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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!


submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appeared in the September 15, 2003 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

With the warning of higher heating costs this winter it is necessary to see what ways a family can save money by conserving energy. Costs associated with heating and cooling account for the majority, about 44 percent of utility bills. Lowering the thermostat is the easiest way to save energy. Energy use is reduced for every degree dialed down. With an eight-hour setback of 10 degrees, the savings is 5 to 15 percent. If two eight-hour setbacks of 10 degrees lower are used while sleeping and during time away from home, a 15 to 25 percent savings can result.

Some tips for conserving energy include:

  • Use a programmable thermostat.

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter.

  • Weatherize your home. Insulation and air-sealing improvements to the shell of your home will always improve your comfort, regardless of the size and type of heating system installed. Weatherization may also allow the installation of a smaller, more economical heating system.

  • Change filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.

  • Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans wisely; in just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.

  • During the heating season, keep the draperies, blinds and shades on the south open during the day to allow sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

  • Close an unoccupied room isolated from the rest of the house, such as in a corner, and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. However, do not turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system. For example, if you heat your house with a heat pump do not close the vents—closing the vents could harm the heat pump.

  • Maintain your system periodically to yield immediate energy savings, improved comfort and a longer trouble-free service for any system. This includes duct repair and replacement.

  • Hire a professional technician to service your heating equipment. Qualified technicians can often identify safety and efficiency issues that aren't immediately apparent. A professional can also teach you about the operation of your heating system and the role you can play in performing minor service tasks.

  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed; make sure they are not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.

  • Keep warm air inside by adding insulation. It is relatively inexpensive and usually will save enough energy within a few years to pay for itself.

  • Select energy-efficient equipment when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models and designs to help you compare energy usage. Look for high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The national minimums are 78% AFUE and 10 SEER.

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels. ENERGY STAR® is a program of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designed to help consumers identify energy-efficient appliances and products.

Doing a home energy audit can help detect problems that may increase energy costs. You can easily conduct a home energy audit yourself. With a simple, but diligent, "walk-through," you can spot many problems in any type of house. When auditing your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems found. This will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades. You can also check with your local utility companies about home audits.

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