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7 tips to lower your home's energy consumption

John Morell | Improvement Center Columnist | March 22, 2012

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If you're like most homeowners, you've seen your heating bills climb no matter what type of furnace you use. And although the climate may be changing, when it's a cold morning you've got to turn up the heat. You may be paying for that extra tap on the thermostat a month or two down the road, but there are some inexpensive heat-saving tips you can use now to keep your energy bills reasonable:

  1. For around $10, invest in a tube of general purpose caulk and spray foam insulation. Use the caulk both outside and inside around window and door frames and any other area where you see small cracks. They may not seem like much, but lots of small crevices add up to a large space where outside air can get inside. Use the spray foam underneath cabinets where plumbing comes out of a wall. This usually leaves a larger hole that needs to be filled in which is why spray foam works well. For doors connecting to the outside, attach a "draft dodger" to the bottom, or just use an old towel to stop drafts. If you've got a room air conditioner, try to remove it or cover the exterior in plastic and make sure the edges are well caulked.
  2. It may seem obvious, but let the sun do its job. On sunny days keep the curtains and blinds open to let the house heat up as much as possible and consider moving large sofas and chairs so that they get maximum sun exposure and will be able to radiate heat later in the day as it cools down. Cut back trees and shrubs that block the sun in winter.
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  4. Fireplaces are notoriously inefficient heating devices but you can help them work better. Adding a heat reflector, which helps radiate heat out into the room, is easy to install and costs about $100. While you're at it, make sure your damper is working properly so that when its closed, warm air isn't escaping up the chimney.
  5. Call your utility company for ideas. Many have programs that offer free energy audits of your home that will give you a personalized report showing what needs to be done to make your house more energy-efficient. "When a professional comes into your home, they're looking at the details you may not be seeing," says Konswelo Monroe of Georgia Power. "And you can find out about whether you may be eligible for energy rebates for any upgrades you make to your home."
  6. Use a humidifier in cold rooms. Furnaces tend to dry out the air as they heat it up, and by adding moisture to a room it can feel more comfortable at a lower temperature. Also, if you have ceiling fans remember they're not just for August afternoons. There's usually a switch on the fan motor that causes the fan blades to reverse. This pushes the warmer air from the ceiling around to the rest of the room.
  7. Make sure your heating and cooling system is working as efficiently as possible. This means replacing filters as often as once a month if necessary, moving furniture away from floor registers and checking to see that warm air isn't leaking around the duct openings.
  8. Changing your old analog thermostat for a digital programmable model can save heating dollars. Time it so that it turns off when everyone's at school and work and turns on again just before the family comes home. It's also wise to have it turned down low at night and turned up again when the family wakes up.

If your furnace and water heater are old and inefficient, you might be ready to make a bigger financial commitment by replacing them. Before deciding on your next heating system, consult EnergyStar.gov for some eco friendly solutions -- including geothermal heat pumps and solar energy systems. They could earn you up to 30 percent in tax credits!