December 2008
Reduce Your Winter Energy Bill with a Complete Home Check-Up

Cold weather has arrived, but is your home ready? And maybe more importantly, is your wallet ready?

Performing a winter home check-up is easy and can save you money on energy bills. A home check-up evaluates the home's appliances, structure and the habits of each occupant.

Rigs Santos, energy auditor specialist for Walton EMC, says that it doesn't matter how efficient you think you are when it comes to lowering your thermostat or turning off appliances. "If your appliances are old or poorly maintained, your energy bill can still be high."

How well do your appliances work? Check the efficiency, condition and size of all your appliances. And also consider the number of appliances your household uses. Could you eliminate any unnecessary appliances?

Maintain Your Heating System
Call a licensed heating and air contractor for a tune-up and inspection on your home's heating and cooling system at least once a year. If the system is old, consider upgrading to a more efficient one with a higher annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The AFUE tells you how much energy is being converted to heat - for example, if your furnace has an AFUE of 65 percent, that means that 65 percent of the gas used by the furnace warms your home, and the other 35 percent escapes as exhaust. The highest rated models have an AFUE of 97 percent, but the current requirement for new furnaces is 78 percent.

Don't forget to replace or clean the system's air filter once a month, depending on the type of filter.

"Dirty filters cause the system to work harder for a continuous airflow," Santos says. "Be sure not to block air flow by covering vents with rugs or furniture."

Program Your Thermostat
Install a programmable thermostat so you can better manage your home's temperature while you're at home or away.

"It's recommended that you keep your thermostat set at 68 degrees during the winter," Santos says. "But at night or when you're away, turn the thermostat down. Instead of monitoring the thermostat 24 hours a day, a programmable thermostat will save your settings and automatically make adjustments for you."

Seal Duct and Air Leaks
Check your home's ductwork for leaks. Leaks can waste up to one-third or more of the heated air your system produces - that's one-third extra heat that you're paying for, too.

"Small adjustments can make a big difference in energy use," Santos says. "Like sealing and insulating ductwork."

Wrap all seams and joints. Seal joints with mastic compound or use a good quality duct tape (U.L. standard 181). Reducing air leaks could save an average household as much as 10 percent on a monthly energy bill.

Air can also move through cracks around windows and doors. You might consider upgrading the caulking and weather-stripping around windows and doors. Don't forget to check the garage and basement, too.

Add Attic Insulation
Avoid unwanted air exchange with the attic by using an insulated cover over the access door. Is the attic's insulation and ventilation adequate?

At a minimum, insulation should meet local building codes. However, the Department of Energy and Energy Star have recommendations on their websites for suggested R-values for an energy efficient home. You can determine the R-value of existing insulation by determining the type of insulation and the thickness.

This winter, avoid comparing your energy bill with your neighbor's bill. Every home is different, including the home's construction, appliances and also the habits of its occupants.

And remember when you get your gas bill, you're actually being billed for the gas you used a few weeks ago. The weather today isn't the same as six weeks ago - it may have been colder or even warmer.

You can fight the cold weather this winter by performing a check-up to ensure your home is winter-ready now. Then, you can sit back, relax and enjoy a more comfortable, more efficient home.

Read other articles from The Walton EMC Gasette:
Going Green This Holiday Season
Five Helpful Tips
Gas Up the Stove
This month's recipe features Honey Apple Glazed Turkey.