dave-stuartBy Dave Stuart, MATC environmental systems and automated buildings systems instructor

By now, we’ve all noticed that winter has arrived with a vengeance. If you are anything like me, you would like to save money this winter on home heating. The cost of heating your home can be 45 percent or more of your utility bill, so any savings can really add up.

If you haven’t done so already, start by having your furnace or boiler inspected. Some companies call this a “tune up” or a “clean and check.” This can be money well spent.  Having your system inspected by a professional can assure you that it is running safely and efficiently.

It also can save you from a potentially expensive service call down the road. While your service technician is cleaning, adjusting and calibrating your heating system, he or she may be able to identify a part that may potentially fail soon. Taking care of it now can give you peace of mind that it won’t fail later, leaving you without heat.

An often overlooked task you handle yourself is changing your furnace filter. If you have a forced air furnace or heat pump, the filter should be changed regularly. This ensures that the heating system is able to deliver the heat to your space as easily and efficiently as possible. It can reduce run times of your system and wear and tear on system parts. I recommend a standard pleated filter.

Next, consider adjusting your thermostat. For every degree cooler you set it, you can save as much as five percent on heating energy use.  If you don’t have one, you might consider buying a programmable thermostat. This allows you to set a schedule that will automatically turn down your heat when you aren’t home or are asleep.

Many new thermostats come with Wi-Fi capability. These are handy when your schedule varies from day to day. The Wi-Fi thermostat gives you the ability to adjust your thermostat from a smart phone or other internet-connected device. You also can monitor your home from your phone or tablet.  If you are out of town on vacation, you can check in to see that your heating system is working.

Be careful how low you set your thermostat. If you turn the heat down too far, you run the risk of freezing water pipes that may be in exterior walls of your house. In addition, if you have a boiler heating system, turning your heat down too much may mean that your system can’t recover or catch back up when you are home.

Next, make sure you aren’t blocking vents or baseboard heaters with furniture or rugs. Blocking your heating outlets causes your system to run longer to maintain temperature and leads to drafty spaces. Consider rearranging furniture so that seating areas are on the interior walls rather than near the windows, moving you out of the path of drafts.

I would not recommend closing vents in unused rooms. With older heating systems this may have been okay, but with newer systems this could actually cause excess wear on the system and drive efficiency down. If you would like to close vents, ask your service technician for an opinion as to whether your system can handle it.

Are your windows latched?  Many windows are designed to seal tighter when the latches are secured. Inspect the weather stripping on your doors. Air leaks on exterior walls cause a great deal of energy loss. Sealing up those leaks can lead to substantial energy savings. Some air leaks around pipes and conduits can be permanently sealed, while windows and patio doors can be temporarily sealed.

Finally, check your water heater. It should be set to no higher than 120 degrees.  If it is set too high, you could be spending money unnecessarily and running the risk of scalding yourself and your family.

If these steps allowed you to save enough money to travel to a warm climate this winter, don’t forget to turn your water heater down. Many people overlook the water heater when going on vacation. A standard water heater may cycle on several times a day to maintain temperature.  If you aren’t home to use the water, then why pay to heat it?

Hopefully, these tips will help you stay warmer and save some money in the process.

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