Heating and cooling your home accounts for about half of your annual energy bills, and keeping your heating system operating efficiently is essential for saving money, reducing your carbon footprint and increasing your comfort during cold weather. These tips will help you maintain a high level of comfort at a lower energy price tag.
1. Schedule your annual maintenance visit.
Every year, you should have your furnace tuned up by a qualified HVAC professional. Annual maintenance has far-reaching benefits, which include extending the life of your furnace, ensuring safety, preventing common problems and breakdowns, reducing carbon emissions and lowering its energy consumption. A well-maintained furnace can last up to 25 years, compared to about 10 years for a poorly maintained system.The annual tune-up includes performing essential tasks that help prevent premature failure and immediately increase the energy efficiency of the system. These tasks include lubricating the moving parts to eliminate friction; testing the controls to ensure it starts, runs and shuts off properly; tightening electrical and gas connections and belts, and measuring the air flow for optimum operation and comfort.
2. Seal air leaks in your home.
Cracks and gaps around doors and windows allow cold air inside while letting warm air escape. The result is a lower level of comfort, higher energy bills and more wear on your furnace, which has to work extra hard to keep up with the heating load. To detect air leaks, tightly close your doors and windows on a very windy day. Pass a lit incense stick along common sites of air leaks, including windows and doors, baseboards, electrical outlets, recessed lighting fixtures and service entrances. If the smoke from the incense wavers, you've found an air leak. Seal leaks with caulk along stationary components, such as where the door and window frames meet the wall and along the tops and bottoms of baseboards. Weatherstripping between movable parts of doors and windows keeps air from leaking out. Install prefabricated sealing gaskets behind light switch plates and outlet covers on exterior walls. For larger gaps, like those around pipes and vents that pass through exterior walls, apply expandable foam caulk.
3. Seal and insulate ductwork.
Ducts that leak air through loose joints and cracks can result in the loss of up to 40 percent of the air that passes through them. Inspect your ducts for gaps and damage that allow air to escape, resulting in a lower comfort level at a higher energy cost. Seal air leaks with metal tape or mastic sealant designed specifically for air ducts. Check the seal between the ducts and the furnace, as well as those at the supply registers in your rooms. Insulating ducts in unconditioned areas like the basement, attic, or crawlspace will help keep the air inside the ducts warm as it travels to your rooms. Insulation also helps prevent condensation, which can result in the growth of mold and mildew and considerably reduce your indoor air quality.
4. Use ceiling fans to distribute warm air throughout your rooms.
You probably use your ceiling fans all summer long to help you feel cooler. But did you know that they also increase your comfort level in the winter? A simple switch at the top of the fan allows you to reverse the direction of the blades, which pushes rising warm air back down and sends it to the far corners of the room. Keep your ceiling fans on the lowest speed to help keep the heat in the lower third of the room, increasing your comfort at lower thermostat settings.
5. Install a programmable thermostat.
It's easy to forget to adjust the thermostat when you go to bed or leave the house for work. As a result, you end up paying good money to heat an empty house. Programmable thermostats let you pre-program settings based on when you're at home and when you're away or asleep. Properly installed and programmed, this type of thermostat can save you up to $180 a year in heating and cooling costs. Each degree you set back the thermostat over an 8-hour period can save you up to 3 percent on your heating bills.