By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

Summer is little more than a memory, and those outrageous air conditioning bills that came with it are, at least for the moment, a thing of the past. Even if temperatures shouldn’t be approaching three figures again anytime soon, making your home as energy efficient as possible during the winter months should be on everyone’s agenda, too.

Before you know it, it could actually be cold outside. And when winter blows into town, you don’t want it to be cold inside, too.

How best to stay comfortable without running up a big tab? Consider some steps you can take to remain warm without letting that heating bill make your blood boil.

  • Change Filters: Replace or clean the filter in your heating unit once a month. A dirty filter limits airflow and causes you to use more energy to run the system. If you’re feeling flush, consider switching to an electrostatic filter, which traps more particulate matter.
  • Look for Drafts: That steady stream of air coming though the bottom of exterior doors can really run up your heating bill. A rolled bath towel is an effective, if not terribly attractive, solution. If you’re a bit more creative, consider making a “draft snake” from scraps of fabric and fill it with sand or cat litter to give it some weight.
  • Caulking and Weatherstripping: According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), leaks can reduce the energy efficiency of your home by up to 30 percent a year. Caulking and weatherstripping can help reduce that figure. To identify the leaks, move a lit stick of incense along walls. When the smoke wavers, you’ve located an air leak. (Here are some tips for choosing weatherstripping, which is more of a science than you might imagine.)

Or, if you prefer a photo and text tutorial, click here.

  • Invest in a Programmable Thermostat : How many times have you and your family gone off to work and school in the morning, leaving your heating system blasting away, keeping that empty house warm and cozy. We’re not suggesting that you return home to icicles on your windows, but it doesn’t have to be 72 degrees while you’re gone, either. Take the decision making out of the process with a programmable thermostat for as little as $50.

  • Have Your System Checked: A service contract with your heating and cooling contractor can be a little expensive, but the alternative can be, too. Not only will a poorly-tuned system cost you money on a monthly basis, but it also increases the risk of extensive repair in the longer run.
  • Examine Air Ducts for Leaks: A poorly sealed duct system can allow all sorts of warm air to escape before it does you any good. If you have a professional check out your system one or more times a year, ask if they’ll have a look at your duct work, too.
  • Insulate Pipes: Frozen pipes can be a nightmare during a prolonged cold snap, but even pipes that don’t actually burst can cost you money in terms of lost heat. Pre-slit pipe foam is available at most hardware stores. Cut to size and secure it with duct tape. Simple and effective.
  • Turn Down That Water Heater: Many conventional water heaters are set to 140 degrees F by installers. By dropping that temperature by 20 degrees or more, you can reduce your hot water costs up to 10 percent.
  • Run Ceiling Fans in Reverse: Ceiling fans in the winter? You bet. If yours run both ways, set them to clockwise in the colder months. The warm air that tends to rise to the ceiling is pushed back into the living area, keeping you warmer and cutting costs, too.
  • Dress Warmer: Depending on how heavy it is, a sweater can add two to four degrees of warmth. Saving money will warm your heart, too.

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