance Reminders

Show your dryer some love

Most people know to clean the lint screen after every load of laundry. Keeping that filter clear will shorten the drying cycle, save you money, and prevent any potential fire hazards.

It is also good practice to regularly, but at least twice a year, remove the lint that accumulates at the bottom of the housing that holds your lint screen.

 

What 
Dryers require regular simple maintenance to keep working safely & efficiently.

 

Why 
To avoid potential fire hazards and having to do costly repairs to your appliances.

 

How 
It goes without saying that you should clean your lint screen after every load of laundry. Keeping the filter clear will shorten the drying cycle, save you money, and prevent any potential fire hazards. It is also a good practice to regularly, but at least twice a year, remove the lint that accumulates at the bottom of the housing that holds your lint screen. You can generally use a vacuum cleaner’s flat attachment to reach down in the housing to suck out anything that has accumulated in there. Finally, you should be cleaning out your dryer’s exhaust duct using a dryer duct cleaning brush (it’s a stiff bristled circular brush with a flexible handle that you can buy at most hardware stores) at least twice a year. The exhaust duct vents your dryers exhaust to the outside of your house and can become a fire hazard if not kept clear. Consider doing this more often (say monthly) if you do heavy amounts of laundry on a consistent basis. Many service providers sell regular service plans to handle this for you, so consider signing up for one.