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Common-Sense Ways to Control Your Energy Costs--This Winter and the Rest of the Year

High energy costs don't necessarily come with the territory of owning a home, because there are ways to trim them without sacrificing comfort and convenience. These tips can help you get your utility bills under control year-round. By using energy wisely, you'll have more money for discretionary purposes.

Heating and Cooling

According the U.S. Department of Energy, half the energy you use goes toward keeping your home comfortably warm or cool. You can take a number of steps to lower these costs. Among them:

  • Seal the air leaks: As you button up your home, look for cracks around windows and exterior door frames, and seal them with caulk. Fresh weatherstripping is easy to install and will block drafts, as will a draft blocker at the bottom of exterior doors. Places where pipes, wires and cables enter your home may have gaps around them, as could your fireplace damper and dryer vent. Expanding foam will seal larger gaps. 
  • Add insulation: Because our winters are so cold, the DOE recommends at least 16 inches of insulation in the attic. Adding batt or blown-in insulation is one of the most cost effective ways to lower your energy costs, and insulation lasts for decades. If you're not up to the task, a contractor can help you.
  • Pay attention to your windows: Close your drapes at sunset in the winter to cut thermal losses from windows. Reverse the habit in the summer, keeping the drapes closed when the sun is shining on the windows. 
  • Maintain your HVAC system: Having your heating and cooling systems professionally maintained regularly will lower the amount of energy they use. If you use a combustion furnace or boiler, preventive maintenance will also increase your safety. If you you use a forced-air system, check the filter monthly, and change it when it's dirty. When the dust on the filter builds, it slows the airflow, which forces the system to run longer to reach the thermostat's settings. 
  • Install a programmable thermostat: Installing a smart or programmable thermostat will lower your energy costs if you're routinely away from home. You can change a smart thermostat from the Internet or your smart phone, should someone come home unexpectedly. 

Water Heating

Your hot-water tank is the second-largest consumer of energy in your home, after your heating and cooling systems. Lowering the thermostat on the water heater to 120 degrees cuts the cost and lengthens the water heater's lifespan. Draining a quart or two of hot water every few months also lowers the cost, because it gets rid of the mineral deposits at the bottom of the tank.

Insulating a storage water heater cuts the standby losses, especially during the winter. These blankets are available at home-improvement centers and are easy to install on electric water heaters by following the instructions carefully. You will probably need a plumber to help you if you have a gas water heater.

Appliance Use

In the kitchen:

  • The heat you generate in the winter by cooking could add to the warmth in your home, but on hot summer days, better alternatives are slow cookers and microwaves. 
  • Pressure cookers cut the heat generated from cooking because they shorten the cooking time significantly, and the newer ones have dependable safety features. Some need the heat from the stove, although stand-alone models are now available. 
  • A full refrigerator runs more efficiently than one that's empty, because air doesn't hold cold temperatures well. If you don't buy enough food to keep your refrigerator full, consider storing staples such as flour and sugar in the refrigerator. You can also store water in the refrigerator. 
  • Regardless of how much cooking at home increases your energy costs, it's important to remember that cooking at home is always cheaper than buying prepared food or eating out. 

Laundry

  • When possible, wash full loads as much as possible. The washer can adjust the amount of water it uses, but it'll use the same amount of electricity, regardless of the size of the load. 
  • Clean the lint screen for the dryer after each use. This lowers energy consumption and the risk of a dryer fire. 
  • Avoid over-drying your clothes. It wastes energy and is hard on your fabrics. 

To learn more about lowering your energy costs this winter--and other times of the year--contact Comfort24-7.com. We provide top-notch HVAC services to Chicagoland, northwestern Indiana and southwestern Michigan homeowners.

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