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5 savvy ways to keep warm in winter (while saving energy)
0129Homes-Winterizing-1
A person programms a thermostat for a furnace/HVAC system. Investing in a programmable thermostat can maximize energy efficiency and cut consumption by 20 percent to 30 percent.

As winter wears on, a few cheap and easy fixes can help keep homes warm while saving energy and money.

The average household spends about $2,000 a year on utilities, almost half of which goes toward heating and cooling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Luckily, a little savvy can go a long way toward reducing heating bills. Five ideas from the energy experts:

THINK CLEAN, CLEAR AND EFFICIENT

“Check your furnace filter on a monthly basis. If it’s dirty, it won’t function as efficiently as it could,” said Lauren Urbanek, senior energy policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA recommends cleaning or replacing furnace filters every three months.

Ashley Stukes with Georgia Power said the utility that serves the Gainesville and Hall County area encourages residents to go one step further.

The utility advises residents to “change your air filters once a month during the heating and cooling season,” she said in an email.

Bob McGee, a spokesman for the Con Edison utility company based in New York City, made another suggestion.

“Make sure someone comes in to tune up the heating system once a year,” he said. “Service contracts are always a good idea.”

If you’re in the market for a new furnace, opt for an Energy Star-certified model. Some upgrades can reduce heating costs by as much as 30 percent, McGee said.

“And remember to make sure the heating vents aren’t blocked and that everything’s cleared out of the way, otherwise you’ll be heating your drapes or the back of your furniture instead of the room,” Urbanek said.

GET WITH THE PROGRAM

Consider investing in a programmable thermostat to maximize energy efficiency.

Stukes said installing and presetting an Energy Star programmable thermostat can automatically reduce energy usage when residents are away or sleeping.

Georgia Power recommends setting the thermostat at 68 degrees in the winter and leaving it alone.

“Constantly changing the temperature causes your system to work harder,” Stukes said. “With each degree decrease on your thermostat in the winter, you can realize a 3 percent to 4 percent drop in energy use.”

The EPA said the thermostat should be set to 8 degrees lower than normal at night and when no one’s home.

Some utility companies provide programmable thermostats for free or offer rebates, so it’s worth calling your energy provider before heading to the hardware store.

To view Georgia Power’s rebates and incentives, visit http://residential.georgiapower.com/rebates.

Even without special offers, most programmable thermostats are less than $100, Urbanek said, and will save you an estimated $180 a year on energy costs.

“A programmable thermostat can cut consumption by 20 to 30 percent,” she said.

PUT WINDOWS AND FANS TO WORK

“Make sure your curtains are open when the sun is out and closed when it’s dark and cold outside,” Urbanek said. “And remember that warm air rises, so if you have a ceiling fan, keeping it on low with the blade direction reversed (moving clockwise) will gently bring the warm air back down.”

SEAL AND INSULATE

If you’re doing all that and your bills are still high, the Natural Resources Defense Council recommends checking for air leaks in your home and duct systems.

“Things like caulking and window stripping are really easy to do,” Urbanek said.

“A lot of people automatically assume that if your house is drafty or cold you need new windows. It’s sometimes true. But in a lot of cases, that might not be the most cost-effective way of keeping warm for less,” she said. “Air sealing and insulation often gives you way more bang for your buck in terms of savings.”

Stukes agreed checking the caulk and weather-stripping around your doors is a good chore to do.

“If the caulk is cracked or the weather-stripping is flat or peeling, replace the old material,” she said.

Ensuring your home is properly insulated to resist heat flow will reduce the amount of heat transferred inside the house during hot weather and reduce heat losses when it’s cold outside, Stukes said.

Go-Reliable Home Services, based out of Gainesville, provides silicone insulation services for doors, windows and attics.

“The more insulation you have, the better,” company owner Francisco Mejia said.

The average household can cut its heating and cooling costs by $200 per year just by following Energy Star’s sealing and insulation guidance (www.energystar.gov) and using Energy Star-certified appliances, according to the EPA.

CONSIDER AN ENERGY AUDIT

Many energy companies help customers get professional energy audits of their homes or offer lists of energy audit providers, and some utilities offer financial incentives to have audits done. A professional can pinpoint improvements that can translate into greater energy efficiency and savings, McGee said.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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