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Ten Ways to Save Energy and Stay Comfortable This Winter

Don’t be surprised if you shiver when opening your energy bill this winter. American families typically spend 40 percent of their annual home energy bill just to keep their home warm during the few winter months.

By making your home more energy efficient, the Department of Energy says you can easily trim your winter energy expenses by 10 to 30 percent without sacrificing comfort. Try the following energy-saving tips:


1. Add Another Layer of Attic Insulation

Heat rises. And since the majority of homes built before 1980 are under-insulated, it rises through the ceiling, past the roof and into the atmosphere because of a lack of insulation in the attic. According to the DOE, one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to cut heating and cooling costs and make a home more comfortable is to add more insulation in the attic. As a general rule, if you have less than 12 inches of attic insulation, you probably need more.


2. Warm Yourself Before You Warm the Entire House

Put on a sweater before you turn up the thermostat dial. Each degree you lower the thermostat decreases your fuel bill by approximately 3 percent.


3. Turn on the Humidifier

It’s not the heat - it’s the humidity. If your furnace doesn’t have a built-in humidifier, use a portable unit in frequently occupied areas such as the bedroom and living room. The additional moisture will increase the “heat index” inside your home, making 68º F feel more like 76º F. The relative humidity in the home should be between 30 to 50 percent to help avoid condensation on windows.


4. Install a Programmable Thermostat

Why heat the house when nobody is home? A programmable thermostat can automatically lower and raise your home’s air temperature when you are at work or sleeping. By simply turning your thermostat back from 72º F down to 65º F for eight hours a day, you can save as much as 10 percent on your annual heating and cooling costs. If used appropriately, the energy savings will offset the costs for a programmable thermostat (starting at $30) in less than one year.


5. Let the Sun Shine In

Open the window shades on the south and west side of the house during the day to maximize the warmth of the sun, and close them at night. If you, like half of American homeowners, have single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane windows with a special coating on the glass that reflects heat back into the room during the winter months.


6. Cover the Windows

If you can’t afford to replace your single-pane windows, remember to use your storm windows or install a clear plastic film across the inside of your window and frame. The plastic becomes nearly invisible when you heat it with a blow dryer and is relatively inexpensive (typically $4 to $6 per window). The trapped pocket of air between the plastic film and window acts as an effective insulator, helping to reduce heat loss through the window by 25 to 50 percent.


7. Change Furnace Filters Frequently

You can improve the energy efficiency of your heating and cooling systems by as much as 10 percent by cleaning air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed and changing forced air heating system air filters monthly. An alternative to swapping out the replacement filter is to use washable filters (around $20 each). With care, they can last up to five years.


8. Seal the Ducts

The most logical way to stay warm is to only heat living areas, not the attic or unfinished basement. However, in many homes, the warm air generated by the furnace often escapes into the attic or basement before it reaches its intended destination because of cracks or holes in the air ducts. As a result, the furnace works overtime to keep the rest of the house warm. Check your ducts for leaks each fall and use duct tape to repair and seal holes or sections that may have separated. If you are buying new ducts, consider a system that is already surrounded by insulation.


9. Plug the Drafts

The exterior of your house is your first line of defense against drafts, so caulk, seal and weather-strip around all seams, cracks and openings. Pay special attention around windows and where siding or bricks and wood trim meet. You can also reduce drafts from the inside by caulking, sealing and weather-stripping around windows and door frames, and near electrical boxes and plumbing fixtures.


10. Close Vents to Guest Rooms

Today’s larger homes often have more rooms than family members to fill them. By closing the vents to just one spare bedroom in a five room house, you can instantly cut your heating bills by as much as 20 percent. You can always open the vents when guests visit for the holidays.

For more energy-efficiency tips, homeowners can call the Department of Energy at 1-800-DOE-3732 to order a free, 36-page Energy Savers booklet or visit the Energy Savers Web site. The Energy Savers campaign, developed by the DOE in partnership with Owens Corning, provides Americans with more than 100 easy and practical energy-efficiency tips and projects.