Cut energy, heat bills this winter

Have you turned your furnace on yet?

If you haven’t, it won’t be long. It’s autumn and this is the Upper Peninsula.

To ensure utility bills don’t get out of hand, it’s important to guard against potential areas of the home where energy may be lost.

The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes Energy Awareness Month each October, making it good time for homeowners to make their home more energy efficient.

With the price of heating fuels and electricity constantly rising, energy experts offer some tips that will help save consumers money this time of year.

We’ll likely need all the help we can get.

– Turn down your thermostat to 68 degrees during the day. For every degree you lower your heat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you’ll save up to 5 percent on heating costs.

– Set the thermostat at 55 degrees or turn it off at night and when you leave home for an extended time. This can save 5-20 percent of your heating costs.

– Install an Energy Star-qualified programmable thermostat to automatically dial down the temperature at night and during the day when your house is unoccupied.

– Replace or clean your furnace filters once a month, and get your furnace tuned-up. Proper furnace maintenance can save up to 5 percent of energy costs.

– Let the sunshine in to help heat your home. Keep blinds or drapes of sun-exposed windows open in the daytime and closed at night to conserve heat.

– Replace old windows, glass doors and skylights with Energy Star products. Double-paned, low-emissivity coatings can reduce energy costs by 34 percent compared to uncoated, single-pane windows. There are some federal tax incentives available for replacing old windows.

– Rearrange your furniture so you are not sitting in a draft. Sitting near interior walls will keep you warmer than if you sit by exterior walls and windows.

– Traditional fireplaces are an energy loser – it’s best not to use them because they pull heated air out of the house and up the chimney. When not in use, make absolutely sure the damper is closed. Before closing the damper, make sure that you don’t have any smoldering embers. If you decide not to use a fireplace, then block off the chimney with a piece of rigid insulation from the hardware store that fits snugly into the space (dampers don’t shut fully without some leaking).

– Test your home for air leaks. You can save 10 percent or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home. On a windy day, hold a lit candle next to windows, doors, electrical outlets, and light fixtures. If the smoke travels horizontally, you have found an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weather stripping. Also, tape clear plastic sheeting to the inside of your window frames if drafts, water condensation, or frost are present.

– Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely. In just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.

– Turn off everything not in use – lights, computers, TVs, and DVD players.

– Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawlspaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your geographical area. Remember, about one-third of air infiltrates your home through openings in your ceilings, walls, and floors. If your home is not adequately insulated, have additional insulation professionally installed.

– Insulate your hot water heater and hot water pipes to save energy and money.

– Insulate heating ducts and keep them in good repair to prevent heat loss. Your system can lose up to 60 percent of its warmed air before it reaches the register, if ducts are not properly insulated in unheated areas such as attics and crawlspaces.

– Install timers on lights inside your home to avoid coming home to a dark house on winter evenings. Motion detectors on exterior floodlights improve your home security while reducing energy costs.

– Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of comparable incandescent bulbs to save about 50 percent on your lighting costs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use only one-fourth the energy and last up to 10 times longer.

– A few carefully positioned trees around the house can cut as much as 25 percent off your household’s yearly energy consumption for heating and cooling. Just three strategically placed trees can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually.