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Squeezing Value from Winter Heating

There is no shortage of advice on when it comes to saving energy during the winter months. Utility bill inserts and home improvement store advertisements bombard us every fall with tips on getting our homes ready for the winter.  Some of the recommendations reflect major investments like window replacements and upgrading to more efficient heating systems.  Other tips, like caulking and sealing, are of the do-it-yourself variety.

Why talk about home heating tips in the middle of the winter? The answer is that it is never too late to eliminate waste and save on your home energy bill.  Replacing windows during a blizzard may not be practical, but adding attic insulation is fair game regardless of the date on the calendar.

Heat is Perishable

For the most part, solar radiation and furnaces heat our homes. Sunlight is free but we have to pay for the manufactured stuff.  What other consumable item would we buy and not be stingy about how we used it?  We put perishable food in the refrigerator to get the most value from our grocery budget.  We should also get the most value from the heat we purchase for our homes.

Once we have spent our hard-earned cash creating heat, we have to make sure we extract the value from our energy purchase. Think about your home as fortress designed to retain heat and keep out the cold.  Heat escapes your fortress of comfort primarily by the following methods:

  • direct transfer through floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and doors
  • air leaking through cracks arounds windows and doorframes
  • exhausting air from the home by clothes dryers, range hoods, and bathroom fans
  • ventilating gas from furnaces, water heaters, or fireplaces

You Paid for It – Protect It

Each unit of heat your home retains means one less unit you have to buy to replace it. No home is perfectly sealed.  Even the newest homes with the latest energy efficiency measures will lose heat through the methods listed above.  Your objective is not to eliminate heat loss but, rather, to slow it down a bit.

Air leaks are huge heat loss culprits. They are also among some of the easiest and least expensive things to fix.  Most air leaks occur around, windows, doors, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, and attic stairs.  On a blustery day, hold a lit incense stick near these areas.  If the smoke travels vertically, you are in good shape.  If the smoke travels horizontally, you have an opportunity for sealing and saving.  As an added benefit, your house will smell great and this will give you an excuse to put off working on your tax returns.

You have probably heard these tips before. That is because they work and are worth repeating.

  • Install foam gaskets behind outlet covers and switch plates. Skeptical? Install a few of these and try the incense trick before and after. You might become a true believer.
  • Caulking and foam weather stripping work best to reduce air leaks around windows and doors.
  • Low-expansion spray foam is ideal for sealing air leaks or gaps around soffits over cabinets. This foam sealant also works great around baseboards and larger window gaps.
  • Places that leak air can also leak water. Mold is a sign of a serious leak. Contract a licensed professional if you see signs of mold. Be sure to inspect your insulation for mold as your roof may require flashing or other repairs.
  • Make sure the fireplace damper is closed when not in use. If you do not use your fireplace very often, you can purchase a chimney balloon that will do an awesome job of sealing off the flue. It is designed to harmlessly burn up if you forget to take it out before starting a fire.
  • Doors that lead outside or to unheated spaces like garages should have a pliable sealing gasket on the door bottom. These wear out and get brittle over time so it is a good idea to use your incense stick to see if they need to be replaced.

Other than making a more substantial investment or changing your energy usage behaviors, these are the best ways to get more value out of your home heating. Keep in mind that most of these fixes are within the realm of do-it-yourself.  However, if you are unsure or uncomfortable doing them, a reputable home contractor can perform these services for a reasonable fee.

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