Save Big on Your Heating Bill

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It may not be Labor Day yet, but many people are thinking about the coming winter. With projections for a potentially colder-than-normal season and sky-high fuel costs, now's a good time to think about winterizing your home. Preparing your home for winter can save you up to 50% off of your heating bill, in addition to keeping you and your family toasty warm on cold winter nights.

Getting started
To winterize the right way, you'll need to sleuth around your home and pinpoint any areas operating less efficiently than they should. Consider:

  • Conducting your own Web-based home energy audit.
  • Contacting your utility company. Some perform free energy audits, while others offer a rebate on audits performed by outside companies.
  • Hiring a professional. Energy auditors can use a variety of tools, including thermometers and infrared cameras, to analyze where air is leaking from your home. They'll make suggestions to help increase your home's energy efficiency. While you'll pay a few hundred dollars up front for the analysis, the savings may be worth it over the long haul.
  • Using the feel test. If your feet are chilled every time you pass by your front door, you can be certain that cold air is invading there, and heat is escaping.

Getting to work
Heating your home efficiently boils down to these major to-do's: insulating, sealing leaks, and maintaining your home -- all with the goal of maximizing your heating dollars.

Insulating: Part of your sleuthing expedition should include eyeballing your insulation to see if it's in good shape. Pay careful attention to your attic, crawlspaces, walls (check existing walls by removing an outlet cover and using a flashlight), and the underside of floors that are above unheated spaces. Consider purchasing special insulation materials designed for your water pipes and water heater.

Before you purchase insulation, consult a chart that shows you what type (graded in "R" levels) you'll need, depending on factors such as climate and the location in your home where the insulation will be placed. For a step-by-step guide, consult the Department of Energy's online fact sheet.

In many cases, you can install or replace old insulation yourself. However, if your insulation job is a complicated one (for example, insulating between walls in an existing home, working around old electrical wiring, or replacing wet or damp insulation, which could signal a leak), you may want to hire a contractor. Many insulation contractors will come and do an estimate of your home's insulation needs for free, giving you a chance to determine which jobs seem like "do-it-yourself" projects versus professional ones.

If you are working in your attic (since heat rises, this is a place where many folks start their insulation journey), make sure there is proper ventilation. Do-it-yourselfers sometimes make the mistake of assuming that more is better and cover up natural airflow at the eaves. This actually makes the home less energy-efficient and prone to roofing problems, because of ice dams or moisture.

Sealing: Ensuring that heat isn't leaking out through improperly sealed windows, doors, or other openings is another way to save big on your heating bills. You'll want to pay special attention to:

  • Duct work (a major culprit for energy inefficiency)
  • Cracks around doorways
  • Windows and fireplaces
  • Other miscellaneous openings, like attic pull-downs or access holes.

Caulk, foam, and window sealing kits can all be found at your nearest home improvement store. To learn more, consult the Environmental Protection Agency's helpful online guide to detecting and sealing air leaks in your home.

Maintaining your home: Certain maintenance projects can enhance your energy efficiency when performed regularly:

  • Changing your furnace filters on schedule.
  • Having your ductwork cleaned.
  • Hiring a professional to "tune up" your heating system each year, so it stays in peak working order.

Programming your thermostat to reflect your home's needs (keeping it warmer during waking hours and cooler while you sleep, for example) and lowering your water heater temperature can also add to your savings.

Long-term fixes: If you're in your home for the long haul, you may want to consider some longer-term measures to make your energy usage much more efficient. Such solutions might include replacing your windows or buying Energy Star appliances, household products that meet stringent energy-efficiency guidelines set forth by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy.

For more about your home, read about:

This article was originally published on Oct. 28, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp writes on money and relationships. Her charming other half is The Motley Fool's own Robert Brokamp (TMFBro), editor of Rule Your Retirement. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On August 29, 2008, at 10:10 PM, batticdoor wrote:

    How To Stop Drafts and Save On Energy Bills

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding pull-down attic stair, a whole house fan, a fireplace or clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    Drafts from these often overlooked holes waste energy and cost you big in the form of higher energy bills.

    Drafts are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Drafts occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits that caulk and weather-stripping provide to minimize energy loss and drafts.

    But what can you do about drafts from the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

    Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

    Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the attic door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking out of these large gaps in your home 24-hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open all year ‘round.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair cover seals the stairs, stopping drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and Air Conditioning Vents

    Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white textured flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro, and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when desired.


    Sixty-five percent, or over 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home, especially during the winter heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

    Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    Why does a home with a fireplace have higher energy bills? Your chimney is an opening that leads directly outdoors -- just like an open window. Even if the damper is shut, it is not air-tight. Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right out of your house!

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a Fireplace Plug to your fireplace. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, the Fireplace Plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

    Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce these drafts. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the drafts. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted drafts, and also keeps out pests, bees and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    For more information on Battic Door’s energy conservation solutions and products for your home, visit or, to request a free catalog, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.

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