Will You Be Paying Too Much to Heat Your Home This Winter?

Get ready to save some money this winter. Photo Credit:

Autumn has hit much of America. Leaves are changing. Overnight temperatures are quite brisk. It's making that morning cup of coffee as much about warming up as it is about waking up. The change is forcing many of us, myself included, to actually consider ending summer for good and turn on the heat.

It's a decision many dread, not just because it signals the end of summer, but because it signals a new bill to pay. For many, the cost to heat our homes is awfully high. That's because a lot of older homes are dreadfully inefficient when it comes to energy usage. The good news is that there is something we can do about it.

Before we get to that, it's important to see how homebuilding has changed over the years. Homebuilder PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM  ) , for example, boasts that the new homes that it builds are as much as 30% more energy efficient than comparable older homes on the market today. The company uses widely accepted Home Energy Rating System or HERS to rate each of the homes that it builds. The rating, which is recognized by both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, rates how its homes compare to the energy usage of both a typical new home as well as an existing home and show how much its buyers will save on energy costs each year.

The homebuilder uses some of the latest energy saving technology to get its HERS score as low as possible. Many PulteGroup homes come with standard energy saving features such as a programmable thermostat, Low-Emissivity Windows, enhanced insulation and house wrap. When working in conjunction these features help heating and cooling systems to run more efficiently while keeping outside temperatures from affecting inside air temps.

While it would be impractical and rather expensive to try and replicate all of those same features in an existing home, there are things that a homeowner can do to cut costs. The easiest place to start is to get the home HERS rated by a Certified RESNET HERS rater or similar energy audit. The audit will give the owner a detailed analysis of the home's energy efficiency as well as a detailed report on where the home can be upgraded to save both energy and money. A great example of what an energy audit entails can be found on SolarCity's (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) website. SolarCity also has a great video of an evaluation and a sample report that can be accessed here (link opens a PDF).

This needs to be replaced!

Aside from that, one of the most practical first steps is to have a programmable thermostat that is actually, ahem, programmed. Companies like Honeywell International (NYSE: HON  ) manufacture a variety of programmable thermostats that are designed to save money for consumers. These can purchased at a local hardware store or online and can be installed by even those with limited handyman skills – I know this from experience!

What's great about a programmable thermostat is that it allows you to be forgetful. I can't tell you how many times I forgot to turn down the heat before leaving for work. Not only that be these can be programmed around life's schedule. A great example is to program it to turn the heat down at night by about five degrees and then have it programmed to turn on about a half an hour before it's time to start the day, this will help keep any homeowner both comfortable while saving money. Best of all, these thermostats can cut heating and cooling bills by a third if used properly. Which is a good reminder to those that do have a programmable thermostat to make sure it's optimally programmed for the winter months. 

Odds are that most Americans will be paying too much to heat their homes this winter. There is likely something that each and every one of us can do to cut that heating bill. Consider getting an energy audit or at the very least make sure that thermostat is properly programmed.

Then invest some of your energy efficiency gains

Now that you'll have a little extra money each month you should consider investing it. If you need help getting started check out our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you why investing is so important and what you need to do to get started. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

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