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Easy Ways to Reduce Your Utility Bills this Winter

COMMUNITY CENTERClean Water & WaterwaysGreen Homes & BusinessesOct 28, 2015Guest Contributor

Author: Guest Contributor

The bright colors of autumn will soon give way to the cold and damp days of winter.  Did you know that home heating and the hot water heater together account for about 43 percent of the average home’s annual energy costs?  Taking steps to reduce heating costs can make a big difference in your monthly bills and helps the environment. The folks at the Department of Energy, Dominion Virginia Power, and Virginia Natural Gas provide the following tips for reducing heating costs.

Seal Air Leaks – This is the most cost effective action you can take.  Check for and fix holes and cracks around doors, windows, lights, wall switches and outlets.  Repairing leaky and uninsulated air ducts can save $400 a year on heating and cooling bills, but is best left to a professional.

Add Insulation – Adding insulation in the attic and crawl space can save up to 20 percent on annual heating and cooling bills.  It’s the second most cost effective action you can take.

Install a Programmable Thermostat – Lowering the thermostat temperature while away from home and while sleeping can result in big savings – about $180 a year if used properly.  Every degree you lower the thermostat during the heating season will save between one and three percent on your heating bill.  Wearing a cozy sweater can make a lower house temperature a little more comfortable!

Regular Maintenance – Replace or clean furnace and air return filters once a month.  Dirty filters restrict air flow and increase the energy demand on your heating unit.  Have your system checked before the start of the heating system to keep it running efficiently and safely and to extend the life of the unit.  Do-it-yourselfers can check the owner’s manual, or call in a professional heating and air conditioning company.

Check Fireplaces – Much heated air leaves the house via the chimney whether or not the fireplace is in use.  Inspect the damper to make sure it closes properly and is not rusted, and keep it closed when the fireplace is not in use.  If you no longer use your fireplace, add a foam insulation insert to improve the air seal.

Exhaust Fans – Turn off kitchen and bath fans about 20 minutes after you are done so they don’t vent excess heated air to the outside.

Let the Sun Shine In – Open curtains and shades during the day to let the solar heat warm your house.  Insulated curtains with heavy linings are a good way to make old windows feel less drafty at night.

Close Foundation Vents – If your crawl space has foundation vents, close them during the winter to reduce cold air flow and prevent frozen water pipes.

Water Heaters – Most water heaters come preset to 140 degrees, which is a scalding temperature hotter than what most homes need.  Lowering the setting on your hot water heater to 120 – 125 degrees will be plenty hot and could reduce water heating costs by up to 10 percent.  Put an insulation blanket around your hot water heater if it is located in an unheated space – you could shave up to 15 percent off the cost of heating the water.

Fix Hot Water Leaks – A hot water faucet leaking at 1 drip per second can waste up to 1660 gallons of water a year and up to $35 in energy costs.

Reduce Hot Water Use – An on/off lever installed on the shower head will allow you to turn off the water while lathering up.  Turn off the water while shaving, brushing teeth, or lathering hands.

Get More Information – The following websites provide more detailed information on undertaking these tips and more, including energy audits, utility rebate and assistance programs, and tax rebates.

Blog post contributed by Karen Mayne. Karen is a biologist retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who resides in Norfolk and enjoys writing about environmental issues.