Green SanctuaryAmerican homes use approximately 25 percent of all the energy consumed in the U.S. Natural gas prices remain low and heating oil and propane prices are dropping. Still, most of us can improve efficiency and reduce our heating costs with just a little attention to detail. As an additional benefit, using less energy also means putting less CO2 in the atmosphere, so reduces our impact on the planet’s climate.


Heating Hints

First are the common sense things we can do to reduce our heating requirements. Wear more clothing! It is not necessary to provide enough heat to be comfortable in short sleeves in winter, so put on a sweater. This may also make it possible to turn down the thermostat; 68 degrees is regarded as a comfortable temperature for most people. It is also possible to use the energy from the sun to greater advantage, especially if you have South facing windows. Open the curtains during sunny hours and close during other times to maximize the solar heating effect. Rarely used rooms can be closed off and vents adjusted to lower energy consumption. These things cost nothing.

It is easy and inexpensive (less than $10 per window) to improve heating performance by caulking or weather stripping around doors and windows, or any cracks or other places where cold air encroaches or hot air escapes. A flaming match can help locate drafty spots; hold the match near a window or door and, if the flame bends, that indicates there is air flow. Furnace filters should be replaced monthly to improve heating efficiency as well as dust removal performance. Furnaces also need annual maintenance to insure they are performing according to specifications.


Heating Upgrades and Improvements

Moving up a step in cost and commitment involves upgrades or improvements. An automatic setback thermostat offers great energy savings for a modest investment (less than $100). You can save about 2% of your heating costs for each degree you lower the temperature during the 8 hours you are asleep. Thus, turning the thermostat down from 68 degrees during the day to 60 at night will save about 16% of your daily heating costs. And with a programmed thermostat your house will still be comfortable when you get up in the morning!

Replacing storm doors and/or windows offers even more energy efficiency gains for a price. Or you can apply shrink film over windows that are not used for viewing. One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door. To determine if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of the insulation. If it is less than R-30 (11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose), you could probably benefit by adding more. If your home is more than a few years old, this investment will likely have the highest payoff. This is true of modern replacement windows as well, although the cost will be significantly higher.

If your gas furnace is more than 15 years old and has a pilot light rather than electronic ignition, you should think about replacing it with a new, higher efficiency unit. Improving your furnace efficiency from 70% to 90% will save about 22 percent of your heating costs and reduce your annual carbon dioxide emissions by approximately one ton. An HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) contractor will be able to evaluate your current furnace and estimate your savings.


Heating Resources

U.S. Department of Energy offers information about ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. (

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. (


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