Getting your home ready for winter – Tips to save energy and money.

Although winter is not yet upon us in Minnesota, the nights are getting more chilly and most furnaces and boilers have been fired up. With energy costs projected to rise 6% this year, here are some tips to help keep the cold out and keep more cash in your pocket.

Setback thermostats

1. Installing a programmable thermostat.

If you haven’t done so already, installing a programmable thermostat is an easy way to reduce energy consumption. Most people are not in their homes during the day while at work and heating needs can be scaled back while cozy under your covers as you sleep. This is a reduction of heating for potentially 16 hours per day.

Modern programmable thermometers are relatively inexpensive to buy ($25 - $100) depending on features. Some of the more useful models allow for multiple programmable times and a weekend function. The idea is you set the temperatures higher for when you come home from work, and lower when you sleep. Then it gets raised before you wake and lowered while at work. You may then have the option to only lower it while you sleep during the weekends.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, one can save up to 10% on their heating and cooling bills by using programmable thermostats.

Wear a sweater indoors

2. Bundle up while indoors.

Lowering your thermostat and wearing warmer clothes seems to defeat the purpose of living in a heated home. Walking around in a T-Shirt and shorts inside is perfectly normal—for the summertime! We’re not talking about wearing a winter coat. Depending on thickness, wearing a sweater can add 2 – 4 degrees of body warmth.

Combined with using a programmable thermostat, this can lead to additional savings. As a side note, each individual should be the judge of what temperature is right for them. Families with small children and seniors are more susceptible to illness, so keep the heat up for those who need it.

Use a Door Sock to keep out drafts

3. Stomp out drafts.

Incoming drafts can waste 5% - 30% of your energy use, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. One of the simplest ways to reduce drafts is to either purchase, or make a “Door Sock” if you are crafty.

In addition, buying some weather-stripping to seal the top and bottoms of window sashes can dramatically keep out the drafts—especially on those windy Minnesota days.

You may also feel drafts coming from electrical outlets resulting from poorly insulated walls. Specially made electrical outlet insulation kits are available and very simple to install. Always follow the instructions on the packing and turn off power before removing any outlet covers. Also look for the insulation kits that are “fire-retardant.”

Finally, use a quality caulk to seal gaps around door and window frames inside and out. Pay special attention to corners that may have gaps and remove cracked existing caulk to keep air from coming in or out.

Ceiling fans bring the heat down.

4. The magic of ceiling fans.

If you have ceiling fans in your home, look to see if you have a reverse switch near the electrical pulley. The correct direction of the fan during the wintertime should be clock-wise and set the fan on low. Since warm air rises, the winter setting allows the warm air to be circulated back downwards. Using ceiling fans to recirculate warm air can save as much as 10% on your energy bills.

Use window film to reduce heat loss

5. Window plastic on large, or inefficient windows.

Using plastic window insulation on large, or less efficient windows can have a big impact on drafts and lower the loss of heat through the windows. Window film is cheap, easily installed and often on sale at local hardware stores this time of year.

If you have never used window insulation kits before, consider trying it on a few windows first. Before installing it, place your hand inches from the window and notice the temperature. After installation, test the temperature again. You’ll notice a difference!

Clean your radiator vents for better efficiency.

6. Replace your furnace filter, or clean your radiator vents.

If you have a forced-air furnace to heat your home, replace your filter at the beginning of the heating season. Dirty air filters make your furnace work harder to move air and a clean filter can save approximately 15% on operating the furnace.

If you have a boiler system, the equilivant to replacing a filter is cleaning the radiator vents. This is especially true for baseboard vents. Radiator vents allows convection to let air circulate through the vents which heats the air and causes warm air to rise. Dust, carpet fiber and pet hair clog these vents and restrict air flow. Clogged vents can decrease the efficiency of your boiler system by almost 25%!

They are easy to clean and a vent brush can be purchased at most hardware stores. You will be surprised at the amount of debris that accumulates in the vent holes over the off season.

Lower your water temperature.

7. Turn Down Your Water Heater.

While many conventional water heaters are set to 140 degrees F by installers, most households don't need that much steam, and end up paying for it -- in dollars and the occasional scalding burn. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees F (or lower) would reduce your water heating costs by 6% to 10%.

If you start to wonder why you need a tank at all, then you may be ready for a tankless water heater, or to go solar. If you are in the market for a new water heater, take advantage of either utility company rebates or the federal tax credit, which pays up to $1,500 for conventional systems. Go to www.energystar.gov for more details.