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An energy crisis is upon us. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this could be the most expensive winter for heating bills in 15 years among natural gas users. Natural gas prices are double what they were last year. Additionally, homes that use heating oil will also pay higher fuel costs due to lower than normal inventories of heating oil. Add the electricity supply problems in California to the list and that creates a bona fide national crisis.

Heating accounts for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home, so the increase this year can really hurt your wallet. There are several measures you can take to control your heating and energy costs this winter. Saving energy starts with good shopping habits, like buying ENERGY STAR® products. When you see the ENERGY STAR symbol, you'll know that product is certified as energy efficient. Quick fixes around your house can save you up to 25%. Invest a little more money and you'll save up to 50% for years to come.

Quick Fixes

In a 30-minute inspection of your home, you'll find that there are some simple things you can do in a day or two that will save you up to 25% on your heating bills.

Install a programmable thermostat Weatherproof your windows and doors Seal and insulate ductwork Insulate your water heater and pipes Rethink your household lighting

Long-Term Solutions

Invest more time and money, and you'll see savings of up to 50% on energy bills. Older homes typically have inefficient appliances and insulation along with inadequate windows and doors. You may not be able to do all of these improvements at once. But as you make improvements one at a time, you'll realize some savings right away.

Improve your insulation

Update your windows and storm doors
Replace your water heater
Choose an efficient heater
Choose efficient appliances
Modify your landscaping

Quick Fixes

Install a programmable thermostat

Many people think that adjusting the thermostat up and down makes the heating system waste more energy. However, research shows that by turning back your thermostat 10° to 15° for eight hours a day, you can save up to 15% a year on your heating and cooling bill. With a programmable thermostat, you can set it automatically with a different schedule for each day of the week. Set it to warm up before you wake, cool down when you leave for work, warm up when you come home from work and cool down while you sleep. You can install a programmable thermostat in about an hour. If you have heat pump, make sure you buy a thermostat specifically designed for heat pumps.

Weatherproof your windows and doors

Most weatherproofing projects involve windows and doors, because these are a major source of heat loss in your home. Excess leakage in homes can increase heating and cooling bills by 30% and reduce fire safety. Caulk and weatherstripping, along with other products including plastic window-well covers, can make a significant difference in your energy use. Many types of weatherstripping materials are available, and most are easy to use and are designed for specific applications. Generally, metal or metal-reinforced weatherstripping is more durable than products made solely from plastic, rubber or foam. Back to top of page

Seal and insulate ductwork

The Department of Energy says typical duct systems lose 25 to 40% of the heating or cooling energy put out by the central heating or cooling unit. Duct systems lose energy in two ways: metal ducts pull heat from the warm air as it travels and air leaks through small cracks and seams in the supply and return ducts. This is most problematic with duct that runs through cold basements or attics.

Don't just grab the standard duct tape for this job. This tape dries up and falls off after a few years. Use silicone caulk, mastic with fabric tape or heavy-duty foil-faced tape for sealing leaks. Then wrap the ducts with duct wrap insulation of R-6 with a vapor retarder facing on the outer side. If you live in the Sunbelt, you can use R-4 insulation.

Insulate your water heater and pipes

About 15 to 20% of your energy expenses go for heating water. If your water heater is in a cold basement, the water travels through some cold pipes, losing heat before it even gets to the faucet. Improve the efficiency of your water heater and plumbing with insulation. You can easily wrap a water heater with an insulation jacket in about 10 minutes. And wrapping pipes is just as easy with self-adhesive insulation tape from the plumbing aisle.

Rethink your household lighting

Lighting accounts for about 10% of energy used in most homes. Using energy-efficient light fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs can cut that in half. Start with automating the lighting inside and outside your home. Install motion sensing fixtures and switches, so lights only go on when spurred by activity. Timers let you create schedules for your lighting up to seven days a week. And lights with photo sensors automatically come on at dusk. Fluorescent fixtures and bulbs provide light using a fraction of the energy and last 6 to 10 times longer. You'll find many attractive styles of fluorescent fixtures for use throughout your home. And now, compact fluorescent bulbs screw into conventional sockets and fit inside most lamps and light fixtures.

Long-Term Solutions

Improve your insulation

Whether you live in a warm or cold climate, adequately weatherizing and insulating your home has many benefits. Most importantly, it saves money. In fact, an investment in insulating products can usually be recovered through energy savings in a short period of time.

Insulation is designed to resist heat transfer and is rated by R-value, which means Resistance to heat flow. The greater the R-value, the greater the insulating power. The Department of Energy bases their R-value recommendations for existing homes on specific heating and cooling needs, the type of fuel used, and the cost of energy across the country. A home just three years old may not be up to recommended insulating standards. Fortunately, adding insulation throughout your home is not a difficult project. To find out how your home measures up, click here for our Insulation Calculator.

A properly insulated house has the appropriate type and amount of insulation for walls, ceilings, floors, basements and attics (attics offer one of the easiest and most cost-effective insulation projects). The type of insulation you choose whether batts and blankets, rigid foam panels, or loose fill insulation will depend on your project, and often products are used together for maximum energy efficiency. Proper installation is critical, so be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations, cautions and limitations.

Update your windows and storm doors

When you are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on new or replacement windows, doors or skylights, you need to get the most for your money. Proper selection of windows, doors and skylights can significantly effect how much money you spend or save every year on keeping your home bright and comfortable. A great way to find the right products for your home is to look for the Energy Star® symbol. Energy Star® labeled windows, doors and skylights are twice as efficient as the average windows manufactured just ten years ago. New materials, coatings, design and construction features, as well as other innovations, make Energy Star® labeled windows a cost-effective investment. These high performing products can help cut your heating and cooling costs by up to 15%, make your home more comfortable, and help the environment, too.

Replace your water heater

If your gas water heater is more than 10 years old, it probably has an efficiency rating no higher than 50%. One way to reduce water-heating costs would be to replace your old water heater with a new, higher-efficiency model. A water heater's efficiency is measured by its energy factor (EF) based on recovery efficiency, standby losses, and cycling losses. The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater. Whenever possible, do not install the water heater in an unheated basement. Also try to minimize the length of piping runs to your bathroom and kitchen.

Choose an efficient heater

Remember that heating and cooling account for the majority of your energy bill each year. You can save money by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. When shopping for new heating equipment, look for the yellow FTC (Federal Trade Commission) EnergyGuide label showing the efficiency rating for gas- and oil-fired furnaces and boilers. Energy Star® furnaces have a 90 rating or greater. Bigger is not always better. Too large a system costs more and operates inefficiently. Have a professional assess your needs and recommend the type and size of system you should purchase.

Choose efficient appliances

When it's time for a new refrigerator, dishwasher or washer/dryer, look for the EnergyGuide label that tells how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) the appliance uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy it uses. Energy Star® labeled units exceed federal standards.

Modify your landscaping

Your favorite tree may do more than add beauty to your yard. If it's placed right, it can serve as a windbreak or provide effective shade in summer. Computer models from DOE predict that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually. Deciduous varieties like oak or maple trees planted on the south and on the west will help keep your house cool in the summer and allow sun to shine in the windows in the winter.

Written by: Home Depot


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