October is that wonderful bridge month between fall and winter. The darkness seems to come a little earlier each day. The lawn mower and grill get put away. The temperatures range from pleasant to cold, but not bitingly so yet. You try to spend a few extra minutes outside on those increasingly rare days it still feels warm out because you know that this may be your last chance for the next five or six months.
Very soon, the weather will turn uncomfortably cold. The ground will freeze, the wind will bite, the plants will die and you’ll forget that you even have a lawn underneath all that snow. Have you had to turn on your heat yet? I was talking to my brother who lives in Cleveland the other day. He reluctantly turned it on one night last week. He emphasized though it was only because he has a 5 month old baby now (he didn’t want you guys to think he was being a baby, he he).
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OK, enough with the heavy. Let’s talk about how to save you money before all that snow and biting cold comes to stay. The constant freeze-thaw cycle of winter can really wreak havoc on your plants, house, and utility bills. You don’t want your plants to die, your furnace to run constantly and you certainly don’t want to live through the next six months paying ungodly high bills to heat your home. The great part about what I’m about to tell you is that each of these “fixes” are quick and can save you money. In some instances a lot of money. The catch is that you have to do them now, before winter actually hits.
Your furnace is probably your biggest worry every year. Will it suddenly stop working one night in the middle of winter? Will it even work at all this year? Furnaces are not cheap to replace. Filter maintenance will keep your furnace operating at maximum efficiency all winter long, reducing operating and replacement costs. It’s also important if you have allergies or get sick easily. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Dirty filters decrease air quality and increase energy demand. Keeping your furnace clean and running smoothly will save you up to 5 percent off your heating costs.
The fiberglass filters in the cardboard frames are disposable. They trap only about 10-40 percent of dirt and debris. You might want to consider a switch to a permanent filter. Electrostatic filters trap around 88 percent and are much better at controlling the bacteria, mold, viruses and pollen that cause illness and irritation. The catch is that they require a larger initial outlay of money. Electrostatic filters cost anywhere from $50-1,000, while disposable filters run about $15-40 a pop. The good thing though is that electrostatic filters are permanent. You can clean them with soap and water once a month, instead of having to buy a new one. Another good choice is a HEPA filter, which can remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles. HEPA filters are based on Department of Energy standards.
When is the last time you checked out your water heater? Probably never. It’s not something you think to check once a month. You require water from your faucets to cook and clean with every single day. Pay less for hot water by insulating pipes. Go down in the basement and touch the side of your hot water heater. Does it feel warm? If so you are losing heat. A tank that’s warm to the touch needs additional insulation.
Insulating your water heater tank is fairly simple and inexpensive, and it will pay for itself in about a year. Adding insulation to it can reduce standby heat losses by 25%-45%! You can find pre-cut jackets or blankets available from around $10-$20. Some water companies sell them at low prices, offer rebates, and even install them at a low or no cost.
While you’re looking at your water heater check what temperature it is heating your water up to. Is it over 120 degrees? If so lower the temperature. You really don’t need water heated up to 140 degrees. You can’t shower in that kind of water and your dishes don’t need water that hot to clean and disinfect them. Lower it to 120 degrees and save.
Leaky areas in your home can sap home energy efficiency by 5% to 30% a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That means it pays to seal up drafty areas with caulking and weather stripping. Light a candle and walk by some of your windows and doors. If the flame flickers or goes out you know air is escaping through them. Caulk or add weather stripping around the frame. Also check to make sure that there is no air escaping from areas such as dryer vents, electrical wall plates, around chimneys, anywhere pipes or wires exit, and along the foundation. Seal up these areas with expandable foam.
To further seal off drafty areas in your home consider installing a storm door and windows. This can increase the energy efficiency in your home by up to 45 percent, which amounts to hundreds of dollars a year. Storm doors work particularly well when that cold, winter wind starts blowing. It keeps the cold air from getting in through door frames and decreases the amount of energy your furnace needs to use to heat up your home.
You should also take a look at the ductwork in your house. Studies show that 10-30 percent of heated air in an average system escapes from ducts. Properly sealing ducts can save the average home up to $140 a year, according to the American Solar Energy Society. Call a technician to come out and test your duct system. Don’t fall for any company that tells you that you need to clean your ducts. That service will do nothing to increase the efficiency of your ductwork.
Most of us think of fans as tools that help cool our houses. But these handy cooling instruments can be just as effective in the winter months to keep your home warm. A fan that rotates counterclockwise produces cool breezes, while a fan that rotates clockwise makes it warmer. Remember that heat rises, and that a lot of the warmer air is sitting near the ceiling or in the attic. Switch your fan to reverse the direction of the blades. A low setting is all that’s necessary to draw that warmer air back down. This quick action can cut your heating costs by as much as 10 percent!
The lesson here is that a bit of proactive work can save you hundreds of dollars this winter. The bonus is that none of these quick fixes should take you more than a few minutes to perform. Good luck!
The Dollar is Dying…
Make sure you’re not buried along with it.
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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,