No matter what type of home you live in, there are things you can do to reduce heating costs without sacrificing your personal comfort.
Since heating accounts for 50% or more of a home’s energy use, it’s important that your home is able to hold heat for as long as possible. It’s important that the heating system fits your needs and is efficient.
Insulation and Weather Stripping
A fully insulated home can save up to $300 a year in heating and cooling costs. Uninsulated ceiling, walls and even floors can account for over 70% of total heat loss from a home.
Check and replace weather stripping on doors and windows. Air leaks around faulty weather stripping on doors and windows not only make your home drafty but also increases heating costs.
Windows and Doors
Up to 30% of total heat loss occurs through uncovered windows. Close-fitting, heavy drapes or blinds, or double-glazed windows reduces heat loss. Storm windows installed over primary windows are almost as good as double-pane windows for reducing heat loss, but they only work if they are kept closed. Be sure all your storm windows and doors are properly closed when cold weather arrives.
Open drapes on the south side of your home during winter days and close them at night. Sun angles are low in winter, allowing substantial solar heating through all south windows. You may want to trim any vegetation that shades south windows.
Learn the right methods of operation and maintenance for your furnace or boiler, and you’ll find that your heating system costs less to run while providing more useful heat.
Use a correctly sized heater. Don’t expect a small heater to heat a large area. It is unlikely to reach a comfortable temperature, making running costs unnecessarily high without providing adequate heat. Similarly, try not to use a large heater when only a small area needs heating. If only one small area of a centrally heated home is to be used, it may be cheaper to use a portable heater for a short time, or even invest in a small space heater, than to unnecessarily heat the whole house.
Minimize the area to be heated. Doubling the size of the heated area also doubles the heating cost! So close doors to unheated areas, or install curtains across open archways leading to other rooms.
Central Heating Systems
Central heating systems tend to be more expensive to run than space or room heaters as they are large units designed to heat all of the home at one time.
For example, the average size of a central heating system is three times that of a space heater, and therefore up to three times the running costs!
However, because they are bigger, central heating systems also present larger potential savings. Correct and efficient use can minimize energy costs and help you get the most benefit for your heating dollars.
Being able to close off or zone different areas of your home allows you to heat only those areas in use at any one time. Open-plan homes without zoning mean that the whole house will be heated at once, regardless of which areas are being used – a costly and wasteful exercise.
Install doorways or other barriers between different areas of the home, eg. between living and sleeping areas, and informal and formal areas. The bathrooms and laundry area, should also be a separate zone as they are usually unheated and well ventilated. Remember to shut the doors to any unheated areas!
If not fitted with a zoning option, ducted systems must maintain at least 70% of the total number of outlets open at any one time to operate efficiently. The manufacturer can tell you the exact number. Close as many outlets as you can (within these limits) to areas where heating is not required.
Outlet hoods fitted over floor outlets help direct heated air into the center of the room and away from cold windows. These are available from heating equipment suppliers and hardware stores.
Protect the return air vent in central heating systems from drafts. The cooler air from drafts needs more energy to warm up than does previously heated room air. Also, keep curtains and furniture clear of outlets and the return air vents so that they do not restrict air flow from the outlet and around the home. Ensure your ducting is free of air leaks.
Use the thermostat correctly. For every degree you increase the thermostat setting, your bill can increase by up to 15%. Reduce thermostat setting to 68 degrees. Reducing your thermostat setting can substantially lower your heating costs. Set back thermostat at night and when you leave home.
Setting the thermostat back 10 degrees at night or when the house will be unoccupied can save up to 15% on heating costs. The furnace will have to run more to reheat the house, but the energy saved while the home is cooler more than offsets the extra run time to reheat the home.
Install a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats allow you to reduce your home’s temperature at night and during the day and still have the home warm when you wake up or come home from work. Some programmable thermostats cost less than $50 and can be easily installed by homeowners.
Thermostats of central heating systems should be placed in living areas, where you spend most of your time. Ensure they are protected from drafts, a well as heat sources such as heating outlets or direct sunlight. Thermostats should not be located on external walls. Also, wear warmer clothing. It is free, easy and will let you turn down your heater a few degrees more. Throw an extra blanket on the bed and you can turn off your electric blanket too!
Have your furnace “tuned up” annually. Having your furnace cleaned and tuned annually helps the heating system operate safely and efficiently. Tuning may involve resetting the fuel-air mixture for proper combustion as well as cleaning of the blower and burners to assure maximum airflow and complete combustion. New furnaces don’t need to be cleaned and tuned for the first few years.
Change the furnace filter monthly. Clogged furnace filters lower the heater’s efficiency by preventing proper airflow through the furnace. Low-cost filters are available from your local hardware store. Check filters monthly to see if they need changing. Run the heater fan on its highest setting for best efficiency and heat distribution. Fans cost only around 1 cent an hour to run.
Turn off the pilot light (if fitted) over summer. This alone could save you $15 or more each year!
More ways to save on home heat and energy costs
Operate kitchen and bath vents minimally. Bath and kitchen vents exhaust moisture, along with heated air, to the outside. If your home is dry during the winter, you may not need to operate these vents at all. However, if you have condensation on windows, operate the vents as needed to remove cooking and bathing moisture.
Lower the thermostat set point on your water heater. Keep water temperatures at about 120 degrees. You can check your water temperature by carefully placing the back of your hand under a steady stream of hot water—if you can’t keep your hand there, your water is too hot.
Install a water heater blanket. Older water heaters may not have adequate insulation. Installing an insulating water heater jacket can save energy costs. Be careful to follow manufacturers’ recommendations and don’t cover the thermostat.
Reducing hot water use reduces the cost of heating water. Low-flow showerheads save water and energy. Showers generally use less water than baths. Using the cold water setting on your washing machine and repairing leaky faucets will save on water and water-heating costs too.
Consider installing an on-demand hot water system to save up to 50% since they only heat the water when you need it and more efficiently too!
Adding ceiling fans to rooms are a useful way to return heat that has risen up to a second story, or collected at the top of ceilings, back down to floor level again. This can save 10% of heating costs.
Tips for heating your home with wood
Get a good fire going as quickly as possible. This will allow the heater to draw air and function properly, with little smoke. Load firewood correctly, with approximately 25mm gaps between the logs to let in adequate air and help develop hot pockets of glowing coals. Inspect your flue or chimney once a year for blockages such as bird’s nests or creosote. Have it swept away if necessary. Close off chimneys when they are not being used, either permanently or with an adjustable damper.