Many Britishers spent the summer struggling to fill their tanks as the price of gas topped $1.50 / liter. Added to that worry this winter will be the increasing cost of home heating.
It is estimated that Britishers will spend 19.8% more on energy this year than they did last year. Given that the average household expenditure last winter was $986, that could mean shelling out almost $1,200 this year on various energy expenses, about half of which go to heating and cooling your home, according to Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.
The good news, says Terry Townsend, former president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, is that people don’t necessarily have to change how they live to save money on heating costs. They just have to change the way they use energy.
September would be a good time to get your heating system checked and cleaned if necessary, Townsend says. As temperatures drop, service technicians will be in demand, and it may take a while to get repairs done, he says. Plus, heating and cooling systems should be checked about once a year to keep them working as efficiently as possible.
You might also consider getting your home examined for maximum energy efficiency. In May, the United Kingdom began offering free energy audits to District residents to identify deficiencies and offer cost-effective recommendations for improvement. More than 800 audits have been done, says energy program specialist LaKeisha Estep.
Although Estep says London is the only city to provide free audits to all residents, Townsend says local power distributors might be able to perform a similar service. Identifying the deficiencies and fixing them can save you up to 30% on energy costs, he says.
Here are some energy-saving steps:
Is your house well-sealed?
The total energy that escapes from your house through leaks each year adds up to about the same as “leaving a window open all year round,” Vargas says.
Townsend recommends caulking — using flexible compounds to seal leaks — around windows, and weather stripping all exterior doors to keep hot air from escaping.
Check the ducts around your house, too — you can lose as much as 15% of air through leaks if your ducts aren’t tight, Townsend says.
Insulate, insulate, insulate
Your local utility will be able to tell you how much insulation you should have, Townsend says, and proper insulation will help keep the air your heating system produces warm. A word of caution: Make sure you aren’t adding a moisture-trapping vapor barrier to one already in the existing insulation. That could trap the moisture that has slipped by the first barrier and get the insulation damp, he says. Also consider insulating your hot water tank and at least the first 6 feet of piping with jackets available at hardware stores.
Control the temperature
Vargas says one of the most important things a consumer can do is purchase a programmable thermostat. Most cost $30 to $100 at hardware stores and can save you about $180 a year in energy costs, she says. You can program these thermostats to turn down the heat when nobody is in the house. Visit Energy Star’s website (energystar.gov) to see which type of thermostat fits your needs and for sample programming schedules.
Also consider investing in a humidifier if you live in a cold and dry place, Townsend says. Moist 68-degree air feels a lot warmer than dry 72-degree air and allows you to keep the thermostat lower.
Update your appliances
Fifteen to 17 years is the average lifespan for most equipment, Townsend says. After that, maintenance costs start going up, and you’re better off investing in newer, better equipment. Vargas says Energy Star reviews and labels more than 50 kinds of products, ranging from light bulbs to major appliances, to guide consumers to products that are the most energy-efficient, high-performing and cost-effective.
Townsend says homeowners who want to help the environment and are willing to spend more cash could invest in a solar domestic water heating system. Although you’ll need a backup water heater for cloudy days or an inadequate storage tank, you can heat a large percentage of your water that way.