WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Alliance to Save Energy today counseled U.S. consumers to use energy efficiency measures to lower home heating bills that the government now predicts will be higher this winter than last.
While the projected rise in home heating costs, as released today by the Energy Information Administration in its annual Winter Fuels Outlook, is relatively modest – 3 percent or $24 – the average U.S. household's heating bill this winter is expected to be nearly $1,000. And these higher costs come at a time when many Americans already are struggling to meet their monthly bills. The Alliance also noted that users of heating oil and propane are expected to take a much bigger hit, with bills increasing by more than $100.
But consumers can insulate themselves against high energy costs by employing energy efficiency measures that also make homes more comfortable and lower their carbon footprints. And the Alliance noted that October – the nation's official Energy Awareness Month – is the best time for consumers to prepare their homes for winter.
"With heating accounting for 31 percent of the typical home's energy costs, energy efficiency measures that lower heating bills will keep real money in consumers' pockets," noted Alliance President Kateri Callahan. She added, "Homeowners should keep in mind the December 31 expiration of federal income tax credits that make specific energy-efficiency upgrades more affordable. So this is definitely the time to consider those investments."
To help consumers get through the winter in comfort and without undue financial strain, the Alliance suggests the following steps:
Plug up leaks to the outside – Sealing air leaks with sealant, caulking and weather stripping and making sure your home is adequately insulated for your climate will not only reduce your heating (and summer cooling) costs up to 20 percent, it will also increase your comfort and make your home quieter and cleaner.
Properly maintain your HVAC system. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your fuel efficiency, a semi-annual or yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. The federal government's ENERGY STAR website can help you find a qualified HVAC contractor (www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_contractors_10tips).
Keep furnace filters clean. Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer), and change it if it looks dirty. At a minimum, change the filter every three months. In addition to increasing energy costs, a dirty filter can also damage your equipment, leading to early failure.
Let a programmable thermostat "remember for you" to lower the heat while your home is empty and/or overnight to reduce heating costs by up to 10 percent – and allow you to come home and wake up to a comfortable house.
Consider ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. If your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old, replacing it with an ENERGY STAR qualified unit can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs. If your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR qualified furnace, which is 15 percent more efficient than a conventional one. An ENERGY STAR qualified boiler is 5 percent more efficient than a new standard model. As noted, certain highly efficient models qualify for the soon-to-expire federal income tax credit.
Seal and insulate heating and cooling ducts. Ducts that leak air into unconditioned spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. In a typical house with a forced air system, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts. Sealing and insulating ducts increases efficiency and lowers home energy bills – often sufficiently to cover the cost. In addition, a well-designed and sealed duct system may make it possible to downsize to a smaller, less costly system that will provide better dehumidification.
Save on the cost of heating hot water – the third largest energy expense in your home, typically accounting for about 12 percent of your utility bills. There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater to 130 degrees, insulate your water heater (according to manufacturer's directions and without covering the thermostat) or buy a new, more efficient model. You also can save by washing laundry in cold water.
Open curtains and other window treatments on your west- and south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night.
Go "window shopping" at www.efficientwindows.org to discover how high-performance ENERGY STAR-labeled windows can cut heating costs by as much as 25 percent compared to older, inefficient windows, such as those with single panes. Even compared to conventional new windows with double panes, ENERGY STAR qualified windows can save from 7 to 15 percent while increasing indoor comfort and lessening fading of home furnishings.
Also look for the ENERGY STAR label when replacing or buying appliances, electronics, lighting and many other product categories to save up to 30 percent in related electricity bills. See www.energystar.gov for details on the more than 60 types of ENERGY STAR qualified products.
The Alliance to Save Energy is a coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders who promote the efficient and clean use of energy worldwide to benefit consumers, the environment, the economy and national security.