Winter in Maine - Reduce Your Heating Costs With These Money Saving Tips
Brrrrrr!!!! This week has been soooo cold! Coupled with the healthy dose of snow we received over the holidays, it's a potent reminder that yes..., we live in Maine. Although we Mainers are a hearty breed, it sure is a great feeling when, after being out all day, going about doing what we have to, we can retreat to the comfort of our cozy, toasty homes. But if you're anything like I am, with today's heating oil and gas prices, I've adjusted my thermostat down by about 4degrees from where I kept it last year, and bought everyone in the family really cute sweaters and slippers for the holidays (so that I don't have to hear them complain that it's "freezing in here!". And, after doing a bit of research on how to conserve energy, I'm heading to Home Depot or Lowes (does anyone know who's having a good sale on weather-stripping) on Saturday to gather supplies to batten down the hatches a bit more tightly. Maybe if I do the right stuff, I won't have to suffer that "pit-in-your-stomach, OH my Gosh, not again!!!, there goes my kid's college fund" feeling we all have this year when the oil truck pulls up to our house again this year - (yup, got my Happy New Year delivery yesterday!).
So, where to begin in our search for heat sucking culprits? Let me share with you a few pointers I learned while researching this subject today.
- Do an energy audit of your house. You should identify areas where you can feel a breeze coming in... because guess what... that is exactly where the heated air is leaking out. (picture it.... dollar bills just floating out the front door). Check around doors, windows, and fireplaces (your damper should ALWAYS be shut when the fireplace is not in use - otherwise it's like a huge hole in your roof, and heat rises!!!) Use caulk, weather stripping, door sweeps, plastic, and other appropriate means to close off these leaks. If your house is poorly insulated, adding additional insulation will pay for itself in reduced heating costs.
- Minimize your use of ventilation fans such as bathroom fans and kitchen hood fans in winter. (FACT: A bathroom fan can suck all the heated air out of the average house in little more than an hour!) Over the course of the winter, ventilation fans can increase your heating costs by a surprising amount. Of course you still need to use the vent when you're steaming up the bathroom in the shower, but turn it off as soon as your done!
- Consider any areas of your house you don't use regularly, such as a guest room or basement family room. Close heating vents or turn back thermostats in those areas and close the doors for a painless reduction in heating costs. (Make sure there's no plumbing going into these rooms, though... burst pipes in the winter are a real bummer!)
- Do you have a room or two that are just a lot colder than the rest of the house? Consider adding a zone to your heating system for just those rooms, or invest in a small space heater. It will be much cheaper to up the heat in just those rooms than to over-heat the entire house to compensate for a room or two.
- Do you find you spend almost all of your time in only 1 or 2 rooms in the house? Consider turning down the heat and use space heaters to heat the room you spend time in.
- Keep your furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment in top operating condition. Dirty filters reduce the efficiency of your furnace or heat pump. Poorly tuned units are inefficient and use more fuel. An annual maintenance agreement is well worth the money to ensure that your equipment is properly maintained and will last as long as possible. At the very least, maintain an annual cleaning schedule. Not only will your furnace or oil burner heat more efficiently, you will prolong its effective life. My Meme used to always tell me "A stitch in time saves nine!"... she was right. Preventative maintenance is money well spent.
- Don't turn your thermostat up above the desired temperature. It won't heat up any more quickly - it will only make your furnace work harder (and what if you leave for work for the day and forget to turn it down - you come home and it's 90 degrees and you end up grimacing and groaning as you tearfully open a window. Also, while it makes sense to turn the heat back when you're sleeping or not at home, turning it down too low can actually cost you more because the contents of the house have to be re-heated in addition to the air. So what's a reasonable temperature? My research tells me 68 to 70 degrees while you're home and awake, and 60 to 65 while you're asleep or not at home are reasonable temperatures.
- Turning the thermostat down one degree can save up to 3 percent on your heating bills. Turning it down five degrees for four hours a day can save 10 percent. In Maine, that could save $250 to $550 this winter. You can install a programmable thermostat to automatically raise and lower the temperature at pre-set times.
- Check the temperature setting on your hot water heater. If you have a dishwasher, your water should be heated to 120degrees. Otherwise, you can adjust it somewhat lower. If you're not sure how to adjust your hot water, have your technician do it when he cleans your oil burner.
- If your water heater is in an unheated space like an unfinished basement, wrap it in an insulation blanket available at hardware stores to prevent heat loss.
- Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible.
- It's tempting to stand under a hot shower on a cold morning for as long as possible, but cutting your shower time in half can save up to 33% on your hot water heating costs. I bet that's pretty close to at least one dinner out a month! I don't know about you, but, although I love my long morning showers, I love dinner out even more. I' think I'll cut it down to 12 minutes from 20. That's a good start! (Hint: I've got a great idea! I'm putting a little kitchen timer in the bathroom - you can get them for just a few dollars at WalMart or Kmart - to help me and my family keep track of shower time!)
- In the winter, open the blinds and curtains on the sunny side of the house (the south-facing side) when the sun is shining and close them as soon as the sun goes down to retain the solar heat. Close curtains on the shady side of the house (north-facing side). If you don't have curtains, consider installing some. Curtains made from heavy fabric with lots of folds (fullness) can prevent cold air from seeping in and warm air from seeping out, which reduces your heating costs.
If you need help with purchasing winterization supplies, or with purchasing heating oil or gas, check out the Department of Energy website, where you will find a comprehensive list of and links to all of Maine's Energy Assistance Programs:
Until next time.... Thinking warm thoughts about better days to come... (they're called July and August...) :-)
The Laurie Danforth Group
ERA Worden Realty - 473 Center St. - Auburn, ME 04210