Ways to Winterize Your Home

By AnnaMaria Andriotis,
Reporter, SmartMoney.com


When temperatures start to plunge, most consumers think about spending their hard-earned cash on a new coat or a pair of boots. But thanks to skyrocketing heating costs, they may have to forgo those purchases this year.

The average household will pay 15% more for heat this winter than they did last year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). (These projections, which are calculated monthly, may drop given the recent decline of crude oil prices, but other factors, such as existing inventory and colder winter forecasts will still push prices higher than last year, says Paul Hesse, an information specialist at the EIA.)

To keep the heat flowing without paying exorbitantly for it, consumers need to take some simple steps toward winterizing their homes. The best part: Most of the materials they'll need can easily be found at hardware stores like Home Depot or Lowe's.


Here are five ways to prepare your home for the upcoming winter:

1. Get the Heating System Inspected

To keep your home's heating system running efficiently, have it inspected once a year, says Harvey Sachs, a building-equipment analyst at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. (Propane and natural-gas heating systems should be inspected every three years, he says.) Inspections typically cost $75 to $150, but the resulting savings will be well worth it.

Also, if your furnace is more than 15 years old, consider buying a new one. Just be aware that buying a new furnace is pricey (they typically start at $2,000) and recouping its cost may take many years. Energy Star qualified models, for example, are up to 15% more efficient, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On average, homeowners recoup $200 in annual savings, says Daniel DiClerico, senior home editor at Consumer Reports.

(For more tips on reducing the energy drain of fuel-guzzling appliances, read our story.)

2. Insulate Your Home

Feel a draft in the attic or a cool breeze when you walk by the front door? Chances are your home's heat -- and your money -- are flowing out of the house while the cold air is flowing in.

After all, drafts suck hot air out of the home, leading to bigger heating bills as residents raise the thermostat to keep warm. To plug open areas in attics (the most common place for drafts), install fiberglass batt insulation (about $15 per roll at Home Depot) between the ceiling rafters and around windows. By doing so, you can lower your annual heating and cooling costs by 10%, according to Consumer Reports.

Once you're done in the attic, start hunting for other problem spots, such as under doors or around windows. Use weather stripping to seal around doors (prices range from $3 to $15 at Lowe's) and use caulk for small cracks around windows (a 10-ounce bottle of caulk is just over $4).

3. Programmable thermostat

It's hard to remember to turn down the heat before leaving for work or heading for bed.

A programmable thermostat eliminates that headache by automatically lowering the heat when it's least needed. The trick, of course, is to actually program the thermostat. Someone who's at the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for example, should set the thermostat to lower the temperature before they leave home and raise it before they return from work.

The easiest-to-use and most efficient programmable thermostats are Energy-Star labeled, and range in price from $40 to $350. For each degree they lower the temperature (from a default of 70 degrees) over an eight-hour period, consumers can expect to cut their bills by 1% to 2%, says Denise Durrett, spokeswoman for Energy Star at the EPA.

4. Change Air Filters

At first glance, air filters -- small and unimpressive looking -- seem incapable of making an impact on heating bills. But when used properly, they can significantly cut costs and even save your heating system from catastrophe, says Durrett. "Dirt is the number one cause of system failure," she says.

Home air filters (prices start at $10) should be changed once every three months or as directed by the manufacturer. Otherwise, dirt will accumulate in the old filters and prevent heat from circulating throughout the house.

5. Shop Around for Heating Oil

More than eight million households (mostly in the Northeast) will be hit hard by home heating oil costs this winter, according to the EIA. The price of home heating oil is expected to increase 17.4%, from $3.31 a gallon last winter to $3.89 this winter.

One way to keep costs down is to join a fuel co-op, which is a nonprofit that buys heating oil in bulk and sells it at a discount to its members. On average, you'll save 15 to 30 cents per gallon below the average fuel price, says Mark Wolfe, executive director of Energy Programs Consortium. These co-ops tend to be locally run and can be found by doing a simple search online.

Fuel co-ops don't operate in every neighborhood, however. Residents in areas where no fuel co-op exists shop around for low-price suppliers. The Yellow Pages, some county-run web sites, and Consumer Affairs state offices usually offer lists of heating providers.

Click here for more on fuel co-ops. And click here for more tips on how to save on home heating bills.

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