Friday, January 16, 2009

Money Hack #1: Reduce your heating bill

It's mid-January, and where I live it's ridiculously cold. (Thank you, global climate change, i.e. meat industry1, the Big 3, huge industrial polluters, U.S. government that refuses to comply with the Kyoto Protocol....) Heating generally consumes more energy than any other source for homes, and with energy costs rising it can be a huge expense. Not to mention emission2

Here are some ways you can reduce your heating expense by conserving energy:
  1. If you have a furnace, make sure you change the filters when recommended. You can waste a lot of energy trying to pump air through dirty, clogged filters. Off-brand or generic filters work just as well and are often half as expensive.

  2. If you have radiators, line the wall(s) behind them with aluminum (sheet is best, but foil works too). This prevents the heat from absorbing into the wall and reflects it back toward the room, where it's put to better use.

  3. Windows are probably the number one source of lost heat. If your window panes have less than 2 panes, make sure you have storm windows installed. Then, check around the perimeter of the windows for air leaks. If you can't quite tell if there's a draft, light a match and hold it near the suspect area. The flame will move if there's a leak.

    Problem spots can be filled with caulk or covered with weather stripping (both found at most hardware stores), but if it's more of a problem with the whole window being shabby, you can use plastic to seal them. They make kits for this, but those get expensive if you've got multiple problem windows. You can accomplish pretty much the same thing by using a large roll of plastic wrap, some tape, and a hair dryer. Just put some heavy-duty double-sided tape around the edges of the window, and cover the whole thing with plastic wrap, making sure not to stretch it too tight, as it'll shrink a bit in the next step. Then, run your blowdryer, on its hottest setting, over the plastic until it has a shrink-wrap effect. Make sure you keep the dryer moving so as not to melt the plastic. Tape around edges with some cheap masking tape, and you're good to go.

    If you have window box air conditioners, these should be covered also. You can use the same shrink-wrap method described above, or you can just use a plastic garbage bag and tape. Make sure that both the vents and the perimeter of the A/C are covered. The plastic will stop actual drafts of air, but for added insulation, you can put an old towel, blanket, or thick shirt over the plastic. It doesn't look very pretty, but it's quick, easy, and free.

    Thick drapes are also good for insulation but expensive to buy. If you're handy with a sewing machine, there's nothing easier to make than drapes; just be sure to use the right gauge needle for the thickness of your fabric. If you can't sew, you can sometimes find cheap drapes at Goodwill or Salvation Army stores.

  4. If there are any rooms in your home that don't get used often, e.g. storage closets or spare bedrooms, keep their doors and vents closed so that you don't waste energy heating them.

  5. On outer doors, prevent drafts coming under them with a draft-stopper. Again, you can buy these or you can make them yourself. They're really easy. I used this guide and modified it by connecting two with a piece of scrap material so it provides more protection and moves with the door. Make sure you connect the two long rectangles for the stoppers with the scrap connectors before you close up the cylinders and fill them.

  6. A word about space heaters: the only time these are an economical option is when you only need to heat one or two rooms in a large house. So rather than turn on the central heat and let it heat the whole house, you might save money using just a space heater or two. On the whole, however, radiator/gas heat is cheaper than electric heat.

  7. Adjusting the thermostat: Keep it set as low as comfortable--and I mean comfortable when you're wearing a sweater. You don't need to run around in shorts and a tank top at home during the winter. In my house we keep the thermostat at 60 degrees when people are home during the day and 52 when no one's home and at night. Since we have radiators, and once they heat up they're hot for a while, it usually ends up being on average several degrees warmer than what it's set as. In general, turning down the thermostat at night can save you around 10 percent on your heating bills for the season.3 Unfortunately, we don't have a programmable thermostat, so it's pretty cold for the first person up in the morning. Good thing radiators heat up quickly. But, regardless of what my father apparently believed, turning the thermostat all the way up will NOT make the house heat up more quickly.

  8. If you have an accessible water heater, set the temperature to 120 degrees. Anything higher than this is not only spending unnecessary energy and money, but it can be dangerous.
For more about making your home energy efficient, see the U.S. Department of Energy's website "Energy Savers," which has a wealth of information about saving energy with not only heating but cooling, lighting, appliances, and even cars. Or you can download the free PDF containing all the information on the website.

[1]Land-clearing for pasture space and for crops grown solely for feeding meat-producing livestock, water pollution by way of antibiotics and hormones injected into livestock, the fertilizers and pesticides used on the feed crops, as well as the livestock's natural emissions make the meat industry one of the leading causes of human-induced climate change.

The natural methane (which has 23 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2) and nitrous oxide (which has 296 times the GWP of CO2) produced by livestock damages the ozone more than transportation (automobiles, ships, and airplanes combined) does worldwide. See "Livestock a major threat to environment: Remedies urgently needed," 29 November 2006, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

See also the full report by the UN FAO,
Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, 2006.

[2]"Energy Savers: Tips on saving energy and money at home," U.S. Dept. of Energy, EERE.

[3]"A Consumer's Guide to energy efficiency and renewable energy," U.S. Dept. of Energy, EERE.

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