As winter is approaching, it’s time to get ready for the inevitable heating season.
Heating your house is one of the bigger running expenses so let’s find some quick and easy ways to save money on your heating bills.
The best time is to do it now before it gets too cold. If you wait until the furnace is on, then that’s money that can’t be recovered.
Fix the Low Hanging Fruit Items for Easy Wins
I like to think of this a divide and conquer project. Sure, you could do the shotgun approach and try to fix every last thing, but that can become overwhelming.
A better approach is to find some easy projects that make a big difference.
After you have addressed all the major issues, you can always come back for some fine tuning on smaller projects.
Cut Down on Drafts to Save Money On Heating Bills
Drafts make you feel cold even if the temperature says it’s warm enough. It bites into your skin and the cold seems to be everywhere. You just feel cold all the time.
Drafts let cold air in and allow hot air to leak out so sealing things keep the house warmer on less money.
Second, you are more comfortable in a sealed house no matter what temperature you have the thermostat set at. You will be more willing to turn down the temperature if you are draft free.
Drafts top the list due to the financial impact and overall comfort of your home.
6 Ways To Cut Down On Drafts
Drafts are a low hanging fruit that you should fix these first. Typically it’s not that hard or complicated to find or fix them, and the results are quickly realized.
Where to look?
1. The chimney
There is a giant hole in most people’s houses that goes directly to the outside. If you have not closed the damper or have a defective damper, you will have significant drafts in the house.
Here’s a way to test for a chimney draft.
First close the damper if you have not done so already. Next light up a stick of incense.
Turn on the biggest exhaust fan that you have. Typically this is the kitchen stove fan.
Turning on a large exhaust fan will create a negative pressure in the house and air from the outside will come in any unsealed area. It will come in the biggest hole first, which is the path of least resistance, so that’s why we are looking at the chimney first.
Go over to the chimney and place the smoking stick of incense in the opening. Watch the direction of the smoke.
If your chimney damper is leaking, then the smoke will come down instead of up, which smoke would normally go.
If there are leaks with the damper closed, then see if there is something preventing a good seal, like ash. Clean it and then test again.
Even a clean damper will leak some, so don’t expect perfection here.
2. Leaks around windows
Windows are easy pickins for leaks. If they are leaking it’s one of two causes.
Either the seals around the window itself have failed, or it’s leaking around the frame.
Check for leaks around these two areas with the incense technique to nail down where the problem is.
If it’s the seal, then you will have to fix this yourself or have a professional repair them. Typically the seals are replaceable and they slide out easily.
If it’s leaking around the window itself, look for breaks in the caulking on the outside. Fix leaks by buying a tube of outdoor rated silicone caulk.
Apply a fine bead at the joint where it’s leaking, then smooth out with your finger for a professional looking job.
There is one other possible cause of a leak worth mentioning. The leak could be coming from old glazing that’s deteriorating. If you see cracks in the glazing, then see if air is leaking. If so, replace the glazing with new.
For a really tight seal you could install heat activated plastic seal around all the windows. I’ve done this before and you can feel the difference in temperature immediately. Unfortunately, they are not the most aesthetically pleasing options.
If looking at the film does not bother you, then go ahead.
3. Leaks from the basement door
If you have an unoccupied basement or crawlspace, it may be leaking cold air up into the living spaces. This can happen when the furnace comes on which slightly changes the pressure between the upstairs and downstairs.
Anytime there is a change in pressure, air will flow. So take some signal smoke from your incense to check under the door leading to the basement.
Leaks show up if the indicator smoke dives into an area around the door.
The most common area is the bottom of the door.
You can fix this leaking area by installing a bottom seal. A bottom seal is a sweeping seal that fastens to the bottom of the door.
Sweeping seals gently glide along the floor and prevent air from passing from a closed door.
4. Exterior doors
Any opening to the outside should be suspect. It does not take much of a problem in the weather stripping to leak a lot of air.
Do a visual check to see that the seals on the door are straight, smooth, and intact.
Sometimes these can get crushed and gaps form letting air escape.
Just like the basement door, check for the bottom threshold seal. Not only can you use indicator smoke, you can also close the door while you are on the inside of the house. On a bright sunny day, get down on the floor and check to see if any light is peeking through.
Any defects will stand out and are easy to spot by looking at the light peaking through.
This won’t work for the other seals on the side and top of the door because light can’t go around 3 corners. These areas need a visual check, then test the areas with indicator smoke.
5. The kitchen exhaust fan
A properly installed fan will have an automatic damper that opens up when the fan is on and closes when it’s off. If you have a leaky exhaust line, it could be that the damper was never installed or it is now stuck allowing cold air to enter the house.
6. Electrical outlets
Air often leaks around electrical outlets allowing cool air in from the outside. The cause is from gaps in the insulation and a lack of a seal between the insulation and the electrical box.
There are a couple of ways to fix this.
The first way is to spray expanding foam around the edges of the electrical box. There is always some play here since there has to be some clearance around the box.
The second way to help seal from drafts is to install an inexpensive outlet gasket. These cost about $0.10 each but that dime does a lot.
7. Plumbing holes
Contractors often cut corners and cut large holes in walls for pipes. This gap is a source of air leaks that is hidden from view.
Fortunately, you have access to the ones leading into cabinets under sinks. Fill these cracks with expanded foam to seal the crack.
You might have to remove the Escutcheons cover first to gain access. An escutcheon is an overly complicated word for “pipe cover”.
Once complete you have an added bonus of blocking insects from coming into the house.
Save Money On Heating Bills With A Smart Thermostat
The next thing we are going to look at to cut your heating bills is your thermostat.
Standard thermostats that heat to a specific temperature work, but they don’t work as well as they could.
A better approach is to install a thermostat that is capable of adapting to not only your preferred schedule, but to your changing needs.
A perfect example is the NEST learning thermostat.
Thermostats like NEST are remarkable. Not only do they allow you to set programs, they have built in algorithms to learn your habits. When you walk by a NEST thermostat it senses you are there.
This is recorded in the cloud saying “hey this user is in the room at this time”. It’s a learning thermostat that adjusts the temperature to heat you, not an empty house.
The ability to learn cuts heating (and cooling) costs and more than pays for itself.
They work with you and your busy schedule and adapt in real time.
A much better choice than any old ho hum thermostat.
Heat Where You Live
If all the heating vents are wide open all the time, then the HVAC system will attempt to evenly heat the house. That’s great if all rooms are occupied, but it’s costly when no one is there.
Each situation is different, but I’ll bet you can tell me rooms in your house that don’t get used that much.
These might be spare bathrooms or guest bedrooms that are rarely occupied.
Save money on heating bills by shutting vents in these rooms unless you need them. You are effectively reducing the amount of area to heat and it will cost less money. It helps to shut the doors to these rarely used rooms so that all the nice warm air from the living areas does not escape into low use rooms.
If you want to get fancy, you could also get remote controlled dampers that shut off individual areas or even an entire floor of vents.
These are fairly complicated and are installed in the ventlines themselves. You may need to hire this task to an HVAC contractor.
Choose The Right Home Heating Systems
If the furnace bit the dust this year then take some time studying options before replacing it.
Today there are more choices than ever for high efficiency heating. I’m not talking about just looking at specs, I’m talking about features that make a difference.
1. If choosing a fan forced heating system, try to get a furnace with a variable speed motor.
Furnaces with variable speed motors are awesome and allow you to save money on heating bills by running only as fast as it needs to be.
Put simply, it delivers just the right amount of air for the right level of heating and cooling comfort.
They are quieter too for an added bonus.
2. Consider a heat pump if you are in a milder climate like Northern California.
Heat pumps are more efficient since they extract any heat available from the outside and pump it into your house.
Think of this as free heat that smart technology can extract instead of burning more fuel. A win win situation.
3. Think about radiant floor heating, especially if you have access to the joists from the basement.
Any house with access to the joists can be retrofitted with radiant heat for a reasonable cost.
Radiant heating is flat out cozy. There is no air movement which is less drafty in general, and the house heats you to the core. You can even run around in bare feet in the winter time and have toasty toes.
If I remember my heat transfer class well enough, I’m pretty sure he said that 98 + 98 = 196. Just kidding.
What heat does do is transfer in one direction. It goes from hot to cold.
So if you snuggle up to someone, you will be warmer since your partner is at the same temperature you are as opposed to the normal air at say 70 degrees.
If you and your partner cuddle up on the couch while watching a movie, you can turn the temperature down and not even know it. Better yet, throw on a blanket and you’ll save even more. Hint, the NEST thermostat is controlled by a phone app. No need to even get up to adjust the temperature.
Saving money on your heating bills not only helps the family budget, it creates a more comfortable home.
By doing simple things like buying a cheap tube of calk and an incense stick, you can find problems, fix them, and make a significant impact on your heating bills.
Fix the problems where you get the biggest bang for your buck first, then move on down the list.
Finally, use technology like learning thermostats to do the tedious energy saving work for you.
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